Corruption in Premodernity, East and West: A Literature Review

The premise of ANTICORRP’s History Work Package (2) is that a comparative historical perspective on fighting corruption remains a desideratum. This is especially true regarding the pre-modern world, by which we broadly mean the era prior to the rise of the centralized nation state, with its relatively homogeneous legal system, extensive bureaucracy, advanced technology and communications systems, and a broad consensus over the significance of the rule of law and the value of representative democracy. Other than identifying a scientific lacuna, a focus on premodernity has two major advantages for anti-corruption activists and scholars. First, it helps trace continuities and changes with modernity, at times challenging at other reaffirming the supposed originality of modern methods of establishing legitimacy. Second and no less important, especially in the context of ANTICORRP, gaining insights into premodern practices helps those seeking solutions to current problems imagine what tools may be relevant and applicable in a broader variety of political and administrative contexts, a diversity that continues to characterize our globalizing world. We say this while explicitly rejecting any facile analogy between pre-modernity and the developing or non-Western world today, an approach that often betrays a combination of ignorance about the past and self-righteousness in the present.