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Western and Indian Political Thought : A Comparative Analysis

Political Thought is the thought of the whole community.

Political Theory answers the questions like:
  1. Are all the individuals equal
  2. What comes first � �The State� or �The Individual�?
  3. How does one justify violence employed by the state?
  4. Is the minority justified in dictating terms to the majority and vice versa?

These four questions would be taken up to study the theories mentioned in this project in the later chapters but only with respect to the contemporary world.

Political Theory as a Technique of Analysis
When Aristotle remarked that the individual is a political animal, he indicated the primacy of politics and the fact that political thinking takes place at various levels and in variety of ways. Political theory is used either to defend or question the status quo. It is a way to analysis the present scenario and to understand the loopholes and positive points in order to form a mechanism which deals with the state for a step towards welfare state. Some commentators like Goodwin emphasize the centrality of the power paradigm whereas others like Talcott Parsons downgrade it, comparing it to money in modern politics which is very true in case of contemporary world. Recent works by John Rawls and Robert Nozick do not

1 A history of political thought Plato to Marx(book), Subrata Mukherjee and Sushila Ramaswamy (Authors), Prentice Hall of India, New Delhi(Publishers), February, 2007 (8th edition) page no.4

emphasize on �power� at all.2 It is however interesting that Rawls talks about justice, well- ordered society, stability and efficiency without any attempt to speak about �Power�.

Political Theory as Conceptual Clarification
Political Theory helps to understand the concepts and terms used in a political argument and analysis. For example: the meaning of freedom, equality, democracy, justice, rights etc. these terms are used in daily routine and as well as in the subject. An understanding to all these terms helps us to know the way they have been employed and distinguished from one another, which would make the concepts and issues involved easily

Political Theory as Formal Model Building
Few theories given by the Thinkers are of great importance and could be used as a devise to formulate a model for social working and upliftment and thereby, producing the product of welfare state. And many theories could be used for formulation of foreign policies or economic policies. Political Theory can help in a number of ways, e.g., Joseph Schumpeter�s Elitist Theory of Democracy was based on the assumption that a human being takes his economic life more seriously than the political one.

Political Theory as Theoretical Political Science
The emergence of political science in the twentieth century has led to some political scientists to look upon political theory as a mere theoretical branch of the discipline. It is more of an attempt made to understand the empirical structure of the society and its impact on the individual surviving therein and hence, the world on the greater scale.

Research Methodology
Statement Of Problem

Analyze and compare Indian and Western Political Thought

  • To enhance knowledge about Indian Political Thought
  • To analyse Western Political Thought
  • To Compare Indian and Western thoughts to see the similarities and differences

The method used for research work in the present project is the doctrinal method of data collection.

Indian Political Thought

Ancient Indian Political Thought has been significantly represented by the Vedas, the Upnishads, and the other religious writings. The Manusmriti along with other Smritis, dealt with every political institution and the entire panorama of human life vertically and horizontally. The vertical perspective led to the concept of the state. The horizontal perspective led to the concept of Dharma. Both these concepts were supported equally by philosophy and science.


One of the meaning of the term �Dharma� is culture. Therefore, all the characteristics of Indian culture are the characteristics of Dharma in India. The fundamental characteristics of Indian Culture are: religious orientation, spirituality, religious tolerance, synthetic spirit, adaptability, freedom of thought, integral approach and most of all, unity in diversity. Dharma is cultural organization and and spirituality. It has been equated with self-knowledge.

According to Sri Aurobindo, spirituality is the key to the Indian mind. STATE

According to Manu, the origin of the state is marked when the creatures were dispersed in various directions out of fear from each other, the Lord created a King for the protection of the whole creation. He gave the idea of state of nature and the ruler being the religious figure. Kautilya is indeed one of the earliest known political thinkers, economists, and king-makers. For Kautilya the elements of sovereign state are the king, the minister, the country, the fort, the treasury, the army and its ally, and the enemy.

Kautilya tells that wealth and its security is dependent on peace and industry. The traditional six forms of state policy are peace, war, neutrality, marching, alliance, and the double policy of making peace with one and waging war against another.

Like Vedas and the Upanishads the Gita maintains identity between man, nature and God. This identity in the form of Brahman is the basis of harmony, integrality and justice in the individual, society and humanity. Ultimately God is the material as well as the efficient cause of the universe. Both man and Nature aim at realisation of divine values.

Gandhi said non-violence society will be stateless. Gandhi was opposed to the state as it was neither natural, nor necessary institution.

He rejected the state like a philosophical anarchist on the following grounds:
  1. The state is rooted in violence in concentrated and organized form. The state is a soulless machine which can hardly be weaned from violence, to which it owes its very existence.
  2. State�s coercive authority is destructive of individual�s freedom and personality.
  3. In a non-violent society, state will be superfluous.
He stated �to me, political power is not an end but one of the means of aiding people to better their condition in every department of life.� If national life becomes as perfect as to become self-regulated, no representation is necessary. There is thus a state of lightened anarchy. In such a state, everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never hindrance to his neighbor. In the ideal state, therefore, there is no political power because there is no state.�

Secondly, Gandhian society a stateless and classless society will be composed of a number of self-contained and self regulated village communities. Every village will have a panchayat, having full powers of administration and capable of meeting all its essential needs to the extent of defending itself.3


Manu�s ruler is the religious figure and the subjects obey their ruler, however, the ruler acts with justice in his state.

Favour Of High Castes

However, one great slur on Indian penology is the favouritism of the higher castes and lack of justice towards the lower castes. Different types of punishment were prescribed for the same offences. According to Manusmriti, a kshatriya or a vaisya or shudra abusing or defaming a Brahmin was to be respectively punished with the fine of 100 panas, 150 panas and with corporal punishment while a Brahmin defaming a kshatriya, vaishya or shudra was to be fined 50, 25 and 20 panas respectively or nothing in the last caste.4 In the middle ages the social setup was divided in accordance to the religion and then the castes in the religions. And


According to Dharmashatra a king has to dispense justice, being free from anger and avarice and in accordance to law, even though be may lose the friendship of person if his decision goes against the latter. According to Manusmriti, the king, protecting his subject and meeting out punishment to those who deserve it, performs every day sacrifices in which the fees are one hundred thousand cows. Yajnavalkya also supports this view. Pointing out the duties of a king, Manu maintains that king, when protecting his subjects against invasion, should not run away from the battle. The kings who die fighting in battle go to heaven.

Western Political Thought

The earliest philosophers are Thales according to whom water was the origin of the world, Anaximander (6th century BC) who maintained that the origin was the Indefinite and Anaximenes (6th century BC) who maintained that air was the source of the world.

Pythagoras maintained that the origin of the universe is Number. Reason, is therefore the source of the world for mathematics is the subject of pure reason apart from sense.
According to Heraclitus (5th century BC) sleep is better than life and death. This reminds us of the Mandukya Upanishad which says that the soul becomes prajna in deep sleep, consciousness solid, integrated and is full of bliss.

The Greek Political Thought

According to Barker, �Political thought begins with the Greeks. Its origin in connected with the calm and clear rationalisation of Greek mind,�

According to Maxey, �It cannot be said about Hindu political thought, but the extent of their influence upon the past and present, and possibly upon the future, political life of India, no western mind is wholly competent to measure.�

Greece is called �a laboratory of political experiment�, due to the following reasons:
  1. Greece abounded with city-states
  2. Ancient Greece presented a picture of flux
  3. Greek outlook was rational

Greek Thinkers laid their main attention towards nature of the state and to man as a political animal, man can realize himself only through membership of the state. Greek thinkers discussed liberty, education and fundamental questions of political obligations and revolution etc. They examined carefully the various grounds on which different social classes based their claims to political authority. They also tried to find out the ways by which government can be stable.

Nature of City- State: About 1500 B.C., Aryan nomads conquered the region of Aegean.
As military masters, the Aryan raiders settled down upon the pre-Hellenic social order. The rivalry of kinsmen did not encourage voluntary unification. Hence, separation became the very keynote of their behaviour. Greek state was a community, a true commonwealth or republic.

Common Life: A modern city like Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi or Chennai or New York is a huge congregation of men living in a given area brought together mainly due to economic needs. In such cities persons living in the same building do not know one another. But in a Greek city state citizens used to share a common life or purpose.

Institution of Slavery:
after the completion of the conquest, Aryan conquerors became free citizens while the conquered aboriginal population was reduced to the status of serfdom or slavery. No slave could be a part of a public assembly, cast a vote, hold an office, appear in a court of law or enjoy any privileges of membership in the body politic. Aristotle explicitly justifies slavery as a necessary institution. Plato nowhere condemned it. As labour, it was performed by slaves.

1. Plato:
Plato has been generally regarded as the founder of philosophical idealism by virtue of his conviction that there is a universal idea in the world of eternal reality beyond the world of the senses. He was the first to formulate and define political ideas within a larger framework of a philosophical idea of Good.5
  1. Philosopher Ruler:
    Plato�s head of the state was a philosopher ruler, who had the knowledge, intellect and training to govern. According to him, ruling like any other task requires skill and qualifications as its aim was general well being of all. On Glaucon�s insistence, Socrates defined a philosopher as one who loved wisdom, had passion for knowledge, was always curious and eager to learn. Following Socrates, Plato believed that the Ideal was Real. A philosopher by his grasp of the Idea of Good was best qualified to rule. A philosopher should be devoid of any emotional ties and economic considerations, which is elaborated in his Theory of Communism of Wives and Property, dealt later in the chapter.
  2. Justice:
    An Ideal State for Plato possessed the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, discipline and justice. It would have wisdom because its rulers were persons of knowledge, courage because its warriors were brave, self-discipline because of the harmony that pervaded the societal matrix due to a common agreement as to who ought to rule.
  3. Theory of Three Classes:
    Plato divided his State into three classes, first being the Philosopher King, the second being, the auxiliaries and the third stage were the workers who producers of the consumable goods. He also discriminated among the upper two classes and lower class. The upper two classes were given a chance to education but the lower had no privilege to be educated and they cannot participate in any public meetings.
  4.  Community of Wives and Property:
    Plato abolished private family and property among the guardian class, for they encouraged nepotism, favouritism, factionalism and other corrupt practices. Plato proposed strict regulation of sexual intercourse, which was to be performed in the interest of the state by ensuring that the best and fittest of the human stock was made available. The philosopher ruler who decide on sexual unions.

    According to Plato only a perfect type of education may create perfect state. The political authority should be blended with broadest knowledge and culture and the philosopher should be the embodiment of highest political virtue, spirit, swiftness and strength. He should represent the knowledge in action. The guardians must be given special training. The system of education outlined above was meant to produce such a selfless ruling class.6

2. Aristotle:
Aristotle has been regarded as the �Father of Political Science� as he was the first to analyse critically and systematically, the then existing constitutions and classify them. Aristotle regarded political science as the master science. Plato was an idealist and radical, whereas Aristotle is realist and a moderate.
  1. Origin of the State: Aristotle attempts at tracing it from two angles:
    1. Historical:
      He first talks of family. To him family is an association of husband, wife, children and slaves. They have no doubt a natural desire to continue their race by leaving �behind them on image of themselves.� The union of families with the purpose of aiming at something more then the supply of daily needs makes a village. Similarly, when several villages come together to the extent of making self-sufficient and continuing its existence for the sake of good life, the state is born.
    2. Psychological:
      Man is a political animal by nature. He has an end to achieve good life- physically, mentally and morally � since he is distinct from other beings by virtue of his rational nature. His rationality drives him to form a state.
  2.  Constitution of the State:
    Aristotle, like Plato, gave three division of state.
    They are citizens, middle class, and slaves. The citizens own land and enjoy political rights. The middle class practices industry and commerce and enjoy civil rights. The slaves have neither civil nor political rights
  3. Education:
    The realization of education is as old as knowledge itself. Aristotle who realizes that end of the state is the good life of its citizens, says good life can be attained with the help of education as well. So education must be the monopoly of the state.
  4. Private Property:
    Aristotle has a strong defense in favour of private property system. Aristotle says that property is an instrument and a necessary instrument to good life. He strongly pleads that the citizens must be owners of property for such a status enables them to develop their personality and good life. However, he proposes that each citizen should have that much of property which enables him to live temperately.
  5. International Relations:
    Aristotle is conscious that his state cannot exist alone; on the other hand it should co-exist with other states while doing so war is inevitable. However, he says that war is not the end of the state; on the contrary it is only a means of peace and good life of the state. His aim is internal and international peace.

3. Thomas Aquinas
By profession, Aquinas was a theologian rather than a philosopher. Indeed he nowhere characterises himself as a philosopher, and the references to philosophers found in his own work refer to pagans rather than Christians. Nonetheless much of his work bears upon philosophical topics, and in this sense may be characterized as philosophical. Aquinas' philosophical thought has exerted enormous influence on subsequent Christian theology, especially that of the Roman Catholic Church, extending to Western philosophy in general. Aquinas stands as a vehicle and modifier of Aristotelianism, Augustinian Neoplatonism and Proclean Neoplatonism.7
  1. Theory of Knowledge:
    Thomas Aquinas was the first to recognize the fact that Aristotelian intellectualism would be of great help for the study of philosophy as well as theology. But the introduction of Aristotle's works involved the solution of the disputed question of the relationship between philosophy and theology. There are two different types of knowledge: sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge. Sense experience is the beginning for all of man's natural knowledge. It begins in the senses, and is completed in the intellect.8
  2. Theology:
    Aquinas viewed theology, or the sacred doctrine, as a science, the raw material data of which consists of written scripture and the tradition of the Catholic Church. These sources of data were produced by the self-revelation of God to individuals and groups of people throughout history. Faith and reason, while distinct but related, are the two primary tools for processing the data of theology. Aquinas believed both were necessary � or, rather, that the confluence of both was necessary � for one to obtain true knowledge of God. Aquinas blended Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine by suggesting that rational thinking and the study of nature, like revelation, were valid ways to understand truths pertaining to God. According to Aquinas, God reveals himself through nature, so to study nature is to study God. The ultimate goals of theology, in Aquinas� mind, are to use reason to grasp the truth about God and to experience salvation through that truth.
  3. Law and Justice:
    According to Aquinas, there is a four fold classification of law: eternal, natural, human and divine. The eternal law is the controlling plan of the universe existing in the mind of God. Natural law is the participation of ma, as a rational creature in the eternal law through which he distinguishes between good and evil and seeks his true end. Human law is the application, by human reason of the precepts of natural law to particular earthly conditions. The Divine law is that through which the limitations and imperfection of human reason are supplemented and man is infallible and directed to super mundane end eternal blessedness; it is the �Law of Revealation�.

4. Montesquieu:
He believed political freedom could be created by separating political powers into different branches, and he developed the political theory of 'checks and balances' that became an important part of the American Constitution.
  1. His views on Law:
    Montesquieu does not believe in abstract justice. He, however believes that the basic principle of law and justice exist in nature. But he is of the opinion that the teaching of nature are to be found �not in deduction from assumption based on reason, but in the facts of history of the actual working of political life.�

    Man is governed by two different sets of law:
    1. Law established by God or Natural Laws.
    2. Laws made by man or Positive Laws:
      1. International Law: International Law arises out of the relation of one state with other states.
      2. Political Law: Law governing the relation between the individuals and the government is called political.
      3. Civil Law: The relations between the citizens of the same state are regulated by civil law.9
  2. Separation of Powers: According to Montesquieu, separation of governmental powers into executive, legislations and judicial organs is the best guarantee for liberty.

Indian Political Thought V Western Political Thought

Greek philosophy started as a kind of naturalism as the distinction between mind and matter was not clearly recognized that time, now called Materialism by some philosophers with a scientific basis. But we must note that a naturalism that does not distinguish between mind and matter has an equal possibility of developing into materialism or spiritualism. Indians and the Chinese worshipped elements of nature too. The Greek Gods were natural Gods (like the early Indian Gods). The Water of Thales was considered God. Hercaclitus said that reality is change and identified it with fire, which he treated as God. Fire is one of the five elements of nature worshipped by the Vedic people, is a part of most Indian marriages. And also the first lawgiver, according to Hindu Mythology, �Manu� is progenitor of Gods of the land.

Looking at life from a materialistic perspective, the West felt the need to find a tool to unify its people, so was enunciated the concept of Equality. In India, it is believed that there is an eternal consciousness in man that is common to every individual, rich or poor. Man�s physical existence is a result of his Karmas and Samskaras.Since every human being has a soul, equality is an essential part of Indian philosophy.

In the early scriptures of both Ancient Greece and India, God appears merely as the personification of atmospheric phenomenon. The life of the early communities of herdsmen and of the agriculture community was chiefly influenced by those elemental facts of Nature on which they depended: the alternation of day and night; the visible signs of which are sun, moon and stars; favourable or adverse weather conditions, thunderstroms and winds, rain and drought.

These external phenomena, on which depended the prosperity and often, indeed, the very fate of Man, could not be altered and directly modified by primitive Man. The feeling that he was completely dependent on these outward processes, therefore, rendered Man humble in the face of the uncontrollable forces of Nature.

Prompted by a powerful instinct of self-preservation, however, Man attempted to establish some sway over them by worshipping and placating the mighty being which, he believed, were incorporated in atmospheric forces, by the acknowledgment of their dominion, resigned submission to their authority and perhaps the utilitarian desire to gain their assistance and favour by satisfying and strengthening them by means of libations. It is this attitude, then, that we invariably find underlying all primitive worship.

Another mode of divine worship practised in ancient Greece, and preserved also for ages in India, is the veneration, allied however with fear, of powerful beasts; and thus the Gods in animal form, the Greek Satyr, a combination of Man and animal, have had their equivalents in Indian religions at all times; the elephant-god, the snake gods and goddesses, the vulture-god, or the more beneficent deities who assumed the shape of a bull, a cow or monkey; in the main, symbols of wealth and fertility.

But while this conception of diety maintained its dominance over India, in the West it was soon abandoned. For at the very period when the Sophistic outlook was developing, that is about 500 B.C a single paramount principle was postulated as ruling the Universe, at least by the more advanced Greek thinkers, although the masses remained much longer content with an indiscriminate diversity of Gods.

In the first place we must consider two different concepts of Individuality: that of
India�s cosmic Philosophy and that of the anthropologically determined West. In India, then the individual is always part and parcel of the Whole. Man, most closely woven into the Universal Cosmic network, is subject to precisely the same biological laws of growth and decay as all other forms. According to India�s Cosmic outlook the individual does not stand in splendid isolation; he is not the all powerful Man, of ancient Greece.

The Indian Dharma be identified with none of the Western concepts of duty.
For while it imposes on Man obligations towards non-human beings, it is by no means akin to the Christian idea of obedience and humility towards Deity, since Dharma prescribes not only the acknowledgment of obligations towards higher, a supreme Being, but also towards lower beings, and this again not as a mode of indirect worship of a creator. Dharma, moreover, is not only negative obligation, in the guise of the restraints of duty, but is equally the sustaining influence of right.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a passionate lover of liberty in all the sphere of life like Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau. He declared the essential divinity of man as man. Man was by his nature and constitution, �eternally free�. To deny this freedom was an out rage upon his nature and a sin against his maker.

  1. Chopra .J.K, Contemporary Political Thought, Book Enclave, Jaipur 2003
  2. Gandhi.G Madan, Political Theory and Thought, Daryaganj, New Delhi, 2007.
  3. Jayapalan.N, Indian Political Thinkers, Mhera Offset Press, Delhi, 2000.
  4. Ramaswamy, Rama, Political Theory Ideas and Concepts, Daryaganj, New Delhi, 2006.
  5. Sharma Urmila, Indian Political Thought, Delhi, 2006.
  6. Varma.V.P, Ancient and Medieval Indian Political Thought,Agra,2006.

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