Saturday, April 5

Republicanism in Ancient India: must we keep recreating the wheel?

The following passages are from Wikipedia's article on the republic. Note the devolution from republicanism, to monarchism, to the monarch taking on divine attributes.  From the article, government in ancient Greece seems to have followed the same pattern of devolution, although I'd have to crack the history books or muck around in Wikipedia some more to recall whether or to what extent Greek monarchism went through the divine phase of what is clearly a well-worn cycle in governing. 
Somewhere on the internet there probably still exists a website that was created during the 2008 U.S. presidential primary campaign; it showed paintings and other depictions of Barack Obama as a divine personage, which the website's creator had collected from diverse sources I couldn't figure out whether the website was making a sly observation about human nature or giving a straightforward account of a blip in recession-era American politics. Maybe it was a bit of both.

See the Wikipedia website for the numerous topic links in these passages:
In the early 20th century a number of Indian scholars, most notably as K.P. Jayaswal, argued that a number of states in ancient India had republican forms of government. There are no surviving constitutions or works of political philosophy from this period in Indian history. The forms of government thus need to be deduced, mostly from the surviving religious texts. These texts do refer to a number of states having [graham?] sangha, or council-based, as opposed to monarchical governments.

A second form of evidence comes from Greeks writing about India during the period of contact following the conquests of Alexander. Greek writers about India such as Megasthenes and Arrian describe many of the states having republican governments akin to those of Greece.

Beginning around 700 BC, republics developed in a band running along the Indus Valley in the northwest and along the Ganges Plain in the northeast. They were mainly small states, though some confederations of republics seem to have formed that covered large areas, such as Vajjian Confederacy, which had Vaishali as its capital around 600 BC.

As in Greece, the republican era came to an end in the 4th century with the rise of a monarchical empire. The Maurya Empire conquered almost the entire subcontinent, ending the autonomy of the small republics. Some did remain republics under Mauryan suzerainty, or returned to being republics after the fall of the empire. Madra, for instance, survived as a republic until the 4th century AD. The final end of republics in India came with the rise of the Gupta Empire, and an associated philosophy of the divine nature of monarchy.

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