The paradox of corruption

Why we need to get clear about what is being corrupted

There is a paradox at the heart of our corruption discourse. The concept only makes sense in opposition to something pure and untainted, yet our contemporary political culture shies away from articulating such moral and political ideals.  Only when we face up to the big underlying philosophical questions about the public good will corruption allegations stop being dismissed as mere partisan mud-throwing, argues Robert Sparling.


Corruption scandals are a constant feature of contemporary life. While everyone seems to hate corruption, people tend to focus their outrage in selective ways, attacking their partisan enemies and ignoring their own parties’ offenses. This makes it easy to dismiss accusations as mere partisan mud-throwing, where all the politicians are eventually covered in the same muck. But there is more to corruption than name calling, and the pretence that all politicians are equally sullied is dangerously depoliticizing.

The concept of co

Continue reading

Enjoy unlimited access to the world's leading thinkers.

Start by exploring our subscription options or joining our mailing list today.

Start Free Trial

Already a subscriber? Log in

Join the conversation

Minnie S 26 May 2021

I'm not sure this is so complicated. Corruption is misusing ones position or power for your own gain, against the terms under which you were afforded that position or power. I think the real issue is whether one can untangle ones thoughts and intentions from ones own gain. Actions can be consistent with the good stem from bad intentions.

Alexis Papa 13 May 2021

Do people agree with this idea that we have to get clear about what exactly it is that corruption corrupts? Or can we simply know corruption when we see it? I'd also be interested to know what people think about the relationship between thinking of corruption as a systemic problem and a problem of individual bad actors. There are clearly some systemic aspects to corruption - for example the so-call revolving door between politics and the corporate world of finance - but does recognising these systemic features mean abandoning the idea of personal responsibility of bad actors?