The discovery in the Arthasastra of recommendations which are unethical by Indian standards is thus to be reconciled, for without artha (material advantage) dharma cannot be practised, nor kama obtained, without which sons cannot be born to worship gods and ancestors, and thus moksha itself is in jeopardy. The need, psychologically, for moksha explained all aspects of the\ancient Indian polity, in theory and in history; and with the decline of the desire for moksha we now find a redefinition of values, and a different conception of the state.
The background we have now surveyed may throw a welcome light on features of the Indian civilization noticed elsewhere. A combination of rajas against foreign enemies or ideological opponents was hardly contemplated. Only an emperor could organize defence against such a foe. The advent of a new raja was not feared as such, since even a foreign ruler was still a raja, and only the notion that he would convert the subjects to a different religion dissolved this recognition.
Intrigue or competition between groups was innocuous in a society whose institutions were designed to prevent aggrandizement by groups, let alone individuals. The supreme social category was not the individual propelled by competitive self-interest. Under the umbrella of the raja’s gift of abhaya (security) tolerance caused no strain, bigotry could develop no inhuman aspects, enthusiasms were confined to individuals and leant towards personal immortality. Opinions which did not deny the fundamental requirements of dharma could flourish.
Good behaviour or stereotyped attitudes were more important than opinions. Hypocrisy, self-deception, morals confined to the groups in which they were significant, an articulate rather than an integrated concept of society, these fitted a state in which dogmas had no absolute value, and there was no machinery to repress any but those who flouted the established order.
Similarly the system bred the notion that breaches of caste discipline, lapses from virtue, were not so much the fault of individuals as of the state, and that just as the king must restore the value of a cow which was stolen and not recovered, so he must punish adulterers; otherwise part of the guilt attaches to his own person.
Underlying this concept is the fear (perhaps not unsupported by experience) that the removal of political authority turns every other man into a thief and a fornicator. India had a respect for order, custom, institutions, unaccompanied by any belief that these must be justified, without questioning the very assumption that there must be institutions.
One could argue, and people did argue, that fraternal polyandry was congruent with dharma, but no one was so eccentric as to doubt for a moment that marriage and property were possible only in civilized political life, namely the state.
On the other hand India admitted the individual’s right to try to leave the lump in which fate had placed him hence the great importance of religious movements. These took the place occupied in the West by liberal movements in which political reforms and scientific advances came together.
Another explanation, however, for the non-emergence in India of a popular striving for reform, even in the face of gross exploitation, may be the theory, itself part of the system, that those who denied that the king was entitled to his revenue (on account of his ignoring their petitions) might properly decamp and live elsewhere.
If grumbling could not keep revenue demands within practicable limits there was always this remedy. True, the migrants would soon be subject to a state like that which they had abandoned, but this possibility of migration, which remained well into the nineteenth century, excused an investigation of inherent weaknesses in the system.