Gab readers have been treated to a lively and valuable debate in past weeks on precisely what we mean when we say that someone or some behavior is “corrupt.” Many readers have joined the discussion. Responding to my request for their views by offering comments and analyses of six real world cases where a court, ethics commission, or legislature has been asked to decide whether the conduct of a public official was corrupt.
I had promised to post “the right answers” to the six, or at least the answers the court, commission or legislature gave this week. I am putting it off to share the guest post below by classics scholar and American attorney Kellam Conover. Drawing on the dissertation that garnered him a PhD. in Classics from Princeton, he explains how citizens of ancient Athens decided when an official’s conduct was corrupt. What he takes from their method provides the only way I see for arriving at genuine right answers – not only to the six cases I presented but to the general issues of how to define corruption and how to measure our progress in overcoming it. Many thanks Kellam.
I have read with great interest the fascinating discussion that has unfolded recently among Bo Rothstein, Matthew Stephenson, Robert Barrington, Paul Heywood, and Michael Johnston. The questions they raise about how to define corruption, how to link up theory with practice, and how to measure success are all ones I have grappled with since writing my dissertation on Bribery in Classical Athens.
As a historian, I’ve spent far more time describing corruption than prescribing solutions. But I hope a few observations from ancient Athens will be helpful to others. First, in my view corruption defies definition because it is an inherently political claim that changes with different social and political contexts. Second, and as a result, it may be fruitful to augment anti-corruption programs with institutions specifically designed for articulating, contesting, and legitimating evolving political norms. Finally, I offer one potential metric of success: i.e., whether patterns of corruption in a polity have grown less disruptive over time.Continue reading