To: Dr. Levine
From: Peter Tierney
Date: March 26, 2014
Re: Reaction to Gyekye’s concept of political corruption as “a moral pollution”
Despite its current popularity among political scientists, Gyekye rejects the theory that institutional reform is a useful anti-corruption strategy. This leads him to conclude that political corruption is fundamentally a moral problem, to which the “most adequate therapeutic response” is a “serious and profound commitment to our moral beliefs and principals” through what he calls a “moral revolution.” This memo disagrees with Gyekye on both of these points, first criticizing Gyekye for failing to provide a clearly defined alternative framework for his “moral revolution” recommendation, and then arguing that institutional reform, while not without its challenges, is still the best available option.
In chapter 7 of Tradition and Modernity, Gyekye argues that political corruption is a moral problem, and that a “moral revolution” is needed for public officials to “steel their moral wills to avoid involving themselves in acts of political corruption.” Gyekye begins by defining political corruption as “the illegal, unethical, and unauthorized exploitation of one’s political or official position for personal gain or advantage,” followed by a review of common acts of political corruption, which includes taking a bribe, graft, fraud, kickbacks, the misappropriation of public funds, favoritism, and nepotism. The discussion then turns to the root causes of political corruption, which is the central point of contention for Gyekye. He acknowledged that weak political leadership, certain types of social structures (he mentions communitarianism in African societies), poor economic circumstances, and the lack of adequate legal and institutional framework are all causal factors “in the incidence of political corruption.” However, he believes that the “moral circumstances” of political corruption, despite being largely overlooked by academics, are the most fundamental factor.
The moral circumstances of political corruption
In a single burst of deductive reasoning, Gyekye rejects institutional reform and asserts his claim that political corruption is a moral problem:
“…if attempts intended to deal with the problem of political corruption by such measures as changes in the political structure, the institution of fraud detection squats within the public service, the tightening and enforcement of legal sanctions against public officials who commit politically corrupt acts mostly fail to reduce the incidence of political corruption in a significant way, then it makes sense to say that a more serious approach to dealing with the problem must lie somewhere else. That ‘somewhere else’ is, in my opinion, the moral character of individual public official and his motives for seeking elected public office.”
As evidence for this claim, he cites a prospective member of parliament for an unnamed African country that he once...