Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

42
Some Aspects of Ancient Indian
Political Organization 1

U. N. Ghoshal


Monarchic Constitutions

In the first millennium and a half and more of our country's ancient history (c. 1500 B.C.-A.D. 300) monarchic States dominated the political stage at the expense of republican constitutions arising in their midst from time to time, while they held exclusive sway in the following millennium (c. A.D. 300‐ 1300). This was due to the operation of a number of historical forces. Among these may be mentioned in the first place the teachings of the Brāhmaṇa canonists who recognized in their Law-Books (Smritis or Dharmaśāstras) the king as an essential unit of their social system. To this we have to add the view of the authors of the science of polity (Arthaśāstra), who held the sovereign to be one (and in general the first) of a group of seven constituents of the State. Without pressing the analogy too far we may find a parallel in European history where the main political tradition ever since the downfall of the Roman Republican constitution and until the rise of the French Revolutionary Republic has been monarchical, and the cause of this phenomenon has been traced in the first instance to the two great factors of the Roman Empire and the Christian Church. (H. A. L. Fisher, The Republican Tradition in Europe, pp. 3, 5, 7, 16, 34, 88.) It is evidently not possible in the course of a short paper to trace the history of the Indian monarchic State through all the centuries of its existence as mentioned above. We propose instead to analyse some of the leading and much-discussed features of this type of polity in the light of a dispassionate survey of the available material as far as possible.

Firstly, as regards the rules and principles of the works on Dharmaśāstra and Arthaśāstra in relation

to the King's office. We have to mention two extreme views that have been put forward on this subject, one dismissing the above as "admonitions of text-book writers about the duties of the ideal King," and the other acclaiming the same as "constitutional laws" limiting the King's authority. A careful examination of the relevant data proves both these views to be erroneous. On the one hand the Smriti rules and principles relating to the obligation of the temporal ruler towards his subjects partook of the nature of solemn injunctions imposed upon the King by the sacred canon as part and parcel of a comprehensive scheme of duties of the constituent units of the social system, and they were supported as such by the highest moral and spiritual sanctions. Although from the nature of the case the similar rules and principles of the Arthaśāstra tradition were lacking in such high authority, they could not but carry great weight as reflecting the judgment of the great masters of the science of polity. On the other hand the Smiti‐ Arthaśāstra rules and principles fall short of the requirements of "constitutional laws" even after general standards. For, in the first place, the Indian scheme of duties and obligations of the temporal ruler claims to lay down the law for the King's guidance irrespectively of the conditions of place and time, thus missing its practical application as the organic law of a particular state or group of states at any definite period. In the second place, the Indian scheme failed, as we shall presently see, to provide an effective constitutional machinery to enforce its observance by the King. The most convincing evidence of the ineffectiveness of the Smiti-Arthaśāstra restraints on the ruler's authority in actual practice is furnished by the objective pictures of the misrule of Kings which lie scattered throughout our ancient literature. As regards the general tendencies and characteristics of the directions laid down for the ruler's guidance by our ancient authors, we have to mention that these rest throughout on the two mutually complementary principles,

____________________
From U. N. Ghoshal, "Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Political Organization," prepared for the International Commission for a History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind, and published in Journal of World History, VI, No. 2 (1960), 223-234.

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