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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 1, December 27, 2014 - Annual Number

Freedom from Corruption through Self-Governance or Coercive Governance: An Exploration through Political Philosophy

Saturday 27 December 2014

by Muhammad Tajuddin

Corruption is the biggest malady of public life all over the world. It is more pervasive in the post-colonial developing societies and states. Corruption affects the weak and underprivileged sections of the developing countries more harshly in their daily life. It decreases economic growth and inclusive development, increases the incidence of poverty among masses and economic gap between classes. It is one of the most important causes of depoliticisation, political instability, peaceful change of govern-ment by election or violent change of government by coup or revolution.

Corruption is normally considered a legal problem which of course it is as a cognisable offence in law of the land in all countries. In the democratic world the standard of behaviour in inter-personal interaction of every person in every sphere of life—private, civic and public—without any favour or discrimination is set either by the Constitution or statutes. Corruption as an offence is an unfair decision taken by a person in authoritative position in lieu of personal benefit in cash and/or kind offered or extracted from the beneficiary of the decision. Under the law both the unfair decision-maker and its beneficiary are committing the crime of corru-ption and are punishable according to the statute book after completing the due process of trial.

Corruption in all its forms is a legal offence but in essence it is primarily an ethical malady. Like any other crime, its genesis takes place in the self or conscience of the corrupt person. Every corrupt person first decides within herself/himself to use corruption as a means of undue earning by misusing her/his decision-making authority for unfair decision or getting unde-serving benefit by greasing the palm of the authorised decision-maker. This self-decision is called intention in jurisprudence. A corrupt person, after making her/his intention to indulge in corruption, plans for its ways and means. The act of corruption is execution of the intention and plan designed within the self of the corrupt person irrespective of her/his identity as a potential benefit-giver or potential benefit-seeker. The intention of the authoritative person or benefit-seeker is communicated indirectly through gesture, posture or other symbolic expression. Mutual consent and decision which may or may not include bargaining essentially comes first before the actual act of corruption.

The intention and plan to use corrupt means to achieve an end might be designed in the self of the undue benefit-seeker who might induce the authoritative person to act in her/his favour in exchange of receiving personal benefit or it might be a common practice too common to become a common sense wisdom of the institution known to everybody or gathered on the first visit to the institution that here nothing moves without ‘pleasing‘ the concerned authority. In offices where bribe is a must for getting things done, whether it is one’s right as a benefit-seeker or otherwise, a mechanism of an intermediary person, that is, a tout, peon or clerk of the office for smooth management of rent extraction from the huge number of service-seekers with proper or improper entitlement is established with the approval of the concerned authority. She/he settles the amount and other things after bargaining with each service-seeker depending on the nature of the claim, her/his paying capacity and her/his gullibility and expropriates the settled amount in lieu of every service rendered or assured to be rendered.

Modern society or state, as defined by the utilitarian thinker, Bentham, is nothing but a mechanism for seeking and rendering of services. In post-colonial developing countries with expanding opportunities and soaring expectations, development and modernisation mean fast growth of avenues for service-rendering to the people and service-seeking by them. The first act of giving undue favour in exchange of payment or getting work done by greasing the palm of the authoritative person generally becomes a habit or norm for the maiden bribe-taker or maiden bribe-giver in the developing countries. In these countries the values and culture of democratic governance is either absent or weak. Some of the features of governance culture of these states are—decision-making by the authorities not according to the rule of law and due process of law but according to their discretion; non-fixable accountability of persons involved in the decision-making process; lack of transparency in the system; weak consciousness and assertiveness among citizens against violation of their rights and non-existent or non-functional redressal mechanism. Lack of transparent, accountable, responsive and responsible process of governance creates a congenial atmosphere for the maiden or exceptional bribe-giver or -taker to adopt it as a way of life for the fastest and easiest method to achieve all material things in life. Rampant corruption among different law-enforcement agencies in these states results in denial, delay or distortion of the justice-delivery system and non-punishment or mild punishment of the corrupt persons. This encourages the novices, who are learning the art of corruption, to become bold and thus the individual habit of bribe-taking and bribe-giving gradually becomes a normal social practice, a public secret.

The selves of both the habitual bribe-taker and bribe-giver become corrupt, their respective consciences lose the sensitivity to their corrupt behaviours. The habitual bribe-taker never thinks that the her/his action in exchange of payment is against the rule of law and due process of law and by her/his act of commission or omission she/he is violating the right of the deserving person in an unfair way. The conscienceless habitual bribe-giver never has remorse on her/his bribe-giving and getting something which was illegal, not her/his due according to the norms and at the cost of some other deserving person who might be more needy. Both the habitual bribe-taker and-giver consider their acts of selling and purchasing favours as rational and justified. Bribe-taking and -giving becomes a rule, not the exception for them. Wherever and whenever such persons are in authoritative positions they do not do even routine work without extracting bribe. The habitual bribe-giver also becomes callous, casual and careless and remains always ready to give bribe and get the work done even if it is her/his due and right. They always remain ready to pay bribe to the law-enforcement agencies if caught while bribe-taking or bribe-giving to distort the process of justice to save them from punishment.

The common approaches of all types of political philosophers, be they idealists, realists, liberals or Marxists, have been humanistic and rational. Their shared goal have been the exploration of the ways and means for the organisation of human society in a manner which may lead to progressive mitigation of the miseries of humankind and the provision of gradually improved good life for all human beings irrespective of differences. Thinking from various perspectives the different schools of political philosophy propound their own concepts and paradigms on which human societies should be organised to achieve misery-free life for all. All the schools, except Marxists, assume state as the highest level of human association with the ultimate responsibility to provide safe and secure life for all its members and progressively a better life for its members. All the non-Marxist schools—and in practice even the Marxist states—consider that for the sake of smooth and excellent performance of responsibilities the individual members of the state, namely, its citizens, must have unavoidable obligations towards their respective states. The states and their respective members are bonded in reciprocal obligation towards each other.

Each individual member of the state must submit to the command of the state or law of the land in exchange of the responsibilities which the state takes for each of them. The non-fulfilment of the individual obligation by any citizen is violation of the law of the state and a punishable crime everywhere. All the schools of political philosophy are in agreement on the issue that the sole authority in every state to define moral-immoral, doable-non-doable or legal-illegal lies exclusively with the state. The political philosophers and states hugely vary on what is doable or legal and what is non-doable or illegal. Any person who has done an act defined non-doable by the state in its jurisdiction has done an illegal act and thus has committed a crime. She/he must be punished for the sake of maintaining peace and order which is the first prerequisite for providing good life for all.

All the political philosophers, irrespective of their approaches, are unanimous that universal good life is feasible only and exclusively when all human relationships—private, personal, civic or public—are organised on the basis of some universal precepts or principles. Except realists, all other schools are in agreement that power or capability as an instrument to organise relationship is inhuman and animalistic. Power or capability is of different kinds—physical, economic, intellectual, social, cultural or political. Power might be of various types but all types of powers are expressed in the currency of potential or actual force or coercion.

In the language of political sociology, power of one person over the other is measured in terms of influence or authority. Influence or authority is not always used according to the will of the party over whom it is used. If it is used against her/his will than it is one or the other type of violence against the weak partner in the relation. Power as an instrument of forming and sustaining any relationship makes the powerful partner the dominant partner whose will prevails in the decision-making structure and process of the relationship. The dominant partner gets a major share in products of the relationship, that is, goods or services, but her/his contribution in the running of the productive process is minor or ceremonial.

The power-based relationships are not formed on the basis of mutual free choice but they are generally imposed by the dominant partner on the weak partner. If necessary, the dominant partner uses threat, coercion, or actual force to form and sustain the relationship. These relationships do not fulfil the end of all partners but they serve the interests of the dominant partner. The marginal partner is only the means for the achievement of the end of the powerful partner. The weak partner bears it in the absence of a better choice and in course of time begins to identify her/his interest with this unequal relationship and its end. The future marginal partners are socialised through the ideological apparatuses, that is, family, education, media etc. to accept the oppressive and exploitative relationship as normal and fair.

One school of philosophy or sometimes even two philosophers of the same school vary in their prescription on the precept, principle or value on which human relations should be organised instead of power. This disagreement on value is because of their disagreement on assumptions about the universe, human nature, paradigm, model or ideology. Organised life without some foundational principle is unnatural and impossible for the idealists. For the realists and liberals, any relationship organised without some universally binding value will not be stable, secure and functional and may lead to disorder and anarchy and hence become irrational. Marxists critique idealism, realism and liberalism; they think that genuine good life for all is possible only when inequality based on property is abolished and relations are organised on the basis of communism where class and state will become redundant.

The political philosophers of all schools are unanimous on the issue that the essence of humanity is to make one or more than one unambiguously defined precept or precepts as the basis of all relations which should be universally observed without any excuse by every person. Exception, if any, may be given not on the discretion of the authority in consideration of the power of the claimant of the exception but on the basis of predefined reasonable norms according to which every eligible person can claim for the exception. Corruption for the political philosopher is not only an economic offence as we normally understand but it is a more pervasive ethical malady present in every sphere of human activity and relationship. Corruption is to make power instead of precept, the foundation-stone of any relationship or to use precept only as rhetoric to justify a power-based relationship or to substitute precept by power in the conduct of a relationship whenever it becomes essential for protection and promotion of interest of the powerful partner.

For idealists, state or the most important association born in course of evolution of human relationship as protector and sustainer of all relations is natural and organic. Its rationale for existence is to maintain honest observance of the foundational precept in all relations and to check any corruption, that is, deviation, distortion in the precept or its substitution by power. The precepts or ideals are generally of metaphysical nature but rationally tested and verified universal truths. Individuals with lesser level of rationality or those who have subordi-nated their rationality to their desire or emotion might be compelled to adopt the ideal in their self-interest which they are unable to recognise. The idealist Plato thinks that justice is the virtue on the basis of which all relations must be organised for providing good life to all. In his single-minded pursuit of justice he does not care to become unnatural while prescribing communism of spouses and property for the guardian class, depriving the producers from participation in governance and authorising the philosopher to rule without any check or limitation on her/his power. The idealism in Aristotle makes it logical for him to justify slavery and patriarchy on the ground that slaves, women and children can achieve good life only by submitting to the patriarch because due to undeveloped mental faculty they are unable to decide what is good for them. Hegel’s ideal is freedom which gradually expands from one individual—the oriental despotic kings—to all, passing through different epochs which he claims to decipher in his historicism. With conviction of dialectical idealism he states that freedom for all is achieved in the final Germanic epoch and hence champions the world leadership of Germany, glorifies the state as the flawless embodiment of rationality and justifies war as an instrument for removal of backwardness of the defeated state and attainment of zeitgeist which is essential for the sake of freedom and progress of all.

For the liberals, all relations based on some precept are instruments to pursue the individual interest of the partners with mutual cooperation or to achieve some common interest with collective effort. They consider institutions of every relationship, that is, family, society, civil society and state, as artificial instruments. The rationale of existence of these institutions is their utility to serve the interests of the relationship-forming partners. The classical and contemporary liberals are the champions of maximum freedom and minimal authority over individuals only to check and control conflict and regulate relations for the sake of maintaining conducive atmosphere for the enjoyment of liberty by all. The modern liberals, who support expansion of the state’s role, justify their position on the ground of their definition of liberty which is positive in contrast to negative liberty of the classical and contemporary liberals. In modern liberal understanding liberty is not only removal of restriction but creation of favourable conditions for the availability of free choice for all, not only a few. Liberals of all hues agree that liberty is the paramount precept which never means licence to do anything or everything but self-governance instead of external governance. They never support unaccountable and irresponsible individual or group behaviour where one person is contemptuous of the liberty of her/his partner. They all support equal, universal, definite, simple, strict and fast structures and processes to punish those who violate the liberty of others and effective mechanism to redress the grievance of the victim. In their understanding, any compromise, deviation, distortion or delay in punishment of the encroacher in the liberty of others or in grievance-redressal of the victim, whose liberty has been violated, is corruption.

For Marxists, all the institutions of human relations from family to state are propagated as the best instruments to serve the relation-forming individuals but in reality are instruments of domination and exploitation of the weak partner, be it women in family or vulnerable sections in society, civil society and the state. The classical Marxists collectively define all these vulnerable sections as proletariat and the neo-Marxists segregate them from the proletariat as different subaltern groups, namely, ethnic communities, tribes, women and minorities. The power, which corrupts the humaneness of human beings and demeans all human relations, is economic power. The economic power-based corruption is inherently rooted in the modes of production which existed universally throughout history during the pre-proletariat revolution epochs in which the means of production were owned by one class and the others who did not own the means of production and so had no option but to sell their labour for subsistence. This resulted in unequal and unjust relations based on exploitation of the class without means of production by the class holding the means of production or economic power.

Marxists believe that humanity can achieve corruption-free real freedom, peace and progress neither by following the idealists’ prescription of rationally designed precept-based holistic gover-nance without any limitation nor by the minimal governance and maximum liberty principle of the liberals. They think that the only solution to all the miseries of mankind is the annihilation of the mode of production-based productive process which is sustained by class inequality and its replacement first by the socialist and then by the communist mode of production where none but the whole society in the initial phase and the whole community in the final phase owns the means of production and everybody earns her/his livelihood by performing labour, be it manual or mental.

The solutions prescribed by Marxism for the eradication of human sufferings have been proved utopian. Marxist states and society, wherever those were constituted after communist revolu-tions, have failed to establish the ideal atmosphere where class and state will wither away and all human relations could be smoothly conducted without any structure and process to regulate them to check deviations, distortion or corruption. All the past communist states had been and the few still remaining (though only in the form of Communist Party rule) are totalitarian states autocratically governed by the party’s top leadership in the name of the proletariat. The socialist mode of production, established in these Marxist states, could not transform human beings to make them non-deviant, incorruptible egalitarians and hence there was no option but to maintain the pre-socialist apparatuses for external regulation and governance of different types of human relations. In reality human relations under these states have been under more control than their liberal counterparts. By banning the avenues of individual initiatives for better reward and the unchanged self-first human nature Socialism in practice proved conducive for degeneration of the Communist citizens into petty self-seeking individuals and made them progre-ssively more corrupt. The continuous growth of corruption resulted in shortage, scarcity and degradation of commodities and services which finally led to implosion from within that ended the communist regimes one after another. All the communist states in practice were idealist states based on the ideal of communism.

Idealism and socialism both prescribe control and eradication of corruption from the society and state established on their respective values by legal coercive means. Both of them have failed in their efforts to control corruption by coercive means and have been themselves eradicated as living ideological systems instead of eradicating corruption.

Liberalism recognises and appreciates pluralism of values and the way of life in the name of its primal value, liberty, namely, availability of free choice. With freedom from restriction in choice as the value, it has no notion of deviation or corruption. It recognises an individual’s right to go against conventional behaviour provided it does not violate someone else’s liberty. Liberalism with its faith in maximum freedom and minimum restriction has gradually flourished into a universal ideology of the world replacing other ideologies. Contemporary human institutions from family to state have adopted liberalism as their standard and democracy as their legitimate mechanism of governance. Democracy is based on the assumption of liberty, equality and rationality of all members where the right to govern is authoritatively given on the ground of numerical majority but the consent of the minority must be included and cannot be taken for granted.

According to liberalism, liberty is an inviolable right to do whatever one likes to do with the condition that it does not interfere in the liberty of others. By implication it means that any inter-ference in the liberty of others will be a deviation from the correct behaviour or corruption, and hence illegitimate and illegal. Since liberalism, unlike anarchism, considers state or governance as a necessary evil, so it recognises the right of the legitimate authority to impose restrictions on deviational behaviour for the protection of the liberty of others. To check arbitrariness it limits the discretionary powers of every authority. Any interference by any authority must be according to the principle of the ‘rule of law’ or according to definite, equal, universal laws framed directly by the governed or their representatives. The discretionary power of every authority from top to bottom is minimal which is of unavoidable nature for fast and hassle-free conduct of her/his job for which she/he is fully accountable. The legal and legitimate interference has to satisfy another fundamental rule, that is, ‘due process of law’ which means that the liberal regime of law not only defines on what ground, when, where and why to impose restriction but it also delineates how to interfere, that is, the prerequisite necessary action to be completed before interference.

In liberal societies and states all institutions of governance of human relations follow these two rules of governance and they are the least coercive regimes. In the scale of corruption also the countries of the West which have not only liberal constitutional regimes but also have developed liberal civic and political culture are least corrupt countries. The failure of the idealist and communist regimes to control corruption and the relative success of the liberal regimes in controlling it shows that the least coercive regimes with minimal areas under governance are more suitable to check corruption. The success of the Western liberal regimes and failure even of the liberal regimes in developing countries in corruption-control is due to the underdeveloped civic political culture of rule of law, lack of consciousness among citizens about their rights, poverty of the masses, weak civil society, weak law enforcement agencies and longdrawn justice delivery system in the developing countries.

Even the liberal regimes in the developed West are not totally free from corruption because coercive means exclusively, irrespective of the regine’s character, can never fully eradicate corruption or other crimes. Coercive means, if effectively implemented, can create fear among the potential criminals including corrupt persons because definite punishment and public defamation of the criminals make commitment of crime irrational for the potential criminals. The limitation of coercive means of crime regulation under a liberal democratic regime or any other regime is its post facto nature. The intention of crime till it is committed is non-cognisable. The Illegal intention of a person which becomes crime after its actualisation cannot be controlled externally. Idealist political thinkers, who root their philoso-phy in ethics, present a world view in which even bad intentions, not only actions, have to be controlled for establishing order, peace and prosperity in a society. According to Socrates and Plato, virtue is knowledge which can be taught and learnt. True knowledge cannot be gathered only by imbibing information by different means but it has to be realised internally by the soul. In the Socratic vision of knowledge, if someone knows any act as crime, she/he will never commit it. Rousseau, a modern idealist, does not mystify knowledge like the Greek masters. He appreciates rationality as the effective tool to know the correct course of action in any situation. He thinks that rationality is corruptible but conscience is incorruptible; so humane decision-making must not be based exclusively on rationality but also on ethical evaluation of the rational course by conscience. Rationality converted into science, art and technology can lead to immense material progress but at the cost of nobility or the conscientiousness of human beings.

In the liberal coercive crime-control regime, one avoids crime not because it is wrong but because it might bring punishment. Guided by pleasure and profit, the liberal individual—who makes reason what is called instrumental rationality by the critical theorists—has no training of self-governance to check her/his intrusion into the liberty of others while enjoying her/his own liberty. To achieve a crime or corruption free-society, a state has to adopt a system of governance that can best serve the purpose of crime-control without any dogmatism towards or against liberalism, idealism or communism. Minimal coercive apparatus under the guidance of the twin principles—rule of law and due process of law—has no substitute for external governance provided it is simple, definite and effectively imposed without any fear or favour. To make it more effective the citizens have to be socialised through the ideological apparatuses to have the idealistic values of self-governance and self-control so that they can resist themselves from interference in others’ liberty.

Marxist and neo-Marxist critiques of the liberal state and economy are still valid and can be used to learn lessons to check corruption and crime by the marginal underclasses due to their want, exploitation, alienation and the hegemonic control of the ruling classes over the apparatuses of power. The advent of the second machine age after digitalisation—which is resulting in further marginalisation of humans by the machine—has made the need of reform and restructuring into the almost universal liberal system of governance more urgent to achieve the goal of freedom from corruption.

Dr Muhammad Tajuddin is a Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Jammu, Jammu.

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