Problems in the analysis of political corruption
thesisposted on 2023-05-26, 00:16 authored by Peter Hay
A number of recurrent problems have plagued attempts to render political corruption amenable to academic study. The problem which is most readily tackled concerns the identification of those factors which are conducive to high rates of corruption. These factors may be discovered through analysis of historical periods during which corruption was apparently rife, or from investigation of contemporary conditions in the Third World, where high levels of corruption reputedly exist. Yet it may be that any such investigation is premature, for it presumes the existence of a shared agreement on what activities are to be classed as corrupt. Clearly no such consensus exists, for one of the most perennial problems of the study of political corruption centres around whether there is a fixed universally-applicable standard of public ethics, or whether the term corruption‚ÄövÑvp specifies different activities in different circumstances. It is here argued that corruption does not refer to a standardized set of activities, but is a term imparting quality of moral condemnation to certain practices and different practices will be condemned in different cultural circumstances. Yet the debate is less clear-cut than this, for protagonists of each position have tended to adopt stances which are rather more inflexible and extreme than is warranted. In theory, the champions of the cultural relativity of corruption are certainly correct, but in practice they ignore the substantial similarity between conceptions of public ethics; a congruence which relegates most difference to those activities generally located on the fringes of public morality. A similar tendency to gravitate to extremes is to be found in the debate concerning the effects of corruption on the well-being of the political system, where those who hold that such effects must always be dysfunctional are in fundamental disagreement with those who perceive corruption as capable of conferring benefits upon the system in which it occurs. It is held here that no general law governs the relationship between corruption and its political effects, and whether the results of corruption are ultimately beneficial or dysfunctional must be determined in each separate instance. In theory then, the position of those who are here designated. as functionalists\ is closest to reality though in accordance with the black/white syndrome which is also evident in this debate they have grossly overestimated the degree to which it plays a positive role in political and economic development Examination of the role played by corruption in violent physical change and less dramatically electoral change further suggests the absence of any general rule concerning the political effect of corruption though it is unlikely to ever be a prime mover of change. The fourth oft-discussed problem is the operational one of rendering political corruption amenable to comparative study. As it is here argued that corruption wears different clothes in different cultural circumstances any attempt to find an objective standard of corruption is doomed to failure. Comparative analysis is not thereby rendered impossible however for the broad similarity between systems of public ethics means inter-cultural differences will be marginal rather than pivotal. To prepare the subject for analysis the ethical status of fringe activities must be first ascertained; an onerous task but one much less laborious than those who have been moved to seek an objective standard of political corruption believe. To demonstrate how this task may be undertaken two fringe activities in the Australian political context are examined. Finally note is made of a number of problem areas in the study of political corruption which have not yet been accorded the attention which they deserve."
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