What is Corruption? Why is it Evil? How could we Get Rid of it?
What is Corruption? Why is it Evil? How could we Get Rid of it?
We human being are not
equals. To think that justice is identical with equality is a serious
intellectual mistake from which many moral vices stem. It is not just to
give the same (equal) grades to good assignments and to bad assignments.
It is not just to provide the same (equal) kind and quantity of food to
the baby and to the grown up person.
Police, courts, armies,
parliaments, bureaucracy, job centres, national health services, state
education (school and university) were means to fight those injustices
stemming from those inequalities. But as far as these bodies have grown in
number and size, the number of civil servants grew consequently creating a
new ‘caste’ of people who are not equal with the other people, because
they are endowed with many powers towards the public sphere of life that
the other people do not have.
Here I put :
1) The link to the
watch-dog Transparency International where you can see the different rates
of corruption in the different countries of the world
Transparency international: https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018
Family Fiefdoms Taint Italian Academia (The Independent, 20 September 2010):
W la Ricerca Report made by Riccardo Iacona and produced and broadcast by RAI3 on 2 April 2005":
as the Strongest Cause of Inequality
Ethical Philosophy on Corruption
Thomas Aquinas wrote: " It is justice that renders to each one what is his, and claims not another's property; it disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity.".1
There are two kinds of justice: commutative and distributive.
Justice is ordered to individuals, who stand to the community as the parties to the whole. Now, towards the parties, two types of relations can be considered.
The first is that of one part with the other: and it resembles that of a private person with another. And these relations are guided by Commutative Justice, which embraces the reciprocal duties existing between two persons.
The second type of relationship considers the whole in relation to the parts: and those existing between the community and the single persons are similar to these relations. And these relations are guided by Distributive Justice, which has the task of distributing things, that is, commutative and distributive Justice. The Philosopher teaches that the right means in distributive justice is determined according to "geometric proportionality" (the equivalence of assignments: "so...as"), and in commutative justice according to an "arithmetic" proportion (the equivalence of restitution: "so much...as").
what does it mean? That in the relationship of two (you greeted me and I greet you... etc) I live the relationship with the other person above all as a ‘Limit’ to an ‘Exorbitant Me’, while in the relationship of three I live the relationships as ‘Growth of My Personality’. In the former I am responsible only for myself, whereas in the latter I am also responsible for you in your relationships with the "third".
Aquinas maintained that ‘Respect of persons’ (acceptio personarum) was a major vice against the virtue of Distributive Justice:
The partiality, or preference of people, is opposed to distributive justice. In fact, the equalization of distributive Justice consists in distributing different things to different people, according to their personal value.
If one, e.g., promoted a person to a doctorate for his scientific preparation, that one would have regard to the right motive cause and not to the person. If instead he gave the doctorate to a person, not because he is properly skilled and deserves it, but only because of the fact that it is that particular individual, that is of Peter or Martin, then one would have a personal preference, because the attribution would be made simply to the person, and not to the causes. 2
It is true that we have our "sympathies" and friends, and it is not unjust to nurture or to benefit those people with goods that we give only to them and not to others: think about your partners, children etc.
The unjust thing is another : is to give to people who are nice to us goods that are not ours but instead belong to the "common good", to the community, as in the clear example of the doctorate that Thomas does above: the position for that doctorate is something public and granting it to a person who does not deserves it is a crime against the well being of the community.
What is Social Injustice?
In the rise of socialism and communism from the second half of 19th century till the fall of Berlin’s wall social ‘injustice’ was meant to be identical with social ‘inequality’, i.e. it was considered unjust that there are different social classes structured within a hierarchy. Therefore, communism wanted to abolish the plurality of classes and build a society with only one class (the proletariat). But, since Justice is not identical with Equality, so Injustice is not the same of Inequality. On the contrary. For example, if a teacher gave the same grade to all the assignments in order to get equality, he would not get justice, because the clever students would get the same grades of the lazy ones.
But, after the fall of communism in URSS and the radical change of it in China, almost everybody does not confuse justice and equality any longer and so is more available to understand that social injustice is rooted more in that vice described by Aquinas than in social inequality. This vice makes positions of power, responsibility, money and other benefits, as well as fame and honour, be given not to those who deserve it for the qualities that are mentioned explicitly, but for other reasons more or less hidden.
However, we must notice that social injustice is somehow parasitical of social inequality. To go back to the school example, if that teacher starts being affectionate to the most clever student who many times in the past had deserved high grades, and he now gives him high grades by default, just out of habit and sympathy, here we have a parasitical injustice which feeds on an inequality.
Social injustice is a terrible cancer because it: 1) destroys the hope of obtaining good things on the basis of one's own merits and work; 2) undermines the self-esteem of the classes or groups considered 'inferior'; 3) pollutes the natural tendency of the human being (a social animal, as Aristotle said) to love one's neighbour, because love is corroded by contempt of the 'superior' towards the 'inferior'. and the fear and resentment of the 'lower' towards the 'upper'.
A Historical overview of Social injustices
Physical strength was the most long-lasting key-factor of inequality for humankind. For around 60,000 years prehistorical society was shaped hierarchically because of differences in physical strength, as it happens in prides of lions or herds of buffalos: the physically strongest alpha-male fought and subdued the other challenging males, as the chief of the horde.
When around 3,500 BC history began because of the invention of writing and so the human society could be wider, more articulated and organised, then multinational states arose. They were called empires. In each empire (Babylonian , Persian, Macedonian, Roman) there were many peoples/nations (a nation is a human group distinguished by language, sexual and economic habits) but one of them was held as superior in comparison with the others because of a superiority in military power. Hence the Persian king’s title of “King of Kings” comes.
Throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages social inequality was embodied in the so-called feudal system where the aristocracy was a social class superior to the peasants and the bourgeois as far as it was endowed with strong military power and monopoly of land ownership. The first asset was mostly self-endowed, the second one was bestowed by the state (by the monarch).
At the end of 18th century AD the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution overthrew the landed military aristocracy and set up a social hierarchy based both on wealth and education, where the superior social class was the bourgeoisie endowed with money, property and literacy.
Throughout the millennia several measures had been taken in order to prevent that social inequalities became abusive and turned in social injustices.
Against the abuse of physical strength the governments set up law and order by various kinds of police. Against the abuse of the aristocracy several bloody revolutions set up new constitutions where all the citizens were meant to be equal regarding the law and the courts.
Against the abuse of nationality a widespread political movement spread throughout most Europe in 1848. Its prophet and apostle was Giuseppe Mazzini (1805 –1872). Mazzini was an exile from Piedmont, his country, because of his revolutionary attempts which failed. He spent most of his life in London, whence - by the means of thousands of letters and a network of emissaries – he was able to lead and organize the so called Young Italy, a revolutionary society. Later on, he founded also the Young Poland, the Young Switzerland and the Young Europe. His main message was that each nation should get its own nation-state without being subdued by any other nation. His dream was accomplished with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. David Lloyd George, war-time Prime Minister and founder of the League of Nations, said :
I doubt whether any man of his generation exercised so profound an influence on the destinies of Europe as did Mazzini. The map of Europe as we see it today is the map of Giuseppe Mazzini. He was the prophet of free nationality. The glittering imperial fabric reared by Bismarck is humbled in the dust, but the dream of this young man, who came over as an exile to England and lived in poverty here for years, dependent on the charity of friends and armed only with a pen, have now become startling realities through the whole continent. He taught us not merely the rights of a nation; he taught us the rights of other nations. He is the father of the idea of the League of Nations.3
Against the abuses of the economic classes the trade Unions starting with the 1830s and the social-democrat parties in Europe starting with 1870s struggled to get better salaries for the workers from the employers and benefits from the state, so that after the Second World Wars in the Western societies the so-called ‘welfare state’ was established.
political movements have acted for centuries in order to cut the
roots of inequality that could feed parasitical social injustices.
However, throughout the centuries, all these measures (police, army, courts bureaucracy, civil servants) increased the size of the state apparatus. Especially after WWII the State (in the West at first, and then everywhere) has remarkably increased its budget, services and staff. Whoever has got a position in this ‘machine’ is not equal with those that don’t have any position. So, politicians, bureaucrats and civil servants now make a new ‘caste’ which can abuse its power creating social injustices.
What Thomas Aquinas singled out as the vice against Distributive Justice, the ‘respect of persons’ has spread throughout the apparatus of the states, although to a different degree according to the different states. It is precisely what is called ‘corruption’.
A well-respected watch-dog , Transparency International, ranks all the states of the world by corruption rate.4 It is easy to notice how strong is the inverted correlation between the rate of corruption and the economic health: the higher the corruption, the lower the health of the economy.
Many countries nowadays are chocked by corruption, which has become the most important issue of social justice and which deserves much attention, energy and funds from the academia and the governments in order to find out effective remedies by laws , regulations, dedicated bodies, and advanced technologies. A worrying problem is : who will control the controllers? Since the bodies which are supposed to fight corruption within themselves are already corrupted themselves, the task can end to be impossible. In my country, Italy, for decades the academic bodies claimed to undertake reforms against corruption in academia, ant the result of those reforms was an increase of corruption:
The decline of Italy's universities, none of which currently appear in the world's top 200, is a constant source of lament among the country's chattering classes. But the reason for this sorry state is laid bare by new research that shows the extent of nepotism in higher education. /…/ In Rome's La Sapienza University, for example, a third of the teaching staff have close family members as fellow lecturers. Overall, the country's higher institutions are 10 times more likely than other places of work to employ two or more members of the same family.
Roberto Perotti, a professor of economics at the private Bocconi University in Milan and the author of L'universita Truccata ("The Rigged University"), said: "Of course the nepotism is connected to the lower university standards. If a professor at Stanford gave a teaching job to his wife, there would be an outcry. But then in the top [US] universities, people are there on merit/…/ In some of Italy's state university departments 30 per cent of the staff have a close family relative present. This is nepotism and corruption, and it's everywhere. Though some places are particularly bad."
The University of Bari, in the southern region of Puglia, springs to mind. The economics faculty must seem like a home from home for Professor Lanfranco Massari as he bumps into sons Lanfranco Jr, Gilberto and Giansiro, or his five grandchildren who work in the same department. At Palermo's architecture faculty, Professor Angelo Milone enjoys the company of his brother, son and daughter as fellow researchers.5
Dynamics of Corruption
Corruption is a sort of self-harm: we think ourselves smart when we do not pay the due taxes, but the consequence is that the State or the Town Council, because of insufficient income, has not enough money and so cuts the number of teachers at school for our children, home care for our old parents and the hospital stay and medical care for us. We think ourselves smart when we get our son/daughter hired as a public servant because of the unfair help from our brother in law, or friend, or boss or political leader, but afterwards , when an incompetent policeman shoots us instead of the criminal, or an incompetent doctor gives us a wrong diagnosis and therapy, or our kids remain ignorant because of the poor quality of their teachers, it is us who are damaged by a public servant who has not been hired for his/her skills but just out of personal preferences. So, we pay the price of our corrupt deeds.
Corruption builds the unjust system of Anti-Meritocracy: merits and capabilities are systematically ignored, i.e. we very rarely give a job, an office, a scholarship, a prize, an award to the person who displays more capability in this or that task. Thus the Family, the Party, the Union, the Church, the Friend have the last (if not the only) word in appointing people for positions in the university, in journalism, in show business, in social services, in the army and in several other departments of public service.
The Duties of Man within the Family
Given the history of inequalities that I drafted above, we can state that corruption, based on the mammoth apparatus of state apparatus of today (with the entailed social inequality), is the major cause of social injustice in our time.
How to fight it? There is the authoritarian way , undertaken, for example, in Qatar, Rwanda and Singapore,7 where a government without political opposition, by means of draconian laws and a ruthless (well paid) police is able to crush corruption.
The other way is the one pursued by liberal countries, such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden, by means of separating the powers and jurisdictions in the state and multiplying the private bodies of check and control in the society, such as free press, NGOs, independent agencies and cultural foundations.
And the liberal strategy can fail as well, as it is reported in the Swedish academia where an “investigation discovers that three-quarters of advertised posts are filled by an internal candidate”.10
However, nothing can work if there is not a cultural and moral change in the overall society. The 19th century political thinker and activist I have already mentioned, Giuseppe Mazzini, who was highly appreciated by Gandhi, preached that it is worthless to continue speaking of Rights if , first of all, we do not recognise and worship the concept of Duty.
Here I want to argue that , in addition to the strategies undertaken by the governments in the public sphere, another strategy should be undertaken in the private sphere. So, I go back to Giuseppe Mazzini. In his masterpiece, The Duties of Man (1860) he discusses four principal kinds of duties: 1) towards yourself, 2) towards your family, 3) towards your country, 4) towards humanity.
As for family:
Family affections wind themselves round your heart slowly and unobserved; but tenacious and enduring as the ivy around the tree, they cling to you hour by hour, mingling with and becoming a portion of your very existence.11
Unlike the “brutish philosophy” of Marxists, irritated because they see in the family the “nursery of egotism and spirit of caste”, Family must be considered “sacred”. In fact, its scope is to transform the human being into a citizen. It is true that Family can degenerate into egotism, ”the more odious and brutal” because perverts the sacred things, the affections.12 Because of this, parents should love their children with true love, not the selfish and blind one that initiates the young to the pleasures of life but not to life itself as a mission.13 In fact, all the tragedies and hardships of today are fruit of egoism “instilled 30 years back by the weak mothers and the heedless fathers”. The good parents, instead, should gather every evening with their children and speak to them of their Country, its history and its future. Showing how they should resist the injustices, but also revere the good authorities (bestowed with “virtue crowned by genius”), so that to refuse both tyranny and anarchy.14
The duties towards yourself are meant to transform the human being into a person. They are four: 1) defend your dignity and never subdue to others who want to enslave you in whatever way. 2) educate yourself the most you can: humans are rational animals, and can flourish only feeding their reason with knowledge and ideas. 3) believe in progress, i.e. development and improvement of your life and the life of humankind. 4) associate with companions and friends, because humans are social animals and without friendship they cannot help being weak and desperate and so subduing to others.15
The ground ideas of Mazzini are sacrifice and duty, and they impressed many Indian activists: Surendranath Banerjea, Pherozeshah Mehta, Dadabhai Naoroji Vinayak, Damodar Savarkar (who founded Young India) and Gandhi. Mazzini was the most admired political thinker in India between 1850 and 1910: Spencer and Stuart Mill were esteemed, Mazzini was loved, and his book The Duties of Man was translated into most Indian languages.16
In particular Gandhi agreed with Mazzini in his commitment for women’s rights, freedom, education and politics. The role of the woman as householder (grihasta) is crucial. Mothers shape the minds of children more than fathers.17
Above all, Gandhi praised Mazzini’s book because was not just about politics but also about moral law (Ramarayana). Both thinkers oppose the modern theory of rights, which spoils and corrupts the people, leading them to worshipping material things. Duties, when accomplished, are the path to getting rights, not vice versa. Because of this, Gandhi thought that the supreme principle is the Mazzinian ‘principle of education’, in order to become a ‘pious and religious man free from selfishness and pride’ and ready for sacrifice, like Mazzini personally was.18
commitment of parents, especially the mothers, in the moral education
of the young, within the private circles of family life, is a crucial
and necessary factor for fighting corruption , which, in the public
circles of society, is probably the most important cause of social
injustice in our time.
1 Summa Theologiae, pars Ia-IIae, 58, 11, se contra.
2 Summa Theologiae, pars IIa-IIae, qu. 29, art. 3.
3 Denis Mack Smith, Giuseppe Mazzini, Yale University Press UK SR, 1996, p. 221.
5 Michael Day, ‘The Italian academia Family fiefdoms blamed for tainting Italian universities’, The Independent, Saturday 25 September 2010.
, 21 February 2018 (accessed on 8/3/2019).
7 Transparency International, ‘Antiauthoritarian Strategies against Corruption’, https://knowledgehub.transparency.org/helpdesk/anti-corruption-strategies-in-authoritarian-states, 21/08/2018 (accessed on 8/3/2019).
8 Ararat L. Osipian, ‘Economics of corruption in doctoral education: The dissertations market’, Economics of Education Review 31 (2012) 76–83.
9 Jon S.T. Quah, ‘Singapore's Success in Combating Corruption: Four Lessons for China’, American Journal of Chinese Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2 (October 2016), pp. 187-209.
10 David Matthews, ‘Swedish universities ‘nepotistic’, union report finds’, Times Higher Education, May 9 2018.
11 G. Mazzini, The Duties of Man, London, Chapman & Hall, 1862, 96.
12 Ibidem, 98-99.
13 Ibidem, 102-103.
14 Ibidem, 105.
15 Ibidem, 108-125.
16 ‘C.A. Bayly, ‘Liberalism at large: Mazzini and 19th century Indian Thought’, in C. A, Bayly and E. F. Biagini, Giuseppe Mazzini and the Globalisation of Democratic Nationalism, OUP, Oxford, 2008, 355-372.
17 Ibidem, 369-370.
18 Fabrizio De Donno ‘The Gandhian Mazzini: Democratic-Nationalism, Self-Rule and Non-violence’, in in C. A, Bayly and E. F. Biagini, Giuseppe Mazzini and the Globalisation, 385-386.
International Conference Social Justice: A Mirage or Reality in Plural Societies