When Corruption is Cultural: Exploring Moral, Institutional and Rule-Based Concepts of Corruption

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Francisco García González


It is often asserted that people are conditioned to act corruptly by their culture in a way they cannot help themselves. The aim of this paper is to use a multidisciplinary approach, both from political theory and political science, to show that this kind of narrative about corruption is flawed because it is not informative at all about the nature of corruption. This prevents it from leading to any type of meaningful analysis or policy design. We will concentrate on two main flaws: The Triviality Objection, which points out that everything humans do is cultural in some sense or other, and the Circularity Objection, which stresses that attempting to explain why or how corruption becomes part of a specific culture, leads to saying that it is because its members act corruptly. The idea that the cultural causation is flawed becomes persuasive when we contrast that view with our concept of corruption as a special kind of harm to institutional rules: corruption may refer to a parallel set of conventions or rules that undermines the institutional set of morally justified norms.

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