Having come to the assembly hall, he [the King] should permit free access to those who have come to plead their cases. For when people find it difficult to see the king, those surrounding him make him do what ought not to be done and not do what ought to be done. As a result, the people will revolt against him or he will fall into the clutches of his enemy. Therefore he should try the cases” The Arthasastra, (1.19.26) p. 12
The Arthasastra --literally: Sastra = treatise; Artha = Achievement/Success) is an encyclopedic manual for political rule, that is statecraft. It was probably composed about two thousand years ago, and the putative author, Kautilya, presents himself as a compiler and synthesis of previous traditions. (It is my sense nothing known of this person.) The text we have was almost certainly redacted by at least one more pair of hands. It is written in Sanskrit, but unlike most such texts (apparently) it is not written from the perspective of Brahmin interests.
Some other time I’ll reflect a bit on the nature of Artha (which originally seems to have meant goal/telos/purpose); the translation I assign (by Mark McClish and Patrick Olivelle) translates Artha as (worldly) success, and this clearly conveys the intended meaning that would have left obscure if one focuses merely on setting and the attainment of goals.
There is much to be said about why it's worth careful study, but I'll skip that today. The Arthasastra focuses on patriarchal kingship in which there is almost no daylight between king and government (and king and sovereignty). But kingship is surrounded by a rather large government apparatus which is focused not just on defense and taxation, but also on stimulating the economy among able-bodied citizens, engaging in profitable enterprise, public health, and many characteristics familiar from both welfare states and security states (an elaborate system of spies, informants, and provocateurs). [It is notable that it is the duty of care of the patriarch that motivates the development of welfare state features.] Throughout the book there is quite a bit of attention to anticipating and planning against man-made and natural calamities.
The key aim of government is dominion and its extension: “Government seeks to acquire what has not been acquired, to safequard what has been acquired, to augment what has been safeguarded, and (to bestow what has been augmented on worthy recipients.” (1.4.3) Here I'll skip the important question to what degree worth (Dharma) here is conceived as distinct from its contribution to worldly/political success, and to what degree it acts as a constraint on it or if it is constitutive of it.
Law is central to government: "What provides enterprise and security to [the various areas of human endeavor] is punishment ([that is, the rod]; danda); its administration (niti) is Government (dandaniti)…On it depends the proper operation of the world.” (1.4.3-4) That is, the government must have sufficient power, I am really tempted to say have a monopoly, to overawe the rest of the political community. But simultaneously, true government is the competent execution of force, or the threat of force. This is most clearly seen from a much cited passage:“for, one who punishes severely terrifies the people, and one who punishes lightly is treated with contempt, whereas one who dispenses appropriate punishmment is treated with respect. For punishment, when it is dispensed after the proper acertainment of facts, makes his subjects embrace Law, Success (profit), and Pleasure. (1.4.5-11) The author of the Arthasastra clearly rejects both rule of terror and indulgence. My own sense is that he thinks this is a contextual judgment (but I can't offer definitive evidence.) What is nice about the just quoted passage is that conceived of legal procedure and fact-finding as truly prior to punishment or the execution of law. (The book contains multiple and complex discussion on the nature of fines and other punishments. The bottom line is that the main aim of punishment is (i) to generate respect for and maintain authority; (ii) toact as an economic incentive; (iii) to allow people to enjoy life (Hobbes would call it ‘fruits of peace’).
But law serves a bigger and more central purpose, as can be seen from the quote at the top of the post. Statecraft in The Arthasastra's world means being a good judge of character; one should appoint the worthy who are both capable, loyal, and willing to be critical/forthright when needed. State officers have numerous opportunities for self-enrichment and corruption.
It is clear from the passage quoted at the top that the author of the Arthasastra sees in law a relatively cheap and easy mechanism to combat corruption at all levels of government. If royal authority makes access to the law cheap and easy, as well as non-dangerous, then this is a potent method against corruption. This is in the enlightened self-interest of the king. For, if his government is seen as quietly endorsing corrupt ways, then ultimate his authority will be undermined -- even if there is force to overawe the citizens. For the king then risks losing authority to domestic or foreign rivals because his own people will be unwilling to fight for him or they will collude with foreigners. It's, of course, an empirical question if it's true that at bottom authority rests not on the might of the king, but on the good opinion of him by his people. But it is a potent normative thought.