• Bruce Rich (Interview)
  • Religion Dispatches {an independent award-winning online magazine on culture, politics, and religion}
  • May 19, 2010

"As I researched Ashoka, I realized I couldn’t understand him without understanding Kautilya, the brains behind the empire founded by his grandfather, Chandragupta. Kautilya is even less known in the West, yet in the 4th century BC wrote the first major work on economics, 'Arthasastra,' literally the science of material wealth. He wrote that the underlying principle of society was not morality, or even brute force, but acquisition and management of material wealth. His approach is utilitarian, and at times, ruthless. In the early 1900s, Max Weber, one of the founders of sociology, said 'Machiavelli, compared to Kautilya, is an infant.'"

Question: Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why? "One in particular has evoked a special resonance, Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Travels with Herodotus. As a young foreign correspondent in the 1960s he found no better guide to understanding a globalized humanity than the father of history, Herodotus, who lived 2500 years before. He cites T.S. Eliot who warned of the growing view that life’s problems could be solved in terms of engineering, of 'a new kind of provincialism… not of space but of time,' one for which history is merely a scrap heap.'To project myself from this temporal provincialism,' Kapuscinski concludes, 'I  set off into Herodotus’ world, the wise experienced Greek as my guide. We wandered together for years.' Our current Web- and media-dominated era is willfully provincial and ignorant, valuing more and more immediacy and the short term, as well as the pretensions, now aging badly, of neo-liberal economics to set universal, simplistic rules for engineering human societies. When I read Kapuscinki’s words I realized that the same hunger for understanding the world that led him to Herodotus, led me to Ashoka and Kautilya."

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