In 1991, Bruce Rich traveled to Orissa and gazed upon the rock edicts erected by the Indian emperor Ashoka over 2,200 years ago. Intrigued by the stone inscriptions that declared religious tolerance, conservation, nonviolence, species protection, and human rights, Rich was drawn into Ashoka's world. Ashoka was a powerful conqueror who converted to Buddhism on the heels of a bloody war, yet his empire rested on a political system that prioritized material wealth and amoral realpolitik. This system had been perfected by Kautilya, a statesman who wrote the world's first treatise on economics. In this powerful critique of the current wave of globalization, Rich urgently calls for a new global ethic, distilling the messages of Ashoka and Kautilya while reflecting on thinkers from across the ages—from Aristotle and Adam Smith to George Soros.
What do a political philosopher and an Indian emperor from the third century have to teach the modern world? "A global system, grounded on reverence for life, nonviolence, toleration," argues Rich (Mortgaging the Earth). In the Arthashastra, the world's first treatise on economics and governance, statesman Kautilya laid out a realpolitik thesis that became the basis of the great emperor Ashoka's empire, which "presided over the high point of the first economic globalization." Ashoka tempered Kautilya's Machiavellian maneuverings with his embrace of dhamma a Buddhist ethic of nonviolence and compassion. Ashoka's monolithic pillars and rock edicts proclaiming his principles of governance and listing protected animals and plants still survive all over India and as far west as Afghanistan. The book's message is inspiring and wise, but factual errors and minor mistranslations there is a deer park at Sarnath, but the word itself does not mean "deer park"; Chanakya (son of Chanak), Kautilya (the wily one) and Vishnugupta are all names that refer to the author of Arthashastra, so it is meaningless to refer to Chanakya as the "mythical name" provide jarring notes.