To Uphold the World: The Message of Ashoka and Kautilya for the 21st Century
by Bruce Rich
Foreword by Amartya Sen
Afterword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we cannot escape the turbocharged global economy we live in. Yet the very forces that link all of us have accelerated the dissolution of traditional sources of social authority and historical identity, spurring increasingly violent counter movements. We realize traditional national politics and the reorganization of all social values around markets cannot hold together the six and a half billion inhabitants of this small planet—the world needs a new global order based on a common global ethic and global justice.
To Uphold the World is Bruce Rich's deeply illuminating and thought-provoking exploration of such an alternative. His search to found a civil and international order on principles that transcend the goals of pure economic efficiency and amoral realpolitik is inspired by the writings and lives of two of the greatest figures of ancient India—Ashoka and Kautilya. Ashoka provides a unique example of a world ruler—his empire at the time was arguably the world's largest, richest and most powerful multi-ethnic state—who tried to put into practice a secular state ethic of non-violence and reverence for life, which he also extended to international relations. Kautilya, one of history's greatest political geniuses, wrote the world's first treatise on political economy, the Arthasastra, which proclaims accumulation of material riches as the chief underpinning of human society. Both addressed the questions of political realism and idealism, the role of force and violence in international relations, and the tension between economics and ethics. Through the retelling of mythical and historical accounts, Bruce Rich distils the message of Ashoka and Kautilya to help us uphold our world in the twenty-first century.
A unique blend of historical and political narrative combined with reflections on contemporary society, the international environment and human rights, To Uphold the World is particularly timely, because it puts forth a truly original perspective and thinking on our responses to the political, economic and ethical challenges of globalization.
'The reader is drawn powerfully into a long-gone world in which an extraordinary human being dramatically changed his own life and the world around him . . . With ingenious political analysis…Rich examines the relevance of Ashoka's approach to subduing the persistent violence and wars of our time, and also to remedying the deep inequalities and injuries that make our globalized world so badly in need of betterment….Kautilya's political economy….is an approach that, Bruce Rich argues, can importantly supplement Ashoka's vision….A highly readable book on the importance and reach of some arguments in ancient India, and on their relevance for global problems today….I fell very privileged to have been given the role of introducing this important and enjoyable book to the general public.”—From the Foreword by Amartya Sen.
'‘It is often suggested that the idea of democracy has its roots in the west, but by insisting that citizens be treated as equals, protected under law, and that he and those who served him should regard the people's welfare as their highest duty, Emperor Ashoka seems to have anticipated some of democracy's key ideals….To Uphold the World should serve as a source of great inspiration….It is my hope and prayer that readers today may be inspired by this tale of a powerful ruler, who was such a great force for good throughout ancient India, to find ways to contribute to making the world…a more just and peaceful place.’—From the Afterword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama