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Political Order: The Vedic Perspective

Political Order: The Vedic Perspective
Item Code: NAH526
Author: Ramashray Roy
Publisher: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Language: English
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 8179860299
Pages: 356
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 590 gms
About The Book

India with a very ancient background of Vedic as well as non-Vedic traditions has pleaded for a political order whose central sustaining idea has been the concept of dharma in its ultimate all-engrossing metaphor of integration. The Vedic concept of man, society and nature as divine has been responsible for the development of the idea of social order subsuming the political order as the central integrating force for unity, stability and development in an integrated manner. This book is a modest attempt to initiate the process of probing deeply into the complex structure of the Vedic ideas with a view to presenting a correct perspective on political order from the Vedic point of view. How far this ancient ideology would be applicable to modern system of political order is a matter of research.

About The Author

Prof. Ramashray Roy is an eminent political scientist. He was a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi (1963-1992) and its director during 1976-1982. He was director at the Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi (1972-76) and its National Fellow during 1994-96. He is the recipient of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru National Award of the M.P. Government for 1993. He has taught in several universities in the U.S.A. He has also been associated with the United Nations University, Tokyo. He has written two dozen books in the areas of Indian Politics, Bureaucracy, Development, Gandhian Thought and Political Philosophy. He was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla from 1999 to 2001. He has contributed numerous articles to leading Journals in India and abroad.


The central focus of this book has to do with the phenomenon of political order. It is a theme that was thrown into the limbo of history by Bodin when he argued that the discussion of a good government was beside the point. He made a two-pronged argument that (a) good men are not good citizens since they tend to run away from the responsibilities of the world, and (b) a political system contains both good and bad men. However, despite Bodin's strictures, the issue of good government remains alive and pressing since governments tend to become arbitrary, exploitative and tyrannous. Moreover, sovereignty of the republic is by no means any guarantee against despotism.

Needless to say that the issue of good government is inextricably linked with the question of the kind of political order that provides the principles for constituting, regulating, and disciplining public life and relations. Without such an order, good government becomes a matter of whim or fashion and becomes vulnerable to shifting whims and changing fashions. It therefore becomes necessary to link the question of good government to a salubrious notion of political order. Such a notion must be grounded in some trans-individual principle since a political order derived from something that is internal to man and that bypasses the claim of the soul to rule the interior of man proves to be disastrous.

The need to locate the notion of political order in a ground which transcends the phenomenal world makes it necessary to reckon out of order all those paradigms of political order that are grounded in something that is intra-mundane. And this something can be nothing else but the divine ground of being. But this does not by any means clear the deck for arriving at an appropriate formulation of political order since alternative and competing formulations of political order vie among themselves for articulation, ascendance, and control. We need to mention only two such formulations, one based on Platonic thought and, the other, derived from the Vedic perspective on man and his world. While the former is well known, extensively written about and widely discussed, the latter still remains only partially explored; it is still to receive deeper intellectual probes. This is true despite voluminous writings in this area from Jayaswal to Altekar.

This book is a modest attempt to initiate the process of probing deeply into the complex structure of Vedic ideas with a view to presenting a correct perspective on political order from the Vedic point of view. Whether this attempt has succeeded or not, it is not for me to say. Moreover, my insufficient knowledge of the Vedic lore does not make me a competent person who can authoritatively speak on the subject. I therefore leave it to the readers to give the judgement about the merit of the book. But I am happy that the bug-bear of elucidating the Vedic idea of appropriate political order, the idea that has been troubling me for the last fifteen years, is now out of my system except for certain scratches that the toil of the last fifteen years in struggling to cope with the mysteries of the Vedic literature has left on my mind.

I am grateful to those who have helped me in getting over this bug-bear. First of all, I am grateful to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla which provided me with a three-year fellowship and nice living and working environment to work on this project. I am particularly thankful to Professors Mrinal Miri and Vinod Chandra Srivastava, the two directors of the Institute during my tenure as a fellow at the Institute, for their help and encouragement. I am also grateful to all those persons a t the Institute who have made it their sole business to make the stay of the Institute fellows so pleasant and memorable. I am also thankful to my fellow colleagues for their encouragement. I owe a special debt to Brahmachandra Rana and Pankaj who toiled over my bad writing and transformed it into a manuscript worthy of publication. However, I am alone responsible for the deficiencies that still abound in the book.


Does the Veda have anything significant to contribute to a serious discussion about political order? This is a question which is bound to raise too many eye-brows reflecting, if not contempt and derision, then, certainly surprise and skepticism. This is so for the reason that the discussion about political order must, first, recognize the world as real, vital and significant in itself. Such a recognition is necessary insofar as the world constitutes, for man, an arena where he must find the means of fulfilling his various needs. It is in the process of need fulfillment that he comes into contact with others, develops relationship of different kinds, these relationships crystallize into institutions that, in turn, perform facilitative, legislative, regulative and punitive functions. Thus the institutional arrangement that comes into being does subsume various types of relationships and interaction patterns; it is also above these relationships as well as the meanings people in different life stations attribute to them. Institutions also reflect a model, pratimana, of order that must govern the relationships men develop in the course of their need fulfilment.

Thus order has, at one and the same time, a double referent: it is descriptive of the way pragmatic affairs of man are organized such that there arises no or only a modicum of conflict and disorder; it also possesses a transcendental quality in the sense that while it is reflected in the prevalent institutional arrangement, it is also above and beyond it. The order, as manifested in actual institutions, or to put it differently, as it is embodied in concrete institutions, is subject to change and decay. But in its pure transcendental form, it is eternal and unchangeable. It is this double referent that makes the concept of order the resident of two orders of existence, pragmatic and normative. As a pragmatic concern it is descriptive in character and, as a normative enterprise, it is evocative. Again, insofar as order gets embodied in concrete institutions, it is a subject of history since it is born, it grows, it is prone to decay and, finally, it dies. But as a transcendental concept, it is beyond the manifest and, therefore, a subject of philosophy.

However, as many Western scholars argue, non-Western societies cannot claim to have either history or philosophy or philosophy of history. As Voegelin argues;

Existence in historical form presupposes the existence of the world-transcendent God as well as the historical fact of his revelation.... History, once it has become ontologically real through revelation, carries with it the irreversible direction from compact existence in cosmological form toward the Kingdom of God.'

It is not suggested that the non-Western societies have not known the God or have had no revelation of his presence. The truth of being, the God, has been experienced in all societies. But its experience as well as its articulation has taken different forms. There are several historical and philosophical ways of articulating the experience of the presence of the God. These different ways represent personal experiences and insights of sages, saints, priests, prophets and philosophers into the truth of reality: Their insights take on a pluralistic form and represent the substance of their insight as it unfolds historically. Each of these insights challenges and influences the orthodoxies of societies by endowing personal existence, social reality and cosmic truth with meaning that is representative for all members of a concrete society. Insights into the truth of reality arise out of a particular range of experiences as symbolized in the form of myths, philosophy or history. The experiences and symbolization of both have been articulated, a~ Voegelin notes, mainly in three different ways.

Theoretically, it will be necessary to distinguish between three types of truth. The first of these types is the truth represented by the early empires, it shall be designated as "cosmological truth". The second type of truth appears in the political culture of Athens and specifically in tragedy; it shall be called "anthropological truth 3/4 with the understanding that the term covers the whole range of problems connected with the psyche as the sensorium of transcendence. The third type of truth that appears with Christianity shall be called "soteriological truth.

These different types of truth, are according to Voegelin, different phases in the disconcealment of truth. The first to appear is the cosmological phase in which order, in imperial societies, is interpreted as an analogue of the overarching cosmic order it represents and reflects; rulership is pre-eminently the task of securing the social order in harmony with the cosmic order. The break with this style of truth, occurring during what Karl Jasper calls "axis time of human history" (between 800 and 200 B.C.), registers the rise of another phase, that of anthropological truth. It is in the classical (Western) philosophy arising out of the noetic experience of Hellenic thinkers, particularly Plato, which put forth a new interpretation -of reality in terms of the well-ordered soul. The creed of the new epoch, as Voegelin underlines," is Plato's "anthropological principle". Cryptically referred to as "Polis is man writ large".' By this Voegelin understands Plato to mean that the true order of society depends upon the true order of man, which, in turn, depends upon the right constitution of the soul. The constitution of the soul, its order and disorder, come to view through the medium of philosophy." As such, what is decisive is "God is the Measure" in opposition to Protagoras' "Man is the Measure."


1Vedic Vision and Political Order1
2The Meaning of Political Order31
3The State Within Us61
4A Look Back87
5Reconstructing the Vedic Vision111
6Classical Indian Political Perspective141
7The Finite and the Absolute166
8Man, Cosmos and the Political Order197
9State, As Surrogate of Order228
10The Philosopher and the King256
11Dharma, Society and Political Order289

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