The Arthashastra is an “important Indian manual on the art of politics (EB).”  It identifies its author by the name “Kauṭilya,” among others (Wikipedia).

As I read about it, I immediately thought of Machiavelli’s book The Prince, which for Westerners is the standard guide to political ruthlessness.  Apparently, though, Machiavelli is a bit tame.  According to Wikipedia:

Because of its harsh political pragmatism, the Arthashastra has often been compared to Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Is there any other book that talks so openly about when using violence is justified? When assassinating an enemy is useful? When killing domestic opponents is wise? How one uses secret agents? When one needs to sacrifice one’s own secret agent? How the king can use women and children as spies and even assassins? When a nation should violate a treaty and invade its neighbor? Kautilya — and to my knowledge only Kautilya — addresses all those questions. In what cases must a king spy on his own people? How should a king test his ministers, even his own family members, to see if they are worthy of trust? When must a king kill a prince, his own son, who is heir to the throne? How does one protect a king from poison? What precautions must a king take against assassination by one’s own wife? When is it appropriate to arrest a troublemaker on suspicion alone? When is torture justified? At some point, every reader wonders: Is there not one question that Kautilya found immoral, too terrible to ask in a book? No, not one. And this is what brings a frightful chill. But this is also why Kautilya was the first great, unrelenting political realist.

—Boesche (2002, p. 1)

Max Weber observed:

Truly radical ‘Machiavellianism’, in the popular sense of that word, is classically expressed in Indian literature in the Arthasastra of Kautilya (written long before the birth of Christ, ostensibly in the time of Chandragupta): compared to it, Machiavelli’s The Prince is harmless.

—Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (1919)

However, these aspects form just one of the 15 books that comprise the Arthaśāstra. The scope of the work is far broader than popular perceptions indicate, and in the treatise can also be found compassion for the poor, for servants and slaves, and for women. For instance, Kautilya advocates what is now known as land reform, and elsewhere ensures the protection of the chastity of female servants or prisoners.  Significant portions of the book also cover the role of dharma, welfare of a kingdom’s subjects and alleviating hardship in times of disaster, such as famine.

It would be interesting to read Arthashastra‘s advice on torture and compare it with current arguments in the age of terrorism.




What is your philosophy of life?  Should you have one?

In Hinduism, artha is the pursuit of wealth or material advantage, one of the four traditional aims in life (EB).  Artha is considered the “means of life,” so it includes making a living and securing one’s health (Wikipedia, “Artha”).

The other three goals of human life are the following:

  • Dharma (virtuous, proper, moral life),
  • Kama (pleasure, sensuality, emotional fulfillment) and
  • Moksha (liberation, release, self-actualization).

Together, these four aims of life are called Puruṣārtha (Wikipedia, “Artha”).

Artha applies to both an individual and a government.  At government level, artha includes social, legal, economic and worldly affairs. Proper Arthashastra is considered an important and necessary objective of government.

I think it would be interesting to compare Hindu texts on money and careers with the Bible.

Regarding money, various Hindu texts emphasize being a good steward of money and not chasing after it or letting it hinder one’s spiritual life, which is the same message of the Bible.

I wonder what Hinduism would add to an understanding of careers. A Christian understanding of work can come from Calvin’s writings on a “vocation,” which is literally work as a “calling.”  As one example, Calvin states that “there would be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed highly important in the sight of God (”  I suppose Calvin, then, was the foundation of the “Protestant work ethic.”

I also wonder if our government would be improved by a more comprehensive philosophy of government such as that in Hinduism or in Confucianism.  America has an excellent philosophy of government, but it seems to be more about what our government is not allowed to do rather than than what an effective, efficient government ought to do.   It’s a shame that our current government is so ineffective and inefficient. As our founders were aware, however, talking about all the things the government can do is a dangerous path, as it could lead to a turbulent flood of government interference in all of our lives.

Two sidenotes:

  1. The mention of “self-actualization” as a definition of Moksha made me wonder if Hinduism is a source for psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theories on personality development.
  2. Should sensuality be a goal of life, or is this just an opening for debauchery?  What would a life that set goals for sensuality look like?

Photo credit:

Artevelde, Jacob van

From :

Flemish leader who played a leading role in the preliminary phase of the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453).  (Flanders is the northern part of Belgium and thus was at the center of the conflicts between England and France.)

I thought two things were interesting about van Artevelde.  First, “Van Artevelde had already reached middle age when he began to take part in public affairs,” showing that it is never too late to begin a new career.  (as the lives of Colonel Harland Sanders and Grandma Moses also illustrate).

Second, the EB claims that “[h]is violent disposition, which led to him kill an opponent in a quarrel, was a quality he shared with many of his contemporaries.”  I have to wonder if the number of violent dispositions tends to ebb and flow with the tide of history.

Artesia, New Mexico

Imagine going to an elementary school where you play basketball on its concrete roof.  Then, as you go to class, you walk past your school’s morgue.  That’s right–your elementary school has its own morgue.

According to EB, “Artesia’s Abo Elementary School is the first underground school in the United States; it was designed to protect against atomic radiation and fallout.”

Wikipedia (

Abo Elementary School was built partly in order to further the development of American fallout shelter design and to further knowledge about the long-term effects of life underground in a shelter environment.  Because the school was windowless, Architect Frank Standhardt thought that students would be less distracted.  Teachers often described Abo’s students as less likely to cause trouble, more attentive, and less likely to require discipline.  On the other hand, many of those same students described heightened awareness of the possibility of nuclear war, and some were terrified that they could be orphaned in the event of war.

Federal studies concluded that the students suffered no long-term effects from their time in Abo, and many students who suffered from chronic allergies or asthma were transferred to Abo as its advanced air filtration systems reduced the impact of dust storms and allergens. Indeed, these studies concluded that many students’ health improved as a result of extended time in the school.

Due to the expense of maintaining the school (and its asbestos), Abo was converted into a storage shed in 1995.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Artemisia I

Queen of Halicarnassus, Artemisia ruled during the overlordship of the Persian king Xerxes (reigned 486–465) and participated in Xerxes’ invasion of Greece (480–479). Despite her able command of five ships in the major naval battle with the Greeks off the island of Salamis near Athens, the Persian fleet suffered a severe defeat.

She was a clever tactician.  Wikipedia gives the details:

An Athenian ship pursued Artemisia’s ship.  She was not able to escape because in front of her were friendly ships. She ordered the Persian colors to be taken down and then charged a friendly ship on which was King Damasithymos.  In a bit of a twist, it is noted that Artemisia had previously had some disagreement with this king. (I’m hoping it was an argument about military tactics.)  Herodotus says “I am not able to say whether she did this by intention, or whether the Calyndian ship happened by chance to fall in her way.”  King Damasithymos died when his ship sank.

When the captain of the Athenian ship, Ameinias, saw her charge against a Persian ship, he turned his ship away and went after others, supposing that the ship of Artemisia was either a Greek ship or was deserting from the Persians and fighting for the Greeks.

Herodotus believed that Ameinias didn’t know that Artemisia was on the ship, because otherwise he would not have ceased his pursuit until either he had captured her or had been captured himself, because “orders had been given to the Athenian captains, and moreover a prize was offered of ten thousand drachmas for the man who should take her alive; since they thought it intolerable that a woman should make an expedition against Athens.”

Polyaenus in his work Stratagems says that Artemisia had in her ship two different standards. When she chased a Greek ship, she hoisted the Persian colors. But when she was chased by a Greek ship, she hoisted the Greek colors, so that the enemy might mistake her for a Greek and give up the pursuit.

Polyaenus also tells the story of how she conquered Latmus.  She placed soldiers in ambush near the city and she, with women, eunuchs and musicians, celebrated a sacrifice at the grove of the Mother of the Gods, which was about seven stades distant from the city. (A stade, from which we get the word “stadium,” is about 600 feet.)  When the inhabitants of Latmus came out to see the magnificent procession, the soldiers entered the city and took possession of it.

Sun Tzu’s Art of War is a popular book with business owners and managers, but I wonder if Stratagems would be just as interesting and useful.

Artemisia II

Sister and wife of King Mausolus (reigned 377/376–353/352) of Caria, in southwestern Anatolia, and sole ruler for about three years after the king’s death (EB). She is renowned for her extraordinary grief at the death of her husband (and brother) Mausolus. She is said to have mixed his ashes in her daily drink, and to have gradually pined away during the two years that she survived him (Wikipedia).  She built for her husband, in his capital at Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum, Turkey), the tomb called the Mausoleum, which was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World (EB).

Artemisia was also known as a botanist and medical researcher; Artemisia, a plant genus, is named after her (EB).

I just thought it was interesting where the word “mausoleum” came from.  Also, I read in another article that Egyptian brothers and sisters sometimes married, but the Greeks were appalled by the practice.

art brut


I didn’t realize that so many internet comics were actually examples of art brut.  The example above is the banner from

“(French: “raw art”), art of the French painter Jean Dubuffet, who in the 1940s promoted art that is crude, inexperienced, and even obscene. Dubuffet, the most important French artist to emerge after World War II, became interested in the art of the mentally ill in mid-career, after studying The Art of the Insane by the Swiss psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn. Dubuffet applied the name art brut to the drawings, paintings, and doodlings of the psychotic, the naive, and the primitive, works that he regarded as the purest forms of creative expression. Like the early Cubists’ discovery of primitive Oceanian and African sculpture, Dubuffet’s study of this type of art gave him the inspiration he sought for his own art, as it represented for him the most authentic expression of emotion and human values.”

The Art of the Insane sounds intriguing.  I wonder if there are certain themes that are common in such art.  The paintings I called up in a search engine tended to be horrific facial expressions, skulls, and some religious imagery.  I wonder if religious imagery would be more common in people suffering from delusions of grandeur (e.g., thinking that you are Christ).

I also wonder why paintings done by the mentally ill seem a better source of inspiration than music.  I would think that music done by the mentally ill would be so unstructured as to be unbearably ugly.  Why wouldn’t the lack of structure harm the esthetics of paintings then?  Do principles of structure matter more in some types of art than in others?  If so, why?

A final question this topic raises for me is whether the art of the mentally ill is truly “the most authentic expression of emotion and human values.”  This seems akin to Rousseau’s Romantic elevation of the “noble savage,” which seems questionable to me.  Sometimes a savage is just barbaric and a child is just childish and a mentally ill person is just crazy.