This article presents a theory of corruption which unifies the moral, political, economic and social causes and patterns of corruption in one theoretical framework. The theory is constructed from the scattered insights about the “corruption of the body politic,” building in particular upon the work of five theorists–Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli and Rousseau. Corruption is defined as the moral incapacity of citizens to make reasonably disinterested commitments to actions, symbols and institutions which benefit the substantive common welfare. This extensive demise of loyalty to the commonwealth comes from the interaction of human nature with systematic inequality of wealth, power and status. The corruption of the polity results in certain identifiable patterns of political conflict and competition. The central feature of these patterns is the emergence of quasi-governmental factions and an increasingly polarized class system. The politics of the factions leads to an undermining of the efficacy of the basic political structures of the society and the emergence of systematic corruption in all aspects of political life. The theory advanced in this article identifies several crucial prescriptions to stave off the tendency towards corruption. Among these are an extension of maximum substantive participation by all citizens in all aspects of political life and a stringent control over all sources of great or permanent inequality in the polity.
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