Kauṭilya's Arthaśāstra: A Classic Text of Statecraft and an Untapped Political Science Resource

  • Michael Liebig (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra – written at the turn of the 4th to the 3rd century BC – is a classical work of political theory and International Relation theory. However, Kauṭilya has so far remained on the sidelines of the international political science discourse in spite of Max Weber's repeated references to the Arthaśāstra and Hans J. Morgenthau's own statement that his theory of political realism is (also) based on ancient Indian philosophy. The Arthaśāstra is a theoretical and normative work which features six pivotal idea clusters: 1) state power, 2) raison d'état, 3) correlation of forces between competing states based on 4) the saptāṅga theory of the seven “state factors” (prakr̥ti). The correlation of forces predetermines which of six alternative foreign policy options – the 5) ṣāḍguṇya theory – will be selected. The background of Kauṭilya's 'realist' statecraft is 6) matsya-nyāya theory – a political anthropology which features anarchy, conflicts of interest and power struggle. Kauṭilya's idea of political realism anticipates much of the modern notion which is associated not only with Machiavelli and Hobbes, but particularly with Hans J. Morgenthau and also with Max Weber, Helmuth Plessner and Friedrich Meinecke. The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra is an untapped conceptional resource for theory building with respect to political theory, theorized statecraft and IR theory. The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra is also key for understanding the politico-strategic culture of modern India.


Kauṭilya, Arthaśāstra, Indian Political Thought, Saptāṅga Theory, Realism