Political Corruption: In and beyond the Nation State

By Robert Harris | Go to book overview

7

Conclusion

Because, just as for the maintenance of good customs laws are required, so if laws are to be observed, there is need of good customs. Furthermore, institutions and laws made in the early days of a republic when men were good, no longer serve their purpose when men have become bad. And, if by any chance the laws of the state are changed, there will never, or but rarely, be a change in its institutions. The result is that new laws are ineffectual, because the institutions, which remain constant, corrupt them.

(Machiavelli, The Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 18)

This book began by outlining a three-limbed theory of political corruption. First, it is a comprehensible extension of normal political life, not a discrete phenomenon. Second, it can no longer be viewed simply or even mainly as bounded by the nation state, but needs to be set in an international and transnational context. Third, it is an ‘interstitial’ activity—in other words it exploits and operates within any fractures existing in the polity of a state or between the polities of different states. We rejected the possibility of a unitary definition of corruption: it is such a variegated activity that a single sentence could not encapsulate it, while a comprehensive definition would be too lengthy and have too many qualifications to be useful. Nonetheless we took as a ‘signpost’ a two-limbed definition by Summers—that it involves ‘the use of public position for private advantage or exceptional party profit, and the subversion of the political process for personal ends’ (Summers 1987:14)—though we qualified and glossed this definition quite heavily. This signpost has, however, guided us throughout the book, albeit for the most part silently.

We also distinguished high-corruption from low-corruption countries. High-corruption countries are those where corruption can be reasonably described as having permeated the structures of government to such an extent that being corrupt is normal behaviour. This may manifest itself in different ways. In its pure form it is likely to entail:

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