Corrupt Societies/Governments

Societies exist because human beings fare better by cooperating in groups. Human societies have ranged from loose groupings of individuals to grand empires, but one of the distinguishing features of most, if not all, successful nations and empires is that they have adopted structures and laws that strike a balance of some sort between the rights of the individual and the need to maintain civic order while protecting their citizens from attack from without.

There are essentially two ways to hold a country/society together, either through laws based on honesty and public trust of the government or through fear and force. And even societies based on honesty and public trust use fear and force on lawbreakers and other disruptive elements to deter them from harming others.

But the greatest danger to successful societies usually results from corruption from within. Corruption can be loosely defined as breaking in some fashion social compacts or laws that maintain equal rights to personal safety, equal rights to hold and use property, equal access to public services, and equal treatment under law.

Failing to pay taxes is corruption because the evader obtains public services he did not pay for, and thus places a heavier burden on those who do. Bribing a public official for services or contracts disadvantages others (and results in unequal treatment under law) and possibly results in shoddy procurement/goods. Paying to get a government position almost invariably results in a less qualified person in that position… and also reduces faith in government. Less faith in government creates more incentives to cheat government and the mindset that “if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?”

By the same token, government policies that appear to grant special rights and privileges to certain groups or classes of people also reduce trust in government, even if such policies actually make access more equal.

Now, in practice, all societies have a degree of corruption, but history shows, rather conclusively, that comparatively more honest societies actually achieve more, have greater power, and have happier and more prosperous people.

A society that accepts corruption as a way of life deserves what it gets, and it will continue to get it, because corruption stems from the idea that whatever’s best for me and my family supersedes the rule of law, and when people don’t respect the law, corruption becomes endemic and self-perpetuating.

5 thoughts on “Corrupt Societies/Governments”

  1. Darcherd says:

    Corruption of any sort is basically parasitic behavior inasmuch as the parasite obtains benefits from the efforts and resources without providing value in return. Any organism (and a society is a kind of organism as well) can tolerate a certain amount of parasites, but if the parasites become too numerous or powerful, the organism sickens and may die.

  2. KTL says:

    I like how you framed this topic with a broader understanding of how corruption can exist throughout a society at some level and not just with politicians (as seems to be the more media friendly version of the topic). We can all be guilty in helping contribute to it or keeping it in check.

  3. Postagoras says:

    So would you say that the society of the United States accepts the corruption that allows billionaires and corporations to have free rides, payoffs, and preferential treatment? Are we all, including you, culpable for this corruption, Mr. Modesitt?

    1. We’re all responsible. Some are more guilty than others. I’ve done my best to oppose that corruption, as have others. I’ve actually spoken against it and drafted legislation against certain corrupt acts. I’ve also voted against politicians I believe to be corrupt. But, in the end, what the majority of society does and believes defines a society. It’s so very easy to say, “I’m not like that.” I know some people who are personally honest, but who support corrupt politicians with votes and money, and they justify it by saying that the other side is worse, which some of them honestly believe.

      But this will continue so long as people substitute belief for facts… which makes it hard for me to be particularly optimistic.

      1. Alecia Flores says:


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