Thursday, August 11, 2011

Corruption and the Rise of Dignity

Corruption is becoming a transnational issue which affects most economies and societies, including the most advanced democracies. The preamble of the UN convention on corruption raises concern about the "seriousness of the problems and threats posed by corruption to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice and jeopardizing sustainable development and the rule of law". Most countries have ratified the convention with different legislative acts according to their legal and institutional frameworks.

Yet, if a global framework exists to combat corruption - unlike financial markets for which there is a lack of global rules- States seem powerless to defeat this evil which jeopardizes the bases of democratic societies and prevent any effective intervention to address issues of social injustice and inequality.

The origins of corruption may vary greatly, but in a sense, it reflects the changing nature of capitalism. R.Dworkin, in a recent book* argues that modern culture has introduced a false (and apparently persuasive) belief that the most important criterion for 'good life' is wealth and luxury and the power it conveys. The search of wealth as the only value in life, nurtured by the ideology of free market and monetary accumulation has led to corruption as a mere instrument of class domination and therefore as a source of social injustice.

Populist parties seek today legitimation and social acceptance of corruption as an inevitable evil based on the principle "all guilty, all innocent". This is contradiction with the kantian principle that we should honour humanity and morality. But these words seem today meaningless, if we just observe the magnitude of corruption, in its various forms in our democracies. It is not incidental that in the US corruption takes the form of unlimited funding from large corporations to political candidates, which is even considered legal under the consitutional principle of freedom of opinion. But money is not an opinion.

Recent events in Italian political life show the extent of corruption both in public and private spheres and the increasing connection with organised crime. Judges are systematically accused of being "communists" or "terrorists" by corrupted politicians (with the complicity of their allies) to defend their priviledges and their system of power.

The rule of Law, the principles of liberty and justice are not applied onsistently, become obsolete or are circumvented by 'ad hoc' norms. But if democracies are vulnerable and weak to fight corruption, this is also true for totalitarian States, as demonstrated by the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia and now in Siria. The search for liberty and justice against corruption has led to an uprising of poor and middle classes living in urban and rural areas, students and young people as well as ethnic and religious groups.

The fight against corruption is therefore essential to address issues of economic development, intolerable inequality, rising unemployment and poverty and more fundamentally the existence of the democratic societies. We need a culture of social justice where dignity prevails over the "culture of corruption". The principles of this alternative culture link the rule of Law to morality and dignity. These are the principles stemming from the Age of Enlightnment, whose ideas have so powerfully inspired our common sense of living together. In Kant's words** we find the essence of these principles: " Morality and the humanity as capable of it is that which alone has dignity".

* R.Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs, Harvard Univeristy Press 2011, 422 p. The book is about one's responsibility to living well rather than 'Good Life'. At the end of the book, Dworkin writes: 'without dignity, we are only blinks of duration. But if we manage to lead a good life well, we create something more. We make a subscript to mortality. We make tiny diamonds in cosmic sands"

** I.Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, 1785, Transl. by Thomas Kingsmill Abbot

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