WP2History of corruption in comparative perspective

Led by the University of Amsterdam, the task of this work package is to show diversity, continuity and change in anti-corruption practices across space and time, thereby illuminating and perhaps also complicating our understanding of modern Western governments’ Weberian profile. It is the main hypothesis of ANTICORP that, far from being only a modern and Western ideal, the concept of good government existed at all times and in all cultures, and mechanisms to fight what was seen to be corruption went hand in hand with it. Through a broad range of case-studies – ancient Rome, the Abbasid and Mamluk Empires, medieval and Renaissance Italian city-state, the Ottoman Empire and its successor states, early modern and modern Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands – it traces a salient aspect of the historical relations between public morals and political legitimacy. The choice of these case-studies allows accounting for differences in culture, type of government, and economic and social profile. Looking at four distinct periods – ancient, medieval, early modern and modern – allows for in-depth research and discovery of wider patterns that reveal the historical patterns in defining corruption and efforts to deal with it.

Some of the main research questions to be addressed through this work package are: When and how did today’s corruption-free societies shed patrimonialism? Can we associate specific circumstances to the onset of historical anti-corruption crackdowns? Can we distinguish specific sequences or ‘paths’ leading away from corrupt equilibria? What transitional practices and strategies were used to solidify the neutrality and integrity of government during the decades of struggle for accountability and integrity in government? Who were the actors of these developments, and what were the strategies they employed? Can we draw lessons for present times out of this more distant or more recent historical experience? The research looks especially at the origins of the mechanisms of checks and balances, the impartiality and autonomy of magistracies and tests the key hypotheses in the development of rule of law and impartial government.