The State of Nature in Comparative Political Thought addresses non-Western conceptions of the "state of nature", revealing how basic questions related to political thought are reflected in Chinese, Islamic, Indic, and other cultural contexts. It contributes to the burgeoning field of comparative political theory, and should be of interest to political theorists, regional specialists, students of globalization, as well as anyone interested in non-Western approaches to basic political questions.
The political thought of Mohandas K. Gandhi has been increasingly used as a paradigmatic example of hybrid political thought that developed out of a cross-cultural dialogue of eastern and western influences. With a novel unpacking of this hybridity, this article focuses on the conceptual influences that Gandhi explicitly stressed in his autobiography and other writings, particularly the works of Leo Tolstoy and the Bhagavad Gītā. This new tracing of influence in the development of Gandhi’s thought alters the substantive thrust of (...) Gandhi’s thought away from more familiar quasi-liberal interpretations and towards a far more substantive bhakti or devotional understanding of politics. The analysis reveals a conception of politics that is not pragmatic in its use of non-violence, but instead points to a devotional focus on cultivating the self (ātman), ultimately dissolving the public/private distinction that many readings of Gandhi’s thought depend upon. (shrink)
Since the rediscovery of the ancient Indian political thinker Kautilya and his Arthaśāstra in the early twentieth century, scholars have argued for similarities between his political thinking and Machiavelli’s, especially on the topic of realism. Employing a new analytic approach to reexamine their political thought, I locate unidentified tensions and overlaps between Machiavelli’s secular ethic, which pulls towards autonomous standards, and Kautilya’s political-theological ethic, which follows traditional brahmanical beliefs. In the first part of the essay, I challenge existing interpretations of (...) Kautilya’s thought and clarify a coherent political theology in the Arthaśāstra. The second part critically assesses their realist positions using the concepts of flexibility and legitimacy. While I explain how the Machiavellian position poses justifiable objections to the apparent repression and self-defeating nature of brahmanical realism, I also argue that the Kautilyan position raises important questions concerning both the flexibility and inflexibility of a secular realist position. (shrink)
From the late nineteenth to twentieth century, the Bhagavad-Gītā became a transnational text influenced and molded by British colonialism and Orientalism. In this article, I argue that a particularly influential western figure, Peter Brook, adapted and represented the Gītā for a transnational audience in ways that expanded a neocolonial and Orientalist interpretive horizon for its contemporary reception. This essay examines how Brook’s particular approach to and universalist representation of the Gītā reveal an important decolonial paradox: the extension of colonial relations (...) into artistic and scholarly exchanges when attempting to enhance a text’s cross-cultural intelligibility. I advance this argument by critically exploring Brook’s universalist claims and ethical reflections on war, showing how his neocolonial vision of order—along with his impulse for control and speedy consumption of “performance capital”—ultimately undercut his universalizing aspirations. Finally, this examination elucidates a positive strategy for addressing the decolonial paradox in a contemporary Indian setting. (shrink)
Scholars have highlighted various issues and approaches on which to focus attention within the emerging field of cross-cultural political thought. Developing a responsible methodological approach to non-Western traditions is of particular significance, given the growing importance of such traditions, the danger of cultural reductionism and the undue imposition of Western terms and categories during the comparative process. Consequently, this article argues for a historical approach to Brahmanical-Hindu political thought that examines distinctions between genres, concepts, terms and categories, including how these (...) distinctions influence the historical meaning of political ideas. To illustrate my argument, a revised interpretation of the Sanskrit word mtsyanyya -- which had been unfortunately translated into the familiar phrase 'state of nature' -- both clarifies our understanding of Brahmanical political thought and displays how existing comparisons 'domesticate' important differences between European and Brahmanical political ideas. Such analysis exposes a culturally reductive interpretive process operating within existing comparative scholarship. (shrink)