Thursday, May 24, 2007

From India, another "Legal Wonders" nominee

Another entry for our "Name the World's 7 Legal Wonders" contest!
Of the Edicts of Aśoka, blog reader Patrick S. O'Donnell writes:

[T]he Indian emperor Aśoka (304-232 BCE) ... ruled the Mauryan Empire on the Indian subcontinent from c. 270-232 BCE. His edicts gave shape to his understanding of the Dharma of Buddhism, meaning for him ‘a moral polity of active social concern, religious tolerance, ecological awareness, the observance of common ethical precepts, and the renunciation of war [the sound of drums is now the sound of principle—dharma—not war]:’ ...

Patrick gives examples of the Edicts (a stone pillar fragment, now at the British Museum, pictured at right): orders for "banyan trees and mango groves to be planted, resthouses to be built, and wells to be dug every half-mile along the roads"; "an end to the killing and consumption of most animals in the royal kitchens"; "provision of medical facilities for men and beasts"; "generosity toward priests and ascetics, and frugality in spending"; commissioning "officers to work for the welfare and happiness of the poor and aged"; declaration of "his intention constantly to promote the welfare of all beings so as to pay off his debt to living creatures and to work for their happiness in this world and the next"; and honoring "men of all faiths."
He concludes that the Edicts of Aśoka (the emperor's pictured left) "were in stark contrast to the largely amoral maxims of power found in Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra (‘Science of Wealth,’ i.e., politics and economics), the latter’s reflections on power and conceptions of raison d’état not dissimilar to those of Machiavelli and Hobbes in Western political philosophy."
Aśoka's Edicts constitute our 4th nominee -- joining (1) the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, (2) the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, and (3) the Law Merchant -- and another entry will arrive tomorrow (stay tuned).
What's your nominee? It can be a human artifact or a human being, a positive or a negative influence on the law. Tell us, with a brief description of your reasons, by posting a comment or by e-mailing us at

1 comment:

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

The CV linked to is a bit dated, so if someone wants a current version I can send it along.