New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Is There a Solution When Society Is Corrupt? - By Dr. Plinio Correa De Olivera

Is There a Solution When Society Is Corrupt?

a while back, the Italian parliament voted to overturn prison sentences for politicians convicted of receiving illegal campaign contributions. The legislation established that illegal contributions to political campaigns were no longer crimes but simply “civil offenses,” whereby those convicted would only be fined.

All the nation’s parties, communists and pro-autonomy members of the Northern League alike, joined members of corruption-tainted parties to get the law approved. Political contributions are no longer illegal as long as they are used exclusively to finance election campaigns. The new law was retroactive and benefited defendants. The Italian law is an example showing how campaign finance is a very real problem plaguing so many modern nations. Given the possibility of corruption, it is often asked if it is licit to finance candidates. In principle, a rich man or corporate businessman who pays a large sum of money to finance the political campaign of a politician with ideas similar to his own should not be censured for it. Indeed, a man who can financially help elect a candidate with a platform capable of saving his country would show great stinginess if he failed to do so. In fact, a rich man donating to get a poorer one elected is not dishonest. It can
even be considered an act of virtue.

Spurious Agreement

This changes, however, when a businessman supports a presidential candidate for reasons other than ideological affinity.
If he finances the politician’s campaign so he can receive kick-backs and business contracts later, then their agreement is spurious. The matter becomes worse when the kickbacks involve companies that are not costefficient.
An agreement of this kind transforms an act of idealism into a corrupt deal, and is therefore illicit. Furthermore, the businessman can exact from the State a much higher price than would a competitor who did not help elect the candidate. Thus, by charging a disproportional price for services rendered, the deal takes on an irrefutably dishonest nature.
Corruption and System of Government In theory, this kind of fraud in political campaigns does not always happen. It depends on the people involved.
Honest people will work for the State and the common good. Thus, one cannot draw from this an argument against a particular form of government or against the capitalist system. One can only infer that fraud can take place in a democracy, a claim that can also be made against other forms of government as well.

Do ut Des; Facio ut Facias

The above considerations are variations on a central thought described by the maxim of Roman law: Do ut des; facio ut facias (I give you that you may give me; I do for you that you may do for me). This arrangement can be honest or dishonest, depending on the understanding of the parties involved. Dishonesty can occur in any form of government. It can also occur in any economic system. However, it is well to recall that Communism is intrinsically evil, and communist regimes turned their party members, particularly their leadership, into a nomenklatura, or a privileged caste in former Soviet society. This became all the more obvious after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Degree of Public Morality

Thus, the crux of this matter is not found in a particular form of government or economic system. It lies in the degree of public morality and particularly the behavior of public officials. The fact is that such fraudulent deals do not take place where people take God’s existence seriously and really abide by His Law. However, in countries whose people do not seriously believe in the existence of God or fulfill His Law, a certain number may steal and benefit from goods that are not their own. This is not just an economic question, though it has an economic side. It is not just a political matter, though it has a political side. Rather, this whole topic is fundamentally a religious and moral one. In a country without religion or morals, things necessarily move toward the complete crumbling of all economic, political and social order.

What About Repression Against Theft?

Obviously, every kind of illegality and immorality should be categorically repressed. However, just punishing thieves will never eliminate theft. This is because the number of thieves tends to grow exponentially in a country whose population does not obey the Ten Commandments. If five thieves are arrested, the total thief population is not down by five. Actually, five vacancies have been opened, and fifty new candidates will pop up to fill them. The problem is fundamentally a moral one, and as such it also involves religious considerations.

State Interference

In the semi-communist legislation of many so-called non-communist modern nations, growing restrictions on private property are leading to a situation where the full exercise of the right of property depends on the State's authorization. Thus, for instance, there are countries where mineral rights, which legitimately belong to the landowner, can only be developed with the State’s permission. To obtain this permit, an honest person is often forced to jump through legislative hoops and resort to bribes to avoid indefinite procrastination. In this case, he is asked to give money to exercise a right that is legitimately his own. It is the State that steals when it unjustly limits the right of property. Irregularities of this nature later extend to political bribes of all kinds. This behavior spreads throughout the whole population. Hence, those who pay bribes are seen as “smart” while those who do not are regarded as “fools.” The “smart” ones make money. Those who do not bribe hold property they cannot use. This is the inexorable consequence of excessive State intervention in the economy.

Thievery Made Official

If honest people are asked to pay bribes, what can be said of the dishonest? Bribery spreads like an oil stain on a cloth, penetrating the entire fabric of society. At a given moment, the number of thieves becomes so high that it is practically impossible to repress crime without placing the whole nation in jail. The Italian formula mentioned above is then adopted: Bribery is no longer declared a crime but merely a infraction subject to fines. There are actually two fines: the bribe for the public official and the penalty for the State. The person is free to do what he wants. Thievery is made official.
Thus, an ordinary thief who steals a car can be punished with imprisonment, whereas a politician who trafficks in influence for his election campaign is not imprisoned. He just pays a fine. Since he is receiving illicit funds, everyone comes out ahead. Everyone steals, and stealing becomes an official custom.

The End of Private Property

When theft is thus made official, private property is doomed to extinction. When stealing becomes generalized, illicit advantages become the standard not only in doing State business but in all business as well. In such a context, honest work loses prestige and influence, and is replaced by the practice of making money dishonestly. Thievery becomes king of society. The economic system falls prey to bribery. The country becomes a kleptocracy.

Chaos Is the Goal

This disintegration of society leads to a distorted debate between Communism and Capitalism. Communists claim that thievery is widespread in capitalist regimes. However, the situation in Eastern European countries emerging from Communism shows that in a communist regime, thievery and bribery was generally, if not officially, established. Thus, the public is confused by these mutual accusations of thievery and concludes that the world is doomed to anarchy and chaos.

In a regime where thievery is officially condoned, there is no reason to dispute between Capitalism and Communism. Everything becomes fuzzy because Communism becomes equivalent to Capitalism and vice versa. Everyone becomes a thief, except for the few who still believe in God. Laws like that approved in Italy are the first steps toward generalizing a legal system similar to the one described above. Sooner of later, this system will affect all nations of the world. The end result will be the complete loss of public morality, political composure and social order.

What Remedy Is There?

What today’s society really lacks is those moral elites par excellence where families still retain a memory of their forefathers, still value their reputation for honesty and still desire to serve as models for society. So much has been done that has concretely ruined the prestige of true elites. If no work is done to restore them, nothing can be done.
In the name of favoring the more modest classes, society has become increasingly egalitarian. This led to the progressive crushing of authentic elites and the gradual disappearance of those structures and values that provided the element for the genesis of authentic culture and leadership. Thus deprived of authentic leadership, society is gradually disoriented and
increasingly tends toward chaos.

The Only Real Solution

One could argue that many, who rightly see the lack of religion as evil, could begin to practice religion and thus slowly eliminate corruption. However, many of these same people will not take a leading role in spreading religion because they see that insisting on an atmosphere of austerity and moral severity would oblige them to change their own way of life. These people are comparable to certain gamblers. They will agree that gambling is harmful to the moral welfare of
the country. However, they still gamble because they do not wish to change their ways.

Divine Grace

Putting an end to the situation described above calls for an essentially religious apostolate that attracts Divine Grace. This apostolate, with the help of grace, must really touch people’s minds and souls, and achieve real conversion. Such
conversions would be the starting point whereby something could be done. However, these conversions are obviously extremely difficult in times of general immorality when people are attached to the advantages vice brings them and have, therefore,
little propensity to abandon their bad life.

Genuine Apostles

To delve into the most obscure nooks and crannies of the problem, a complete solution lies in finding apostles like those described by Abbot Jean-Batiste Chautard in The Soul of the Apostolate. They must be endowed with real interior life, desirous above all to see the accomplishment of God’s will and designs on earth as it is in Heaven. They must be apostles who draw others with their example, move people with their word, and strive to make the laws of the state in accordance to those of God, thus changing people’s behavior. In short, the action of these authentic apostles can really touch souls. If these correspond to grace, they will convert. And to convert, contemporary man must be docile to the recommendation of Our Lady to mankind at Fatima in 1917: they must pray and do penance.

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