Real Republican Freedom V: Crush the Corrupt, Research Time, 05/04/2017

Continued from previous . . . If all institutions of life are mortal, will inevitably corrupt themselves and decay into tyranny or chaos, then why not give in to despair? The only response to this question is to reframe it.

As corruption grows among the elite of society, the power and freedom
of the people fall into disrepair. The people are abused and degraded by
the rich and powerful and told that this is freedom. Eventually,
they're not going to take that shit anymore.
Because in that formulation, there’s no way out. If you think your actions and your society will only be valuable if they build institutions or achieve some greatness that truly will last forever, then you’ll be disappointed. An inescapable fact of material life is mortality – not just for organisms, but for planets and stars themselves.

The answer to that existential despair at mortality is to accept your limitations. We don’t have the power to control events thousands or billions of years from now. But we can give our successors a better starting point than we did. We can anticipate the problems they’ll face and get started on the work of dealing with them while we can.

The only pithy thing John Dewey ever said was that the solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow. So at least put a little effort into your tomorrow and its problems. The struggle will continue – struggle is life itself. Victory is never final, but is always the security of your own generation and handing over a good situation to the next.

Now, even at the much more modest scale, we’re still fucking up pretty royally. So what can Machiavelli’s writing tell us about how to avoid those fuckups in our political institutions?

The most important lesson, which returns in many different contexts all over the Discourse on Livy, is to avoid corruption. What is corruption? It’s a state of political affairs when the state is run through bribery and access to powerful offices instead of objective and transparent laws.

Humans are not capable of building institutions that can survive a
supernova. If we were, we'd have a whole different set of problems
to solve as a civilization.
In such a society, people with any kind of power aren’t accountable to the people, but to whoever is giving them their kickbacks. And if it’s widely known that bribery and lobbying is the real motive of any ostensibly public service, all faith in the fairness of society will be lost.

Corruption sets in most easily as the go-to mode of governance when only a few people have regular access to the powerful offices of the state. This is why oligarchical, one-party, monarchist, and dictatorial states are often the most corrupt.

People settle into their positions of power and take them for granted. This goes beyond the perspective of the high-ranking career civil servant – if they maintain their democratic ethics, such virtuous civil servants can be inspirational guardians of freedom.

Institutions designed according to civic republican democratic values – especially encouraging public accountability and participation in political institutions – guard against corruption. So many people are involved in decision making and discussion that corruption becomes impossible. A bribe is useless when the bribed still faces huge hurdles to fulfill the wishes of his secret patron.

Another way to safeguard against corruption is to prevent anyone in society from becoming too popular. It’s possible for someone to hold a position of such incredible prestige that it’s literally untouchable. Think of monarchs or royals in Machiavelli’s day. Or our contemporary monarchs and royals.

FYI. Here's another corruption scandal we don't hear too much about in
Western media. The Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak (son of
one former PM and family friend of another former PM) is under
investigation for stealing nearly $1-billion from a national infrastructure
development fund. Something to watch for in the United States if
Donald Trump's infrastructure plan moves forward.
But there are also prestigious positions in more democratic societies that enable vast corruption and abusive practices. Consider any of the scandals or abuses of the people perpetrated by the elite of America’s financial sector, and the piracy of Silicon Valley bro culture companies.

They’re able to get away with so much because their positions as wealthy venture capitalists earn them a large cachet of social power. That prestige is a presumption of untouchability, and it constitutes a large clique of worshipful people among the general public.

“No one so wealthy and who’s achieved so much success could possibly do anything wrong!” Too many people believe shit like this. Wealth, success, and prestige actually enable corrupt behaviour because it creates this aura of untouchability around people. Not only does it encourage corrupt behaviour, it encourages people to let him get away with it.

From such corruption emerges the collapse of a people’s freedom. The most clear sign is the increasing paranoia and hostility of a republic’s authoritarian leaders.

Oh shit.

To be continued

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