Corruption is, in politics and business, abusing one's position to enrich or otherwise advance oneself or one's friends or relatives. Bribery and nepotism are common forms of corruption. More subtle is the failure to perform civic duty, or to allow personal priorities to overcome national needs.
Corruption is found in every part of the political spectrum, as soon as people get power that they can abuse. As the great conservative historian Lord Acton (1834–1902) explained, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
In morality, it refers to the subversion of moral principle for ulterior motives.
"Given how damaging it can be, it is remarkable how long corruption can continue. Unless there is a crisis, a gap can endure almost indefinitely between the public discourse of an honest, neutral civil service and the private reality of a set of self-enriching bureaucrats. What starts out as a rational, if dishonest, response to an opportunity to make money often becomes hardened into a dominant culture that can last for centuries. Indeed, it can become embedded so firmly and accepted as part of the system that in one sense it ceases to become corruption and merely becomes a different set of norms about the way that a state bureaucracy operates." -- Alan Beattie from his 2009 book False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
As Bailyn (1968) demonstrated, fear of corruption by the conservative forces in Britain and America was the single most important impulse for the Founding Fathers to distrust the royal government, embrace republicanism and insist on civic virtue for all citizens. Threats to free government, most Americans (and some British "country party" critics ) believed, lurked everywhere, but nowhere more dangerously than in the designs of ministers in office to aggrandize power by the corrupt use of influence, and by this means ultimately to destroy the balance of the Constitution. "Corruption!" was as universal a cry in the colonies as it was in England, and with it came the same belief that tyranny, already dominant over most of the earth, was continuing to spread its menace and was threatening even that greatest bastion of liberty, England itself.
In the colonies the executive was legally far stronger than in England, but circumstances - such as inflexible royal instructions, encroachments on the governor's patronage, the more democratic nature of colonial politics, the impermanence of the governor's tenure, and the possibility of going over the governor's heads and appealing directly to authorities in England - worked to reduce radically the influence of the colonial governors. With an indeterminate leadership, an unstable economic structure, and the exertion by colonial governments of creative power unknown to 18th-century England, the colonial political system was troubled, contentious, even explosive, evoking, as it did, both the belief that faction was seditious and the fear that the government was corrupt and threatened the survival of liberty. English constitutional theory offered a mode of comprehension of such an inflamed, anomalous politics; and it is this mode of understanding that forms the background of the American Revolution.
Corruption was thus the great evil the Founding Fathers confronted. When Britain escalated its defense of corruption in 1773-75, it was time to break free with the American Revolution.
Pursuit of civic virtue
To overcome the temptations of corruption -- such as luxury and bribery -- in their own lives, the Founding Fathers cultivated the virtue of disinterestedness. That is, the made a conscious effort to not be the creature of his financial interests, and not give any sign to the public that they sought luxury or bribes. The goal was to be impartial, concerned only for the public good, not the advancement of friends or, still less, of political party.
The Founding Fathers sought "Honor" -- freedom from corruption, and a positive devotion to civic virtue. These were key elements of Republicanism, and the Founding Fathers made republicanism the core values of the American system of government.
Corruption is most often an issue in state and city elections, but it has been a central issue in several presidential campaigns.
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