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Corruption as Resentment

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  • 8/2/2019 Corruption as Resentment


    Cardiff University

    France: Corruption as ResentmentAuthor(s): Vincenzo RuggieroReviewed work(s):Source: Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 23, No. 1, The Corruption of Politics and the Politicsof Corruption (Mar., 1996), pp. 113-131Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of Cardiff UniversityStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1410470 .

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  • 8/2/2019 Corruption as Resentment



    France:Corruption s ResentmentVINCENZO RUGGIERO*

    Corruption will be defined here as occurring when one or more actorsinvolved in, or witnessing corrupt exchange have reasons for resentment andtherefore permit corruption to come to light. This thesis will be elaboratedand critiquedwith respect to recent episodes of political, administrative, andeconomic corruption occurring in France. The adoption of this frameworkof analysis s not a short-cutwhichspares he authorthecustomaryreviewof the literature' n the subjectmatter.Rather,it is an implicitrefutationof some of the views included n that literature,n particular hose whichassociatecorruptionwith variables uchaseconomicunderdevelopmentndsocialbackwardness.1he choiceof the formula corruption s resentment'permits heexplorationof how corruptexchangealso takesplacein highlydeveloped and advanced social contexts.Inapreviousarticle,where heauthorcould notescape hepainfulexerciseof a reviewof the literature,corruptionwas analysedwith a view to un-coveringsome aspectsof victimization ausedby it.2It was arguedthat anumberof actors,endowed with varyingdegreesof resourcesand power,participaten corruptexchange,and that only a deeply-rooted pticalillu-sion enablesus to see theseexchangesas victimless.Withoutanalysingwhycorruptionoccurs, n that article he attemptwasmadeto showwhy,when,and for whomit is harmful.In a similarvein, this articledoes not proposean aetiologicalview:here,the existenceof corruptions treatedas a given,whilequestionsareposedregardinghow it is perceived. n otherwords,anexplanation s attemptedof itspublicmanifestation, ather han of its 'true'prevalence,of its verydefinitionas corruption, ather han of its causes.This avenuehas also been takenby otherauthors: scandal, iketreason,onlyexistswhensomethinggoes wrong'.3This is to saythat abuseof power,governmentalmalpractice,and incompetenceonly emergewhen they are* Reader, Faculty of Social Science, Middlesex University, Queensway,Enfield EN3 4SF, EnglandThis article s based on research onducted n France n 1995. The research onsistedof anumberof interviews nd collectivediscussions arriedout withjudgesandjournalists.Forthe information nd contactsprovidedduring he courseof theresearch, am indebted o theSyndicat de la Magistratureand to Laurent Joffrin of Le Nouvel Observateur.

    113? Blackwell PublishersLtd. 1996, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 238 Main Street, Cambridge,MA 02142, USA

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    exposed. However, when this avenue has been explored, the emergence ofcorruption and its concealment have mainly been associated with, respec-tively, the efficacy or lack of scrutiny of political and economic power. Thisperspective appears to entail that there would be less corruption if someactors - usually the judiciary, the media, and the public - exerted strictercontrol over others - usually politicians and entrepreneurs.4 n the followingpages, the emphasis will be placed on the interactions between these actorsand, crucially, on the resentment that corrupt behaviour produces in someof them, a resentment which translates into the exposure of that behaviourand its definition as corrupt.A related assumption to this approach is that corrupt activities, albeitunorthodox or even illegal, may be tolerated when they appear to generatebenefits for all those participating in or witnessing them. Resentment, andtherefore corruption, emerge when these activities are no longer perceivedas generating acceptable benefits for everyone; or when the previous roledivision, and the related expectations, are no longer accepted. In some cases,which will be mentioned later, some of the actors involved may find the 'dis-economies' of corrupt exchange too heavy to endure, and begin to perceivethat exchange as tantamount to extortion. In the present article politicians,entrepreneurs, judges, and the media are identified as the main actorscontributing to the definition of certain behaviours as corrupt. It is in thelight of the interactions taking place between these actors, which periodicallyoscillate between mutual acceptance and competition, that corrupt exchangein France is examined. In the first part of this article, some characteristicsof the French political apparatusare sketched which may help locate corruptexchange in the national context. The actors of corrupt exchange and theirinteractions are the focus of the second part of the article, while the emer-gence of resentment among some of them forms the third part. The institu-tional responses to this resentment form the last section, while a briefconclusion tries to clarify the reasons for the exclusion of 'public opinion'from the dynamics described.

    MONTESQUIEU VERSUS ROBESPIERRE?French republicanism,and indeed the 'corruption of the Republic', are oftenexamined against the analytical framework provided by one of the mostcelebrated fathers of political philosophy.5 The emphasis on Montesquieu'sview that the republic is based on virtue leads some commentators to claimthat contemporary France, where many of its political representatives aredeemed far from virtuous, is no longer a republic. However, the resort tothe political philosophy of Montesquieu appears to rest on a one-sided inter-pretation of his thought. In fact, his association of virtue with the republicanform of government can also be interpretedas a proposition aimed at under-mining the legitimacy of republicanism itself. Montesquieu made no secret

    114? Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1996

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    of his preference for monarchy, a form of government that he associatedwith 'honour', allegedly more tangible and definite a value to pursue thanunrealistic and vague 'virtue'.6Montesquieu's theory of the division of powers within the republic is also

    constantly invoked. However, it is unclear whether the enthusiasm causedby this theory is the result of misunderstanding or of support of even itsmore disputable aspects. In Montesquieu, the legislative, executive, andjudi-ciary powers are not as rigorously separate as republicans would advocate,as the pre-eminence of the executive surfaces throughout his argument. Fordecades, the myth of the separation of powers in Montesquieu has been theobject of critical discussion.7 This discussion has centred on the fact that his'power diagram' entails the existence of a strong executive which is entitledto scrutinize, veto, influence, and in other ways hamper both the legislativeand thejudiciary powers. An interesting aspect for the purpose of this articleregards Montesquieu's view that state dignitaries should not stand trial inordinary tribunals, for 'their dignity must be safeguarded from any contactwith the prejudicesof ordinary judges'.8In other words, the morality of staterepresentativesshould only be judged by those who possess a similar notionof morality, namely their peers, who stand outside the domain of ordinaryjustice.

    Montesquieu's judiciary is as invisible as it is null. The judge is a glanceand a voice, in the sense that he or she only reads and pronounces the wordsof the law, like a talking code. Crimes committed by the aristocracy andother members of the ruling class must be judged by the rulers themselves.Indeed, the power of judges is null, because they are deprived of the politicalimpact that their action would be expected to produce. Hence the criticismattracted by Montesquieu well-known definition of political regimes.It is all right to claim that despotism is a regime where one person governs without rulesor laws [ ... ]; there are regimes in which despotism reigns within the very existing laws.9

    It should be noted that the predominance of the executive over the otherconstitutional powers also features in the Republican Constitution of 1793,allegedly the most revolutionary brain-child of Robespierre:The new Constitution was a trap;it re-createda monstrous executive power, independentof the Assemble, a colossal power inimical to freedom, which restored a new type ofroyalty.'0

    The predominance of the executive power is among the legacies character-izing contemporary France, a backg

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