Montesquieu: Corruption In America

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During the founding era of America, the American colonies initially directed their corruption anxiety towards Britain. However, this concern shifted focus when the Framers realized the impending civic corruption in their own country that threatened their own attempts to create a structure of self-government. This shift suggests the variable nature of corruption and its ability to fluctuate based on perspective. In Corruption in America, Zephyr Teachout uses the generations of the Framers to provide a definition for corruption as “excessive private interests influencing the exercise of public power.” She goes on to describe two components of corruption. A system is corrupt when “the public power was excessively used to serve private ends instead …show more content…
Montesquieu talked of “the spirit of extreme equality” to imply that “we obey or command our equals” and “masters should be none but its equals” (Montesquieu 2). Unsurprisingly, Montesquieu supported a form of government where no one branch of government could threaten the freedom of the people (Teachout 40). These beliefs became the basis for the idea of separation of powers in the current US government. The three branches of government were created to act as a preventative measure in hopes of deterring any tendency for corruption. Fundamentally, Montesquieu’s realist philosophy differs from Hobbes’ argument for the lone necessity of an absolute monarchy. Similarly, James Madison’s beliefs towards the inherent selfishness of humans are akin to Thomas Hobbes’ beliefs. However, he remained hopeful that humans are in fact capable of virtue and declared, “(1) men are not always angels, and therefore structures must help us; and (2) virtue is necessary, and structures alone cannot help us” (Teachout 46). This belief that people can both be self-interested and public-interested draws on Montesquieu’s philosophy that “virtue was necessary for good government and good structure was necessary for virtue” (Teachout 41). In this case, Madison’s plan for self-governance incorporated both the necessity of civic virtue and the …show more content…
One one hand, Hobbes discussed the necessity for a structure of government where an ultimate power would counteract the intrinsic selfishness of humans. Whereas, Montesquieu championed the idea of civic virtue arising from a society dedicated to liberty. Regardless of the specific nature of corruption, political corruption is a tiered concept because it does not end at the individual. Therefore, it is critical that the compounding effect of corruption should be curbed as as soon as possible. Wallis observed that “once independent, Americans worried continuously about their governments and how to design their political institutions to limit corruption” (Wallis 24). When creating a new government, the Framers obsessed over the inevitability of corruption. They surrendered to the fact that corruption cannot be made to vanish, instead realizing that its danger can be limited by legal structure and civic virtue. From the failures of France and Britain, the Framers came to the conclusion that no single form of government was superior. Instead, the appropriate structure of government would need to regularly inhibit any deviations from civic

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