Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Publicity and Corruption

In postings on publicity thus far I have focused mainly on examining the principles Kant sets out in Perpetual Peace and responding to the discussion of the question of publicity by Axel Gosseries. However, whilst these points are important, and there is much left yet to discuss in Kant's own works (including Perpetual Peace) there is also a broader discussion of publicity that raises some important questions of its own. I am referring to the way in which corruption is raised as a question that is connected to publicity.

Transparency International is a group that campaigns against corruption specifically and looking at how it addresses the question of what corruption consists in is very useful. They define corruption as "the misuse of entrusted power for private gain" and distinguish between two broad forms of corruption. The two forms are "according to rule" corruption and "against the rule" corruption. The former is where you have to, for example, pay a bribe for a service to which you are lawfully entitled, whereas the latter is where, by paying money, you receive something that you are not lawfully entitled to (from a state agency presumably). Since the general definition of corruption consists in using public resources for private purposes it follows that the basic nature of corruption consists in treating the area of public life as an extension of private (often kinship) networks.

So the real point of campaigning against corruption and taking it seriously is that corruption subverts the point of public authority as such. Corrupt behaviour is behaviour that sees law, authority and order through the prism of private interest and operates to deny the notion that there is such a thing as a public interest. As such, corrupt behaviour could be described as a quintessential form of political evil. To engage in it is to adopt a maxim that all interest is to be defined as private and that a network (usually familial) of associations deemed personally advantageous pre-empts any apparent public interest. The result of this is to weaken institutions that have a remit of concern for public interest with the general intention of replacing all such with private concern. Thus corruption is a basic form of rebellion against public order and public right.

After setting out reasons for seeing corruption as a basic political problem the question next arises as to whether publicity is, as a general condition, in direct opposition to corruption? In principle the answer is in the affirmative, unless it is the case that corruption has become so widespread that those who engage in corrupt behaviour become prepared to open and overtly announce this not merely as something they do but what ought to be done. Such a state is not inconceivable so we can see again the point of the distinction at the close of Perpetual Peace, of negative from affirmative principles of publicity. The affirmative principle is directly and explicitly in opposition to the adoption of corrupt maxims. As such, it frames a central orientation of public life. Hence the question that emerges from this concerns the relationship between the affirmative principle of publicity and the supreme principle of right which latter is described in the Doctrine of Right. This topic will be returned to in a future posting.

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