What is corruption?

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  • In order to proceed to the consideration of the historical origins of the origin of corruption, first, we must define corruption. As you know, there are many definitions of this phenomenon, perhaps this is due to the presence of different typological and specific approaches to the study of corruption. The clearest definition of this phenomenon in his work was given by Joseph Senturia, defining corruption as: “Abuse of public power for private gain.” This is a rather capacious and concise definition that can be found in specialized literature.

    If we have more or less figured out the general term and defined it, then what about the narrower concept of “corruption in state bodies and institutions”. The Russian Legal Encyclopedia of 2003 defines state corruption as follows: “the use by public servants (officials) and representatives of public authorities of their position, by virtue of their official rights and authority, for illegal enrichment, obtaining and using material advantages and other benefits, both for personal and for selfish purposes.”

    Corruption has been known since ancient times. References to it are found in extant historical sources relating to all the centers of ancient Eastern civilizations (Ancient Egypt, China, India, etc.). In the writings of these ancient civilizations, you can find early references to the phenomenon of corruption. Of course, this term did not include the breadth of the modern definition of corruption as such. The first acquaintance with the elements of the definition of state corruption can be found in one of the two oldest sets of laws that are currently known to mankind: the “Code of Hammurabi” (Babylon, 2200 BC) and the “Edict of Narmaba” (Egypt, 1200 BC).

    In the Middle Ages, the concept of “corruption” had, first of all, a canonical meaning. It meant such actions as “seduction” and “seduction of the devil”. Corruption in the theology of Catholicism has become a manifestation of sinfulness, because according to the writings of the Apostle John, “sin is lawlessness.” A striking example is the possibility of buying absolution for money (indulgence) or church dignity (simony). The famous politician Nicolo Machiavelli wrote about such dishonest officials in his works, comparing corruption with a disease that is difficult to recognize at first, but easy to treat, and later it is easy to recognize, but almost impossible to treat.



    If we consider the origins of corruption in society, then, apparently, they should be sought even in primitive society. Probably, they are connected with pagan beliefs – our ancestors, completely dependent on the forces of nature, tried to appease the gods who personified these forces. People made sacrifices to them, which were essentially a kind of gifts. With the development of society and the appearance of the first servants of the cult – shamans, sorcerers, healers, etc., “close to the gods”, they also began to make gifts and offerings to them in order to gain the favor of the gods themselves through them.

    The first ruler to be mentioned as a fighter against corruption was Urukagina, the Sumerian king of the city-state of Lagash in the second half of the XXIV century BC. Despite the demonstrative and often cruel punishments for corruption, the fight against it did not lead to the desired results. At best, it was possible to prevent the most dangerous crimes, but at the level of petty embezzlement and bribes, corruption was massive. The first treatise discussing corruption – “Arthashastra” – was published under the pseudonym Kautilya by one of the ministers of Bharat (India) in the IV century BC. In it, he made a pessimistic conclusion that “the tsar’s property cannot be, at least in a small way, not appropriated by those in charge of this property.”

    Mention of corruption, its condemnation is present in all the leading religions of the world. You can find confirmation of this in the Bible and the Koran: “Do not accept gifts, for gifts make the sighted blind and turn the cause of the righteous” (Exodus 23:8, see also Deut. 16:19); “Do not misappropriate each other’s property and do not bribe judges to intentionally appropriate part of other people’s property” (Quran 2:188), etc.

    However, since the end of the XVIII century, a turning point has come in the West in the attitude of society towards corruption. Liberal transformations took place under the slogan that state power exists for the benefit of people subject to it, and therefore subjects support the government in exchange for strict compliance with the laws by officials. In particular, according to the US Constitution adopted in 1787, taking a bribe is one of the two explicitly mentioned crimes for which the US President can be impeached. Society began to exert more and more influence on the quality of the work of the state apparatus. With the strengthening of political parties and state regulation, episodes of collusion between the political elite and big business began to cause growing concern. Nevertheless, objectively, the level of corruption in developed countries during the XIX-XX centuries has significantly decreased compared to the rest of the world.

    In the second half of the 20th century, corruption increasingly began to become an international problem. Corporate bribery of senior officials abroad has become widespread. Globalization has led to the fact that corruption in one country has begun to negatively affect the development of many countries. At the same time, the countries with the highest level of corruption were no longer limited to the third world: liberalization in the former socialist countries in the 1990s was accompanied by blatant official abuses. In its December 31, 1995 issue, the Financial Times newspaper declared 1995 the “year of corruption”. To promote knowledge about corruption, the UN has established the International Anti-Corruption Day (December 9).

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