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The Spectre of "Amoral Realism" in International Relations: A Classical Indian Overview



As per the conventional wisdom on international relations (IR), it is presumed that the pursuit of Political Realism or realpolitik calls for a rational political action which is “amoral”—either “immoral” (opposed to moralpolitik) or “neither immoral nor moral” (apathetic to moralpolitik). Also, it is held that all Asian philosophical traditions are amoral as they project a form of awareness that is inconsistent with any notions of morality or moralpolitik. However, this chapter shows how the classical Indian text of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra uses an amoral framework—supported by the eclectic philosophical substructures of Sāṃkhya, Yoga, and Lokāyata (literally meaning “numbers,” “aggregate,” and “worldly ones” respectively)—to not only temper apparently immoral methods, but also attain concrete moral goals in IR. In this sense, Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra deviates from both Eurocentric and Chinese Political Realism. The chapter illustrates how Kautilya’s Amoral Realism can be resourcefully mobilized to bridge the gulf between realpolitik and moralpolitik in contemporary global politics. For free access to the entire book, click the following link:
e Spectre of “Amoral Realism
in International Relations
A Classical Indian Overview
Deepshikha Shahi
As per the conventional wisdom on international relations (IR), it is presumed
that the pursuit of Political Realism or realpolitik calls for a rational political
action which is “amoral”—either “immoral” (opposed to moralpolitik) or “nei-
ther immoral nor moral” (apathetic to moralpolitik). Also, it is held that all Asian
philosophical traditions are amoral as they project a form of awareness that is
inconsistent with any notions of morality or moralpolitik. However, this chap-
ter shows how the classical Indian text of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra uses an amoral
framework—supported by the eclectic philosophical substructures of khya,
Yoga, and Lokāyata (literally meaning “numbers,” “aggregate,” and “worldly ones”
respectively)—to not only temper apparently immoral methods, but also attain
concrete moral goals in IR. In this sense, Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra deviates from both
Eurocentric and Chinese Political Realism. e chapter illustrates how Kautilya’s
Amoral Realism can be resourcefully mobilized to bridge the gulf between realpo-
litik and moralpolitik in contemporary global politics.
e idea of amoralism in Eurocentric IR oscillates between “immoralism” and
“moral relativism.” A few scholars assert that Amoral Realism involves “ratio-
nal strategic actions” (Loriaux ) that have “no room for moral consider-
ations” (Frankel ) and, thus, they are “not subject to calculations of morality”
(Antunes and Camisão ); the cynical view of Amoral Realism “rationalizes
immoral conducts with high-minded talk about state interests and international
realities” (Brilmayer ). Other scholars argue that “amorality is not immorality”
 
(Hom ), and Amoral Realism is “neither driven by morality nor especially
immoral” (Kissane ); it is, rather, an evolving theory that relates to specic
circumstances, and its relevance is judged in terms of its ability to make prudent
political decisions (Morgenthau ). Even if Realism is pushed as an amoral
approach, it does not translate into an immoral foreign policy (Conces ). And
despite the claim that the human mind is amoral, as it does not have innate concep-
tions of (im)moral and is prone to certain instincts that are necessary for survival
(Al-Rodhan ), Realists use their own moral convictions. As Realists use their
own moral convictions to suggest how states can best survive, their theories retain
an “amoral character” by remaining silent on whether the survival of a particular
state/government is morally desirable (Walt ).
In Eurocentric IR, Amoral Realism creates an uncomfortable, if not unfeasible,
relation between realpolitik and moralpolitik: moralpolitik prefers to look for
“abstract/ideal notions of morality,” whereas realpolitik sees more merit in “rational/
prudent approach to reality” which can protect the “self ” (own state) against the
potential/actual use of violence by “other/s” (other states). is concept of real-
politik has developed within the boundaries of Classical Realism (Morgenthau)
and Neorealism (Waltz) among others.1 Unlike Waltz, who excludes the subjec-
tive questions of morality to work as a pure “scientist,” Morgenthau shows greater
moral sensitivity in confessing a dynamic link between two concepts of power:
empirical” (power as domination/pouvoir) and “normative” (power as human
capabilities/puissance) (Rösch ). For Morgenthau, the normative power is an
end” that reestablishes a value-system that has the potential to conne empiri-
cal power (Frei ). But until and unless that value-system is reestablished,
Morgenthau seems skeptical about the use of normative power (as a “means,” not
as an “end”) along with empirical power, thereby verifying those studies that prob-
lematize Morgenthau as a champion of realpolitik, yet label him as an “uneasy
Realist” (Scheuerman ).
Classical Realism and Neorealism—as major variants of Amoral Realism in
Eurocentric IR—sanction a dualistic reality characterized by the struggle-of-power
between “self” and “other/s.” To causally arrive at the centrality of this struggle-
for-power, Morgenthau’s Classical Realism arouses the assumed aggression in
“human nature” (animus dominandi), and Waltz’s Neorealism awakens the sup-
posed “anarchy” in world’s political structure (absence of a world government).
Against the competitive pretext set by this struggle-for-power (which turns into
a perennial security-dilemma for “self”), the probability of self-help arises only
if the “self” goes for maximization-of-power and adjusts itself with ever-shiing
balance-of-power among “other/s.” Morgenthau () observes this maximization-
of-power as “superiority (not equality) of power” vis-à-vis “other/s,” and defensive
realists like Waltz () warn that this maximization-of-power vis-à-vis “other/s”
must not be limitless because the state that acquires too much of a share in zero-
sum power2 is likely to be damaged by antagonistic coalition among “other/s.
“ ”    
Furthermore, oensive Realists suggest that it makes a good strategic sense for
each state to possess as much zero-sum power as possible and, if the situation is
right, to pursue hegemony over “other/s” (Mearsheimer ).
Despite an emphasis upon human lust for power, Morgenthau does not intend
to repress morality in political life. He opines that the universal moral principles
cannot be applied to the acts of the states in their abstract formulation; they must
be ltered through concrete circumstances; the states must imagine the political
consequences of a seemingly moral action (Eisikovits ). For Morgenthau,
the sphere of IR is “autonomous”; the states in this autonomous sphere cannot
subordinate their acts to the abstract universal ideals manageable in individual/
domestic sphere (Karpowicz and Julian ); the abstract universal ideals do
not supply the “political restraints” that bring successful consequences in IR
(Williams ). Conversely, Waltz laments that the pinning of political evil on
human nature occurs in the nonscientic thinking of Augustine, Spinoza, Niebuhr,
and Morgenthau (Voina-Motoc ). Waltz adopts a “scientic” outlook in treat-
ing the anarchical structural conditions as a stimulus behind the functional simi-
larity of the states: all states follow the moral principle of survival. But this moral
principle of survival makes sense only in anarchical structural conditions ridden
with violence: even for Waltz, the abstract universal ideals beyond relations of
violence become untenable/undesirable (Lundborg ).
Analogous to the apprehensions of R. Aron () and E. H. Carr (),3
Morgenthau’s Classical Realism and Waltz’s Neorealism undercut the abstract uni-
versal ideals as a feasible option in IR. Hence, moral reections in Classical Real-
ism and Neorealism get compressed into a single core principle—the principle of
realpolitik whereby rational/prudent exercise of power protects the “self” against
the potential/actual use of violence by “other/s,” thereby enabling the “self” to
secure survival and, in some cases, hegemony. Classical Realism and Neorealism
marginalize the abstract/ideal exercise of power that can attain extra–Political
Realist goals: the extra–Political Realist goals (as in moralpolitik) that surpass
the concerns of survival/hegemony for “self,” and attempt to secure all that brings
benet to both “self” and “other/s.” From a comparative perspective, Kautilya’s
Arthaśāstra digresses from Eurocentric Political Realism in two respects: (i) it
does not anticipate “rational/prudent” and “abstract/ideal” as mutually opposed;
and (ii) it is not restricted to realpolitik, but consistently embraces moralpolitik.
It is alleged that all Asian philosophies are amoral as they imbibe a logic which is
incompatible with morality (Zelinski ). Arguably, the amoralism of Daoism
(which nds extension in Han Fei’s Legalism) prompts Chinese IR, and the amor-
alism of Kautilya stimulates Indian IR. So, they say, Kautilyas amoralism not only
 
depicts reality “as it is,” not “as it ought to be” (Boesche ), but also presents a
“statement of the immoral practices of kings/ministers” (Sarkar ). M. Winternitz
() laments that one should look in vain for anything that could be called
“law” in Arthaśāstra as Kautilya is ready to not only make treaties but also break
them in appropriate conditions, thereby showing no preference for peace. But
J. Jolly () contends that Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra is a branch of “Dharmaśāstra”—a
text that contains a few rules that fall within the domain of “law proper” (Kangle
). At one point, one wonders as to what was the (im)moral impulse behind
the law proper in Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. Tracing the controversy around Kautilya’s
(im)morality, U. akkar (: ) narrates:
is controversy arises because of the fact that two distinct lines of thought are evi-
dent in Kautilya ... namely the theological ... and the political ... if Kautilya upholds
the high authority of the Brāhmanical [theological] canon, he allows himself to make
religion the instrument of statecra, or in other words, to sacrice eology at the
altar of Politics.
But does Kautilya really sacrice theology at the altar of politics? R. Shamasastry
(: –) translates an intuitive extract from this treatise:
[i] Anvikshaki [“philosophy of science”] [ii] the triple Véd a s [“religious scriptures”],
[iii] rta [“economics”], and [iv] Danda-niti [“political science”] are the four sci-
ences .. . it is from these sciences that all that concerns righteousness and wealth
is learnt ... Anvikshaki comprises Samkhya, Yoga, and Lokayata .. . Light to all
kinds of knowledge, easy means to accomplish all kinds of acts ... is the science
of anvikshaki.
e science of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra emanates from the (ir)religious philosophi-
cal substructures of khya, Yoga, and Lokāyata, which, in turn, convey a
meticulous approach to the dilemmas of morality in life. So, what are the central
propositions of khya, Yoga, and Lokāyata? How do these propositions surpass
Eurocentric Political Realism, thereby emitting extra–Political Realist elements?
And how do these extra–Political Realist elements blend realpolitik and moralpo-
litik? e classical Indian philosophies are divided into two clusters: “orthodox”
(that approve the infallibility of God/ d as); and “unorthodox” (that disapprove
the infallibility of God/das). khya and Yoga subscribe to orthodox cluster,4
but Lokāyata belongs to unorthodox cluster. Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra plans an eclec-
tic mix of both the clusters, thereby combining khya, Yoga and Lokāyata as its
integrated philosophical base. P. Olivelle (: ) comments:
khya posits a primal matter, called prakrti . . . is primal matter, originally
unmanifest, contains three qualities: goodness, energy, and darkness. e visible
and manifest universe has proceeded from the original primal matter; the three
qualities are distributed in dierent proportions within the various constituents of
the universe.
“ ”    
khya conrms a “dualistic reality” wherein the primordial equilibrium of
prakrti (matter) gets disturbed when it is modied by purusa (spirit)—an inci-
dent that marks the beginning of the evolution of the world! R.W. Perrett (:
–) elaborates:
First, the pure contentless consciousness of the purusa becomes focused on the
prakrti and out of the delimitation evolves intelligence ... then evolves the ego con-
sciousness which leads to the misidentication of the true self with the ego. From
[it], evolves the mind; [then] the ve sensory organs and the ve motor organs;
then the ve subtle elements (sound, touch, form, taste and smell) and the ve gross
elements (ether, air, re, water and earth) ... Yoga broadly accepts this khya ontol-
ogy. [Remembering this evolutionary process], the khya-Yoga5 ethics ... men-
tions ve ... moral precepts or “restraints”: non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing,
chastity, and greedlessness.
ese “restraints” coupled with some “observances” (e.g., contentment, self-
study etc.) facilitate the knowledge of manifest world. e knowledge of mani-
fest world is acquired through the methods of “perception,” “inference,” and
“valid testimony” (Radhakrishnan and Moore ). Lokāyata, unlike khya-
Yoga, sponsors “perception” as the sole means to know “this-world.” D. P. Niles
(: ) observes:
Lokāyata teaching is that all aspects of matter, including humanity, are particular
combinations of the four basic elements, earth, water, re and air ... Matter can
think ... consciousness arises from matter ... the soul is nothing but the conscious
body. Enjoyment is the only end of human life. Death alone is liberation. At death all
matter reverts to its constitutive elements.
In Indian history, Lokāyata progressed as a dissent against the “elite” enthusi-
asts of those texts that contained khya-Yoga: the elite enthusiasts formed
the dominant social group called brahmin, whereas Lokāyata grew as a creed of the
“mass.” is elite-mass conict fuels the conjecture that Lokāyata is irreconcil-
able to khya-Yoga. But a closer scrutiny unfurls some overlaps: Lokāyata dis-
cards unmanifest primordial nature/prakrti, but it supports the study of manifest
world as experienced by the bodily-self/purusa. For the study of manifest world,
Lokāyata uses a few methods of khya-Yoga: it rejects inference and valid testi-
mony, but accepts perception as a mode of inquiry; it rejects ether, but accepts air,
re, water, and earth as parts of holistic reality. e hedonistic ethics of Lokāyata
abandons the rituals meant to protect future life, and elevates the joy of bodily-
self (Sharma ), but it does not do so at the expense of the soul-oriented-self;
it, rather, defends the “identity of body and soul” (Joshi )—Lokāyata allows
sexual rituals, but it does not cancel out the spiritual values of noninjury, truth-
fulness, nonstealing, and greedlessness when it comes to protect the interests of
 
e joint propositions of khya-Yoga and Lokāyata, which underpin Kauti-
lya’s Arthaśāstra, are as follows: the device to navigate and cope up with the reality
of this-world is “perception”; the bodily-self (as it uses perception to navigate and
cope up with the reality of this-world) wishes to defend the “identity of body
and soul”: that is, the interests of the body (material enjoyment/artha and physical
pleasure/kāma) and the interests of the soul (righteousness/dharma and self-liber-
ation/moksha) are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the identity of body and soul
can be defended by implementing some moral principles: noninjury, truthfulness,
nonstealing, and greedlessness. Assigning the ideal rule of a “saintly-king” who is
ought to act in accordance with these moral principles, Kautilya commands:
[A saintly-king] ... shall keep away from hurting the women and property of others
[follow noninjury and nonstealing]; avoid ... falsehood [follow truthfulness]; Not
violating righteousness [dharma] and economy [artha], he shall enjoy his desires
[kāma]. He may enjoy in an equal degree the three pursuits of life, charity, wealth,
and desire, which are inter-dependent upon each other. Any one of these three, when
enjoyed to an excess, hurts not only the other two, but also itself [i.e. follow greed-
lessness]. (Shamasastry 1915: 17)
In spite of the vision of dualistic reality (akin to Eurocentric Political Realism),6
the Realism of khya-Yoga and Lokāyata makes the rational/prudent quest
for material enjoyment/artha and physical pleasure/kāma dependent upon the
abstract/ideal apparatus of righte ousness/dharma, i.e., morality-ethics (Gray ).
R.W. Perrett (: ) illustrates:
One view ... holds dharma [“righteousness”] to be an instrumental value ... which
leads inevitably to the good of prosperity conceived in both this-worldly [rational/
prudent] and other-worldly [abstract/ideal] terms ... [dharma’s] superiority over
artha and kāma is its unfailing reliability in aecting this good.7
Accordingly, Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra monitors both rational/prudent and abstract/
ideal concerns while exercising power for achieving extra–Political Realist goals:
these extra–Political Realist goals exceed realpolitik as they outdo the need to
secure survival/hegemony, and pave the way for occasional pursuance of moral-
politik. An instance of occasional pursuance of moralpolitik is found when Kauti-
lya asks the conqueror state to boost not only its own power, but also the enemy’s
power. Kautilya directs:
Power is of three kinds ... Intellectual strength provides the power of good counsel;
a prosperous treasury and a strong army provide physical power, and valour is the
basis for morale and energetic action. e success resulting from each one is, cor-
respondingly, intellectual, physical and psychological ... the conqueror shall ... add
to his own power ... [But] he may in situations wish power ... even to his enemy. If
a powerful enemy is likely to antagonize his subjects by harming them ... it will be
easy to overpower him. (Rangarajan 1992: 525–26)
“ ”    
Kautilya asks the conqueror state to boost its power by crushing an unjust enemy
state. But he also asks the conqueror state to win the subjects of that unjust
enemy state: the conqueror state must not terrorize those subjects for self-glory
and do what was benecial to them, thereby behaving as if the conqueror state
belonged to them (Chande )—an instance that suspends self-other distinc-
tion! ese acts are guided by Political Realist goals of “protection/survival”
(yogakshema), and extra–Political Realist goals of “benet for all” (lokasamgraha)
(Jai ). ese extra–Political Realist goals cross those barriers of realpolitik
that prefer rational/prudent quest for survival/hegemony: the will to promote
the abstract universal ideals of “benet for all,” that aim to discover the world’s
potential for virtue and to derive happiness therefrom for “self” and “other/s” (Iyer
), positions Kautilyas Arthaśāstra between realpolitik and moralpolitik. It is
pertinent to see how Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra—as an Asian model of Amoral Real-
ism that tempers immoral methods to attain moral goals—diers from Chinese
Political Realism, especially, Han Fei’s Legalism.
What are the traits of Kautilya’s Amoral Realism that set it apart from other Asian
models, such as the Amoral Realism behind Han Fei’s Legalism? Like Kautilyas
Arthaśāstra, Han Fei’s text, Han Feizi, is a classical work of “eclecticism” (Ivanhoe
). As a precursor to Han syncretism (Goldin ), Han Feizi borrows insights
from many sources, such as Daoism, Confucianism, and Legalism (or Realism).
A. Waley (: –) informs:
With Daoism, Realism has a very close connection. Both doctrines reject “the way of
the Former Kings”, upon which the whole curriculum of the Confucians was based
... even the mystical doctrine of wu-wei, the Non-activity of the ruler by which
everything is activated, nds a non-mystical counterpart in Realism. When every
requirement of the ruler has been embodied in law and the penalities for disobedi-
ence have been made so heavy that no one dares to incur them, the Realist ruler can
... enjoy himself; “everything” (just as in Daoism) “will happen of its own accord.
“Just as in the [D]aoist and Confucian interpretations of wu wei, in the Han
Fei[zi’s Legalism], there is an attempt to correlate the operation of the cosmos
and the proper functioning of the political state. Characteristics attributed to the
[cosmic D]ao are projected onto the ideal ruler ... wu wei [i.e., nonactivity] and
the related techniques of rulership [a]re intended to prevent any insight into the
ruler’s personality which might interfere with the operation of the governmental
machinary” (Ames : –). By mixing wu-wei with Legalist polity, Han Fei
resembles Kautilyas all-encompassing methodological skills that simultaneously
deals with the metaphysical, epistemological, practical, ethical, and aesthetical
aspects of reality. But Han Fei diers from Kautilya with regard to the appraisal
 
of the “ruler’s action”: while Kautliya sees the ruler’s action as a form of power,
Han Fei gives ample weightage to the ruler’s nonactivity. Quoting Han Feizi,
R.N. Bellah (: –) writes:
Do not let your power be seen, be blank and actionless. Government reaches to the
four quarters, but its source is the centre. e sage[-king] holds to the source, and
the four quarters come to serve him ... Do not be the rst to move ... If you show
delight, your troubles will multiply; if you show hatred, resentment will be born.
erefore discard both delight and hatred, and with an empty mind, become the
abode of the Way.8
Evenkhya-Yoga agrees that the primordial eqilibrium of nature/prakriti
(comparable to “the Way”) gets disturbed in the evolutionary process activated
by the human spirit/purusa. But the propositions of khya-Yoga-Lokayata in
Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra never endorse nonactivity: rather, they envision the ruler’s
moral-energetic action as a source of “psychological power.” Kautilya states:
Of a king, the religious vow is his readiness to action [here, readiness to action testi-
es to the ruler’s morality/energy, whereas inaction indicates the ruler’s immorality/
lethargy; in times of crises, the ruler’s action, not inaction, boosts the psychological
power of the state, including the subjects]. e king who [acts] in accordance with
sacred law, evidence, history, and edicts of kings ... will be able to conquer the whole
world bounded by the four quarters. (Shamasastry 1915: 52, 215)
Contrary to Han Fei’s “sage-king,” who is asked to sit at the center of the govern-
mental structure and judge the eciency of his ministers, but refrain from any
active personal intervention in the administrative aairs, Kautilya’s saintly-king,
as he occupies the center of the states-system, is asked to use his personal quali-
ties to enrich the other elements of his state, especially when they are less than
perfect: these elements include ministers, population, fort, treasury, army, and ally.
Kautilya states: “whatever character the king has, the other elements also come to
have the same” (Sihag : ). Dissimilar to the king’s “impersonal” conduct
styled aer wu-wei by Han Fei (Winston ), Kautilya counts on the king’s “per-
sonal” qualities. But this does not mean that Kautilya ignores the importance of
detachment. As Han Fei praises the king’s detachment from delight/hatred, Kauti-
lya lauds the king’s “active engagement with” yet “conscious detachment from” the
immediate moments of success and failure in politics (Ganeri ). e detach-
ment of Kautilyas saintly-king aims to achieve “protection/survival” and “benet
for all,” whereas the detachment of Han Fei’s sage-king intends to preserve “order.
ough Han Fei’s Legalist “order” is measured as the single necessary condi-
tion for a decent life (Flanagan and Hu ), it runs the risk of manufacturing an
entrapped sovereign” whose “God-like omnipotence” is submerged by the system
he ostensibly runs (Pines ). is system, sooner or later, transforms into a de
facto “bureaucratic Legalism” (Schneider ), wherein it is the ministers who
do the real ruling (Graham ), the ministers whom Han Fei himself identies
as the king’s “most dangerous foes” (Graziani ). In theory, the sage-king
“ ”    
aspires to materialize a “social engineering” (Pines ) by using his impersonal
power/shu to change laws/rules/techniques/shi in accordance with the change
in circumstances. In practice, this social engineering is expected to satiate the
egocentric human nature whose morality is distorted in times of economic depri-
vations. Nonetheless, this social engineering rests upon an “award and punish-
ment mechanism” (hsing-ming) whereby the sage-king not only tallies “names” (or
ocal-positions) with “performances” (or work-proposals) for separating solid
talent from idle chatter (Witzel ), but also confers harsh punishment upon
an ever-increasing population for the purpose of aligning individual interest with
public interest (fa) (Craig ). B. Watson (: –) quotes a passage from
Han Feizi:
ough his penalities may be severe, this is not because he is cruel, he simply follows
the custom appropriate to the time. Circumstances change according to the age, and
ways of dealing with them changes with the circumstances.
Bellah (: ) continues: “In ancient times, people were few and resources
plentiful; today people are many and resources few. What required little govern-
ment then requires harsh punishment today.” Slowly, Han Fei’s “bureaucratic Legal-
ism” turns into “authoritarian Daoism” (Hansen ) wherein one is rewarded
and punished in accordance with the “positive laws”: even a moral deed is severely
punished if it violates the positive laws (Chen ). Although this authoritarian
Daoism says nothing against Daoism per se, it maintains a distance from Daoist
spiritual-abstract forms (Moody ). At last, what links Daoism and Legalism
is an opposition to moralism; “the danger is that together they reject morality”
(Bellah : ). Han Fei rebus Daoist spiritual-abstract forms of benevolence,
righteousness, love and kindness as useless political virtues (Vogelsang ),
thereby allowing immorality to preserve “order.” Even Kautilya, who is motivated
by the goals of “protection/survival” and “benet for all,” is not averse to the tem-
porary use of immoral means (e.g., assasination, etc.), but he rmly upholds the
spiritual-abstract forms of morality when he addresses the king:
In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare his welfare; what-
ever pleases himself he shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects
he shall consider as good ... satisfactory discharge of [his] duties is his performance
of sacrice (Shamasatry 1915: 52).
It is appealing to inquire if these premodern ideas of Kautilya could be put into
practice in today’s (post)modern global politics.
Today’s global politics neither justies a separation of “moral-domestic-order”
from “amoral-international-anarchy” (Ashley ), nor awaits an import of
moral-ethical-principles from “outside” (the sphere of international) to “inside”
 
(the sphere of domestic) (Walker ). Rather, the present international com-
munity, which gives a crucial role to morality in the determination of global order
(Kapstein and Rosenthal ), grapples with the crisis of “plurality of values”
(Amstutz )—any single moral-value subsists with plural moral-values rep-
resented at diverse local-global levels (Nancy ). Amid the anxiety that this
chaotic condition of moral conceptions and beliefs” (Dewey ) might be a
harbinger of “messy morality” (Coady ), there is little disagreement about
the need for a “moral theory of international law” (Buchanan ) which could
collaborate scholars and practitioners at all levels of governance (Garofalo ),
thereby connecting “public opinion” and “foreign policy” via moral sentiments
(Kertzer et al. ). As this moral theory of international law follows the “golden
rule of humanity,” it demands a fresh global politics centered upon not only rights,
but also duties (Kung, ), and one of the duties is the avoidance of “double
standards”: that is, “one [set of moral-values] for other people, and a dierent
and more permissive one for oneself ” (Harries ). Here, the idea is to con-
demn the use of violence for ‘securing one group of citizens by placing others in
danger” (Burke ) and prioritize the ethics of care for “self ” and “other/s” in a
globalized world with greater international interdependence (Held ).
So, how can Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra encourage the moral agenda of con-
temporary global politics? Nowadays, global politics sees the inside-outside-
demarcation (or xed borders of Westphalian states-system) as a moral hurdle
(Ling ). Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra seems promising as it does not instill a demar-
cation between domestic politics (inside) and international politics (outside)
(Acharya and Buzan ). As this demarcation cultivates a self-other dualism
that hampers the ethics of international responsibility, the absence of this demar-
cation in Kautilyas Arthaśāstra permits many alternative forms of self-other rela-
tionship to grow, e.g., the self-other relationship wherein the subjects of own state
stay connected to the subjects of other states for many reasons (e.g., for expressing
discontent with certain policies), thereby mirroring the transnational realities of
current global politics: recent studies show how anti-government protests world-
wide have brought together dissatised individuals/groups that were assumed
unlikely to unite for a common cause due to ideological dierences (Axford,
Gulmez, and Gulmez ); and how popular dissatisfaction with governance
frameworks is resulting in new transnational sites of authority built around new
coalitions of actors/interests (Breslin and Nesadurai ). Because the subjects of
dierent states stay connected, the just exercise of power becomes a fundamental
international responsibility. Quoting Arthaśāstra, R.P. Kangle (: ) writes:
An unjust or improper use of ... power by the ruler might lead to serious conse-
quences, the most serious being a revolt of the subjects against the ruler ... large
number of acts on the part of the ruler ... are likely to make the subjects disaected
with his rule ... if the subjects become disaected [at the domestic level], they may
join hands with the ruler’s enemies [at the international level] ... [is] threat ... is
“ ”    
expected to serve as a check on the wanton use of coercive power by the ruler. is
shows at the same time how the ruler’s authority is, in the last analysis, dependent on
the contentment of the subjects.
Since the subjects’ contentment, as a vital aspect of public opinion, decides
the ruler’s authority, Kautilya announces that the ruler’s authority is harmed if
s/he does not pay what ought to be paid, or if s/he does exact what ought not to
be taken (Shamasastry : –): these acts damage the economic prospects
of the subjects of own state and/or other state/s. Kautilya further suggests that
a conqueror state is prudent if it is just toward the subjects because the subjects,
when impoverished, become greedy; when greedy, they become disaected; when
disaected, they either go over to the enemy state or themselves kill the unjust
ruler (Kangle : ). erefore, the conqueror state should not allow these
causes of decline, greed, and disaection among the subjects to arise, or, if arisen,
should instantaneously counteract them (Deb ). Also, Kautilya cautions that
the ruler’s authority is harmed if s/he attacks a state that has a virtuous ruler (who
takes good care of the subjects) or a prevalence of loyal subjects (who put up a
resilient ght for their ruler) (Olivelle : ). Even when the ruler attacks an
unjust state where a morally diseased king is likely to bring harm to his subjects,
the ruler’s authority is enforced if s/he saves the “value-systems” of the subjects of
that unjust state. Kautilya preaches:
Having acquired a new territory (aer defeating a morally-diseased enemy), he
should cover the enemy’s vices with his own virtues, and the enemy’s virtues by dou-
bling his own virtues ... he should follow the friends and leaders of the people ... he
should adopt the same mode of life, the same dress, language, and customs as those
of the people. He should follow the people in their faith with which they celebrate
their national, religious and congregational festivals. (Shamasastry 1915: 581–82)
e urge to keep the plurality of values shows the known connection between
“public opinion” and “foreign policy” in Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. Because of this
connection, Kautilya allows a minimal use of organized violence in foreign policy
(that could badly aect the public opinion): to begin with, Kautilya prioritizes the
“skills for intrigue” (understood as ingenious application of the “science of polity”)
for achieving intended goals, not enthusiasm or physical power that oen lead
to organized violence, such as war. But in case the war becomes a necessity, then
Kautliya advises the conqueror state to declare war against an unjust state with
disaected subjects who would not put up a resilient ght for their ruler, thereby
minimizing the scale of violence in war. Kautilya broadly classies three types of
war: “op en war” fought with preset place-time and stipulated rules; “concealed war”
fought with an element of surprise; and “silent war” similar to modern guerrilla
war. e moral legitimacy of war is contingent on the state’s relative power: the
states with evenly matched militaries should use open war, and the states that
are weaker than their opponents, or that are not sure about their relative power,
 
should use concealed/silent war. Kautilya can be seen as a forerunner of “just war
traditions” (Morkevičius ) because he engages with the ideas of jus ad bellum
(conditions that justify participation in war), jus in bello (rules about how war
should be fought once it has started), and jus post bellum (instructions on how
war should be ended).
Besides, Kautilya denounces the use of organized violence to torture those who,
aer being defeated in war, have reached a psychological terrain whereby they
are ready to lay down their lives. Kautilya cautions: “the vehemence of someone
who reenters a battle without regard for his life becomes irrepressible,” thus, it
is not only morally sound, but also rationally proper to not “harass a man who
has been crushed” (Olivelle : ). One can draw parallels between the irra-
tionality inherent in the torture of crushed individuals in Kautilyas Arthaśāstra
and the ongoing research on moral psychology and torture in existing IR
(Wisnewski ). Far from torture, Kautilya exhibits an empathy toward “rights”
(Chandrasekaran ): e.g., he attaches a huge importance to the compassion-
ate treatment of invaded rulers/ministers. Kautilya also puts an accent on duties/
responsibilities. J. Chemburkar (: ) explains:
[Kautilya] classies duties as viśesa dharma and sāmānya dharma . . . sāmānya
dharma includes duties ... which are common to all irrespective of any distinction
such as class, caste, creed, sex, time-space [e.g., the spiritual-value of “forgiveness” is
sāmānya dharma (Shamasastry 1915: 11)]. [But] there are certain duties which are
... determined by the role one is playing ... [these peculiar duties are called viśesa
dharma which] dier from individual to individual ... viśesa dharma is determined
by an individual’s relation with other fellow beings ... e.g. the king is bound by rajad-
harma [i.e., the king’s peculiar duty to obtain material prosperity for the subjects
(Kangle 1997: 131)] as he is ... related to the whole social fabric in a specic way.
As the ruler is related to the whole social fabric in a specic way, s/he shoulders
the duty to derive material well-being. But when the ruler acts to derive mate-
rial well-being, these acts should not become a hurdle in the path of spiritual
well-being: here, the duty toward utilitarian material well-being is to be rec-
onciled with an obligation toward altruistic spiritual well-being. R.P. Kangle
(: ) claries:
With artha understood, by implication, in the sense of the earth where men live
and seek their material well-being, it ceases to be a goal pursued by individuals and
appears as the means of ensuring the well-being of men in general. And since state
activity alone can make such general well-being possible, the protection of earth
[becomes] an essential part of state activity. [Arthaśāstra] is thus dened as the ...
[knowledge] which shows how this activity of the ... protection of the earth should
be carried out.
R. Eckersley () echoes a Kautilyan sentiment when she goes against the grain
of much current IR thinking to argue that the state is still the preeminent institu-
tion for tackling environmental issues on earth. Kautilya focuses upon moralpolitik
“ ”    
(i.e., abstract universal ideals of protecting the earth, minimizing the organized
violence, nurturing the plural values, defending the subjects’ contentment, and
practicing the value of forgiveness) as a necessary condition for realpolitik (i.e.,
rational/prudent struggle for maximization-of-power). As Kautilya focuses upon
moralpolitik as a necessary condition for realpolitik, he dilutes some of the basic
dichotomies that haunt the conventional study of global politics (Abbott, )—
namely, “self vs. other/s,” “material vs. ideational,” “spiritual vs. sensual,” and so on.
Indeed, it is this theoretical-practical temper of Kautilya—which amorally medi-
ates between the spiritual and sensual aspects of life (Shahi )—that stands to
upgrade the customary ways of handling the persisting challenges of global poli-
tics, such as climate change, pandemic, economic crisis, humanitarian interven-
tion, and war on terror.
“Realism between realpolitik and moralpolitik” is the hallmark of Kautilya’s
Amoral Realism. Against the Eurocentric idea of a zero-sum world (wherein
rational/prudent, not abstract/ideal, hunt for power by “self” can deplete the
power of “other/s”), Kautilya’s Amoral Realism complements the image of a zero-
sum-world with a “variable-sum world”: Kautilya agrees that dierent states must
seek to augment their power (in order to retain growth, or to make progress from
decline to stability, and then, from stability to growth); but when dierent states
seek to augment their power, they must know that they do not always share a
competitive relationship with each other; at dierent points in time in dealing
with dierent states, the growth in power of own state (“self ”) requires not only
depletion in power of “other/s” (zero-sum view), but also coordinated growth
in power of “other/s” (variable-sum view). To attain this coordinated growth in
power of “self” and “other/s,” Kautilya’s Amoral Realism, unlike Han Fei’s Amoral
Realism, prescribes a proactive (not nonactive) upkeep of the abstract-spiritual
bureaucratic-legal forms. As Kautilya’s Amoral Realism tracks coordinated
growth in power of “self ” and “other/s,” it unleashs a robust vision of global poli-
tics that strives to reconcile the seemingly disjointed spheres of “the domestic”
and “the international.
artha: material well-being; kāma: physical pleasure; dharma: righteousness; yogakshema:
protection/survival; lokasamgraha: benet for all
. Neoclassical Realism (Fareed Zakaria) emerged as the “logical extension” of Neorealism. But
some IR scholars claim that Neoclassical Realism undermines the core of Neorealism (Legro and
Moravcsik ).
 
. e notion of zero-sum power holds that the gain of power by “self” leads to an equivalent loss
of power by “other/s.” By contrast, the variable-sum view on power—which is infrequently described in
Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra—assumes that it is possible to have mutual gains of power not oset by equiva-
lent losses somewhere else (positive-sum), and mutual losses of power not oset by equivalent gains
somewhere else (negative-sum).
. R. Aron () admits the “morality of struggle” and “morality of law,” but recommends what
he calls the “morality of prudence,” thereby conveying that the morality in IR is equivocal. Likewise,
E.H. Carr () considers the coexistence of “utopia” and “reality” as two irreconcilable forces in IR.
. Since khya does not consider God as the creator of the world (Larson ), it is seen as an
“atheistic” (not religious) philosophy. Nevertheless, a few scholars suggest that khya is not an atheistic
philosophy as it does not falsify the existence of God, but only denies the role of God as the sole creator
of the world (Bronkhorst ). Yoga considers the belief in God as the “rst teacher” (Dickstein ).
. As khya (Sākhyakārikā, – CE) lends support to Yoga (Yogasūtra, – CE)
(Perrett ), khya and Yoga are oen jointly referred to as “khya-Yoga.”
. e dualistic reality of Sāmkhya-Yoga assumes the separate existence of prakrti/matter and
purusa/spirit. Lokāyata proposes a more nuanced picture of this dualistic reality when it argues that
“spiritual-consciousness” originates from “material-body” (Bhattacharya ). ough Lokāyata
ranks the material-body over and above the spiritual-consciousness, it does not refute the separate
ontological existence of these two kinds of reality.
. Is Kautilya equally motivated by dharma, artha, and kāma? N.P. Sil (: –) writes: “One
major problem in determining the extent of Kautilya’s moral susceptibility is that he is seldom consis-
tent in his contentions . .. He might occasionally appear ... amoral, though, on closer scrutiny, his
fundamental moralism becomes obvious. For instance, he observes that ... material well-being[/artha]
alone is supreme, for, spiritual good[/dharma] and sensual pleasures[/kāma] depend on material well-
being ... Yet, on another occasion, Kautilya comments that a king must preserve his body, not wealth;
for, what regret can there be for wealth that is impermanent?” S. Gray (: ) asserts: “Kautilya ...
does not argue for artha’s superiority but rather for its harmonious integration with the other goals
of human life .. . dharma [righteousness], kāma (desire, including the sphere of physical, sensual
delights), and moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) all depend upon artha [material
well-being] to ourish in a codependent fashion ... Kautilya’s claim concerns material dependence, not
qualitative superiority.” Even for K.J. Shah (), Kautilya does not negate, at least in theory, that artha
has to be pursued in accordance with dharma.
. “Dao” (or “e Way”) denotes an absolute entity which is the source of the universe. However,
cosmic Dao is not a transcendent source beyond the physical world; rather, it is something which
is “always present” / “always emerging”: as such, it is creative but is not a supreme creator God. Since it
continually creates multiple things in manifest world, it gives birth to “complementary polarities” (yin/
yang). Human beings—whose sociocultural presence is marked by artice and restraints—can only
strive to attune themselves to the mysterious uctuations of cosmic Dao. It is said that the cosmic Dao
is no special lover of humanity. For a study on how the Dao of inner saint and outer king are linked, see
Shan ().
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In the discipline of international relations there are contending general theories or theoretical perspectives. Realism, also known as political realism, is a view of international politics that stresses its competitive and conflictual side. It is usually contrasted with idealism or liberalism, which tends to emphasize cooperation. Realists consider the principal actors in the international arena to be states, which are concerned with their own security, act in pursuit of their own national interests, and struggle for power. The negative side of the realists’ emphasis on power and selfinterest is often their skepticism regarding the relevance of ethical norms to relations among states. National politics is the realm of authority and law, whereas international politics, they sometimes claim, is a sphere without justice, characterized by active or potential conflict among states. Cite: Korab-Karpowicz, W. Julian, "Political Realism in International Relations", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
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