“Private Vices by the dextrous Management of a skillful Politician may be turned into Publick Benefits.”
—Bernard Mandeville, 1714
Corruption, some say, is endemic in all governments. Yet it has received remarkably little attention from students of government. Not only is the study of corruption prone to moralism, but it involves one of those aspects of government in which the interests of the politician and the political scientist are likely to conflict. It would probably be rather difficult to obtain (by honest means) a visa to a developing country which is to be the subject of a corruption study.
One of the first charges levelled at the previous regime by the leaders of the coup in the less developed country is “corruption.” And generally the charge is accurate. One type of reaction to this among observers is highly moralistic and tends to see corruption as evil. “Throughout the fabric of public life in newly independent States,” we are told in a recent work on the subject, “runs the scarlet thread of bribery and corruption …” which is like a weed suffocating better plants. Another description of new states informs us that “corruption and nepotism rot good intentions and retard progressive policies.”
Others have reacted against this moralistic approach and warn us that we must beware of basing our beliefs about the cause of coups on post-coup rationalizations, and also of judging the social consequences of an act from the motives of the individuals performing it. Under some circumstances Mandeville is right that private vice can cause public benefit.