Legends Of The Grift

One of the most curious aspects of contemporary political life is the way that people enter into political life as people with fairly ordinary standards of living and net worth and then find themselves after years of political office with vastly increased standards of living despite having received modest salaries as public servants. The obvious implication of such an increased amount of wealth for having served in positions of power is that there was some sort of corruption involved. Either there was the use of privileged insider information to encourage profitable investment, or some sort of pay for play scheme by which people traded influence for money, or something else of that nature. Few people would believe that such wealth could be acquired in an honest way.

The ancient Romans thought that if they limited political involvement to those who were already well off that they could ensure that people would be less vulnerable to bribery and corruption than our own contemporary public servants are. The model of the ancient Greeks, on the other hand, was that public service should be more or less its own reward, with the result that like contemporary jury duty, it was done by those who had few other claims to income and few other duties that took up their time. The temptation to increase the rewards of public service to attract the able and thus make it a trap for the corrupt and ambitious or the attempt to limit power to the wealthy were neither of them successful in preserving their republics from corruption and decadence.

There is no form of government that can protect against corruption. One of the melancholy lessons of human history is that everything can be corrupted. If people gain power through birth, then the wicked ingratiate themselves to be part of the ruling houses. If people gain power through elections, then elections are stolen and people fight over who counts the votes and what votes are counted. If people gain power through force, then the wicked will seek to acquire the power that is necessary to enforce their will. And if people are chosen by lot, even, then people will try to learn how to shave dice or engage in some other form of corruption so as to have an advantage there as well.

Forms of government do not protect us against the corruption that all human regimes are subject to. What does deliver us is character. How is character to be built and recognized though? If we want people in positions of authority who will serve the common good rather than their own interests, we need to be the sort of people who can recognize and who respond to and approve of good character, and who by their example encourage the same nobility within ourselves. But where are such people to be found in such dark days as this?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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