In republics, persons elevated from the mass of the community, by the suffrage of their fellow-citizens, to stations of great pre-eminence and power, may find compensations for betraying their trust, which . . . may appear to exceed the proportion of interest that they have in the common stock . . .
'Corruption' is probably the most successful and enduring of all the vitalist metaphors that have been applied to political life. Whereas 'the body politic' now sounds archaic, and the 'head of state' has become no more than a figure of speech, the idea of a healthy political organism undergoing some progressive, but perhaps potentially reversible, degeneration still retains some of the analytical appeal that made it so influential in political theory.
Thus, the Greek ruler, Lycurgus
took the view that every type of constitution which is simple and founded on a single principle is unstable, because it quickly degenerates into that form of corruption which is peculiar to and inherent in it. For just as rust eats away iron, and woodworms or ship-worms eat away timber, and these substances even if they escape any external damage are destroyed by the processes which are generated within themselves, so each constitution possesses its own inherent and inseparable vice. Thus in kingship the inherent vice is despotism, in aristocracy it is oligarchy, and in democracy the brutal rule of violence.
So Lycurgus sought to save Sparta from this 'corruption' by adopting a mixed constitution, in which each element would be counterbalanced by the others. 1