To Uphold the World: A Call for a New Global Ethic from Ancient India

Cornell University, Author, Bruce Rich, Author . Beacon $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8070-0249-0

What do a political philosopher and an Indian emperor from the third century have to teach the modern world? “A global system, grounded on reverence for life, nonviolence, toleration,” argues Rich (Mortgaging the Earth ). In the Arthashastra , the world's first treatise on economics and governance, statesman Kautilya laid out a realpolitik thesis that became the basis of the great emperor Ashoka's empire, which “presided over the high point of the first economic globalization.” Ashoka tempered Kautilya's Machiavellian maneuverings with his embrace of dhamma—a Buddhist ethic of nonviolence and compassion. Ashoka's monolithic pillars and rock edicts proclaiming his principles of governance and listing protected animals and plants still survive all over India and as far west as Afghanistan. The book's message is inspiring and wise, but factual errors and minor mistranslations—there is a deer park at Sarnath, but the word itself does not mean “deer park”; Chanakya (son of Chanak), Kautilya (the wily one) and Vishnugupta are all names that refer to the author of Arthashastra , so it is meaningless to refer to Chanakya as the “mythical name”—provide jarring notes. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 11/02/2009
Release date: 03/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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