Democracy and Corruption: A question of human conscience

Democracy is one of the administrative leaps we have taken in terms of human history and management. Democracy brought the idea of a paradigm shift of power from the minority group that exercises power upon the mass majority, to empowering common man and enabling him in the establishment and management of his state. The generous redistribution of power sounds super cool in terms of equality and empowerment. However, it comes with the price of a diffusion of responsibility. This new way of governance challenged the position of an authority figure, a fundamental ideal towards which the ordinary person could strive for, the core embodiment of the state and therefore was despised by great philosophers like Socrates. This serves as the foundation for arguments we raise in modern society while actively blaming democracy for the faults it is and it is not responsible for. One of the recurring themes in this context is the unchecked corrosion on development, corruption.

Corruption in any democracy is something that has systematically flourished across the various tiers and domains in any democracy. Ranging from bribe cases in small offices at the local level to cases involving tycoons that demand huge legislative procedures like extradition to corrupting the election results, thereby posing a large threat to the core of democracy.

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It is overwhelming to conclude that democracy is unsuccessful. But from an objective perspective, it depends. It is imperative not to forget that in a monarchy, the operational definition of corruption itself is controlled and defined by an aristocratic authority, let alone several other factors like underreporting of corruption, corruption by the monarch conveniently ignored etc. Hence as we weigh the two systems of administration, we can clearly see that the root of the problem is embedded not in the loopholes of the systems, but in the fundamental flaws in human beings. This elevates the problem to be addressed at a higher, philosophical perspective. Though this might seem quite abstract in the periphery, to the core, it is realigning the responsibility to the people, the citizen.

This perspective gains further momentum in the modern scenario where democracy is evolving from being the paragon of hope to the reality with ugliness evident amidst its benefits. Democracy is of the people, by the people, and for the people. In such a system, the responsibilities, as well as the outcomes, lie in the hands of people. But, in practice, the term “people" has multiple hierarchies. Those who are responsible for corruption might not necessarily be the ones who'd be suffering its outcomes. So it's not quite easy and practical to say that people should avoid giving bribes as these are flawed, yet repetitive strategies that fail over and over again.

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One of the best strategies we can adopt for the long haul would be to understand the causes and psychosocial aspects associated with corruption. So far studies have shown that those in power are more likely to corrupt, people are more likely to engage in corruption if their personal gains are higher and that people tend to reduce corrupting once they associate it with negative emotions like guilt. A dominant theory in this area is the rational choice theory. According to this theory, corruption is explained as a calculated, strategic and self-interested behaviour that usually arises in power asymmetrical situations. However, this theory is now largely criticised particularly for its lack of validity as is evident in the words of political psychologist Jon Mercer (2005) that rational choice theories “explain how one should reason, not how one actually reasons”

With regards to power asymmetry, it is interesting to note that, democracy tries to address the inequality in power, however, it is not so in practice. This highlights how democracy has failed to align itself with the psychology of those who govern and those who are being governed. So the failure to address corruption by democracy is not something unique to this system but is also shared by its predecessors. An immediate strategy to address this issue in the backdrop of our limited understanding regarding corruption and its underlying causes may not be substantial or sustainable. So a relatively matured step that we can adopt with regard to this issue would be to invest in research associated with corruption.

In a tremendously changing global scenario as reported in the United Nations world happiness report (2019), due to major issues like migration as well as various tensions with regards to international relations, the face of our global socio-political system is drastically changing. Observing the trends of the past, such chaotic situations have always given reforms in administration. Hopefully, with time, we will witness the rise of a new system which is less flawed and would enable better governance.

- Ananda Krishnan

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Democracy and Corruption: A question of human conscience  Democracy and Corruption: A question of human conscience Reviewed by EMN on March 22, 2019 Rating: 5

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