Book Review: Political Corruption. The Underside of Civic Morality, by Robert Alan Sparling

Published date01 February 2021
AuthorEmanuela Ceva
Date01 February 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
/tmp/tmp-18hyl12k1YjaNt/input Book Reviews
Political Corruption. The Underside of Civic Morality, by Robert Alan Sparling.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019, 272 pp.
Reviewed by: Emanuela Ceva, Department of Political Science and International
Relations, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
DOI: 10.1177/0090591720914409
Political corruption is a contested concept. Both terms in the concept are the
object of controversies in political theory; these controversies concern what
corruption is and how it is a politically relevant phenomenon. Political cor-
ruption has been contested across time, space, cultures, and philosophical
traditions. Usually, political corruption is assumed to involve an exchange
between a private corruptor and a public official who pursues her personal
interest by abusing her power of office. While this account may be true with
respect to some such instances as bribery, some significant uncertainties
affect its plausibility. Practices such as patronage or state capture might
escape this account either because they do not involve a corruptor or because
the corrupted officer does not pursue her personal interest but, say, that of her
party or faction. Interestingly, despite, or perhaps in reason of, this semantic
uncertainty, political corruption is generally perceived as a disease of the
public function, something which any sensible political theory of the good
state should want to avoid. Why is such a negative intuition about the nature
of political corruption so widespread? A growing debate in political theory is
now starting to inquire into the exact nature of the wrongness of political
In this timely book, Robert Sparling engages with this important but still
developing debate. Despite the interest in the topic of corruption in modern
political thought, contemporary political philosophers have mainly devoted
their theories to developing ideal accounts of social justice or political legiti-
macy (under the heading of “ideal theory,” 189). The discussion of such intui-
tively negative ideas as that of corruption has been less central, with some
noteworthy but limited exceptions.1 Sparling enters the debate with one of
the first comprehensive discussions of the conceptual and normative contours
of this controversial idea, and he does so from a distinctive, historically
informed and philosophically sophisticated, perspective.
The book presents itself as an inquiry into the concept of political corrup-
tion rooted in an historical survey of how this idea has been presented since
the Renaissance across a variety of interpretations that range across leadership
ethics (chapter 2), republicanism (chapter 3), the politics of transparency
(chapter 4), nostalgic denigration of the bureaucratic state (chapter 5), liberal


To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT