July 13, 2008ArthashastraForeign AffairshistoryIndiainternational relationsKautilyaPublic PolicyRealismrealpolitik

Reading the Arthashastra: friend, gold and territory

The rediscovery of Indian Realism—starting a new series

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Dr Rudrapatna Shamasastry’s 1915 translation of Kautilya’s Arthashastra has long been available online. The Acorn will attempt to publish excerpts each weekend—for discovery, for learning and for enjoyment.

We start with Chapter IX (On agreements for the acquisition of a friend or gold”) of Book VII (“The End of the Six-Fold Policy”). Books VI and VII largely concern what we would today call international relations theory. And be warned: this is the advice he offers to a sovereign—a king in his age, and the government in ours. So don’t try this at home or indiscriminately apply it to your personal life.

Of the three gains, the acquisition of a friend, of gold, and of territory, accruing from the march of combined powers, that which is mentioned later is better than the one previously mentioned; for friends and gold can be acquired by means of territory; of the two gains, that of a friend and of gold, each can be a means to acquire the other.

Which is better of the two: a friend of long-standing, but unsubmissive nature, or a temporary friend of submissive nature, both being acquired by affording relief from their respective troubles?

My teacher says that a long-standing friend of unsubmissive nature is better inasmuch as such a friend, though not helpful, will not create harm.

Not so, says Kautilya: a temporary friend of submissive nature is better; for such a friend will be a true friend so long as he is helpful; for the real characteristic of friendship lies in giving help.

Which is better, a big friend, difficult to be roused, or a small friend, easy to be roused?

My teacher says that a big friend, though difficult to be roused, is of imposing nature, and when he rises up, he can accomplish the work undertaken.

Not so, says Kautilya: a small friend easy to be roused is better, for such a friend will not, in virtue of his ready preparations, be behind the opportune moment of work, and can, in virtue of his weakness in power, be used in any way the conqueror may like; but not so the other of vast territorial power.

Which is better, a friend of vast population, or a friend of immense gold?

My teacher says that a friend of vast population is better inasmuch as such a friend will be of imposing power and can, when he rises up, accomplish any work undertaken.

Not so, says Kautilya: a friend possessing immense gold is better; for possession of gold is ever desirable; but an army is not always required. Moreover armies and other desired objects can be purchased for gold.

Which is better, a friend possessing gold, or a friend possessing vast territory?

My teacher says that a friend possessing gold can stand any heavy expenditure made with discretion.

Not so, says Kautilya: for it has already been stated that both friends and gold can be acquired by means of territory. Hence a friend of vast territory is far better.

When the friend of the conqueror and his enemy happen to possess equal population, their people may yet differ in possession of qualities such as bravery, power of endurance, amicableness, and qualification for the formation of any kind of army.

When the friends are equally rich in gold, they may yet differ in qualities such as readiness to comply with requests, magnanimous and munificent help, and accessibility at any time and always.

Which is better, an immediate small gain, or a distant large gain?

My teacher says that an immediate small gain is better, as it is useful to carry out immediate undertakings.

Not so, says Kautilya: a large gain, as continuous as a productive seed, is better; otherwise an immediate small gain. [Arthashastra Book VII]

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