Democracy is on the march throughout the world, so it seems. At the same time the scandal of corruption, in one country or another, is never far from the surface. These are not separate issues, but are intimately linked. The study of corruption provides valuable insights into the nature of democracy (as of other regimes, where corruption is rife) for these reasons:
Corruption is the illegitimate reminder of the values of the market place (everything can be bought and sold) that in the age of capitalism increasingly, even legitimately, permeate formerly autonomous political and social spheres.
|1 Corruption is normatively defined: the abuse of a public position of trust for private gain. Corruption negates positive social purpose: that is, proper means to attain a valued end (the ‘common good’, the ‘public interest’).|
|2 Democratic theory is formed around this opposition. Belief in ‘popular sovereignty’ requires the shaping of society in accordance with the majority will. This is a large claim, upheld (rhetorically, at least) by politicians at every election.|
|3 Democratic theory, however, was put into practice (in the USA) simultaneously with the founding of classical economics (Adam Smith, 1776). The latter assumes an entirely different relationship between means and ends: the selfish interest of each, as a result of competition in a market economy, redounds to the advantage of all.|
|4 The scientific-industrial revolution, sharpening the theoretical distinction between politics and economics, widens the gap between democratic theory and capitalist practice. Democratically elected governments, deferring to powerful business interests in a way that contradicts electoral pledges, reveal the ‘misfit’ between political theory and economic practice.|