opinion
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Normalizing corruption

The widespread practice is expensive and undermines the trust and confidence with which we ought to be represented. It endangers democracy, and favors a drift toward authoritarian habits

The opinion polls tell us that 96 percent of Spanish people believe that corruption is generalized in Spanish politics. And 97 percent of the country's businessmen say that there are illicit practices in the public administration. However, we do not know how many of these same businessmen have paid bribes to obtain advantages and favors. There are no corrupt officials without corruptors to corrupt them. If nobody pays him, the official will stop asking. Corruption is expensive and undermines the trust and confidence with which we ought to be represented. It endangers democracy, and favors a drift toward authoritarian habits.

The government and the chief political parties are failing to react to this state of opinion. On the contrary, their reluctance to acknowledge the corruption networks that pervade their party structures, and their deployment of every sort of political and judicial resource to minimize the repercussions of existing cases and relegate them to the back shelves of the judiciary and the newspapers, instead of bringing them out into the open, do nothing to change the public perception that corruption is chronic.

The media also makes its contribution through a certain trivialization of corruption, which does not always sort the grain from the chaff. If everyone is treated on the same basis, then the corrupt ones are on the winning side.

The political class seems to hope that citizens will accept corruption as a mere fact of life

The politicians' standard line of defense is that the majority of people in public life are honest, while the corrupt are only a few. Even if this were true - and it is, partly - it is absurd to take shelter behind such a phrase when the political party that is now in power is known to be in the grip of a structural corruption network (Gürtel) and whose finances have been in a chronic state of irregularity over a period of decades (Bárcenas). So if corrupt politicians are only a few in number, they are certainly well situated, around the top. This defensive attitude is interpreted by the citizen as a reaction of professional fellow-feeling: the solidarity of the extractive caste.

Now suspicions of massive corruption are growing in Northern Europe, too. It can no longer merely be laid at the door of the sinning Catholics of the South. We live immersed in an ideological atmosphere that foments discredit. So much ideological discourse on the inefficiency of public service is a breeding ground for corruption and for the perception of it. When, in the absence of a real political mission, the means become the end, then public morality decays as a matter of course.

If competition is the ideological landscape of our time, then we are once again, to use Kant's expression, using man as a means and not as an end. If we understand politics as an exceptional space in which morality has no application, because its law is power; and if economics is another exceptional space, because its only criterion is the profit-and-loss account, ours or the company's; then how can we be surprised at corruption being generalized?

The absence of political will to face up to the question of corruption, on the part of our public institutions, can have only one explanation: the hope that the citizen will eventually accept corruption as a mere fact of life, in an atmosphere of distrust that becomes chronic. In other words, to normalize corruption so that it ceases to be news. And we had always understood that "normalization" was a word favored by totalitarian political theory.

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