They were never autocratic monarchs. The scriptures like Manu-samhita and other authorized books of the great sages were guiding principles for ruling the subjects, and there was no need for less intelligent persons to manufacture a code of law in the name of democracy. The less intelligent mass of people have very little knowledge of their own welfare, as a child has very little knowledge of its future well-being. The experienced father guides the innocent child towards the path of progress, and the childlike mass of people need similar guidance. The standard welfare codes are already there in the Manu-samhita and other Vedic literatures. The learned brahmanas would advise the king in terms of those standard books of knowledge and with reference to the particular situation of time and place. Such brahmanas were not paid servants of the king, and therefore they had the strength to dictate to the king on the principles of scriptures. This system continued even up to the time of Maharaja Candragupta, and the brahmana Canakya was his unpaid prime minister.
Srila Prabhupada, SB 2.7.9, Purport