8th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Campeggiani

Pia Campeggiani

Politics and Corruption. Pleonexia, Inequality, Responsibility between Solon and Aristotle

The paper aims to explore some aspects of the problem of corruption the way it emerges in Solon’s poetic production; besides, it aims to provide analysis of Aristotle’s political perspective on corruption through the reading of some of the passages he dedicates to the figure of the Athenian legislator. If the concept of corruption is assumed in its legal meaning of offence against the general interest due to an illegal appropriation (in this sense the illegal appropriation may either specifically consist in undue remuneration or, more generally, in personal advantages gained to the detriment of public interest), its Greek corresponding notion can be recognized in the one of pleonexia. The history of this notion is long: since Anaximander it has been implicitly or explicitly thematized in relation to the idea of excess and the consequent matter of the violation of order, equilibrium and equality. So Solon (frg. 4 West) warns Athenians of the grave and imminent danger of Dysnomia, bad government that «brings the city countless ills». This evil causes ruin, destruction, ate; ruin is also produced by ate, which means both shattering and blinding. These ills are defined through various terms whose semantic field converges on the theme of excess: trachea (asperity, in the sense of difference and inequality), koron (satiety in the sense of being filled up until disgust), hybris (arrogance, insolence, haughtiness). Solon’s morality is principally centred on the respect of the equality of the citizens and on the refusal of the powerful’s arbitrary will; he talks with pride about him being able to mediate between the fighting classes through the instrument of laws equally imposed on the humbles and the great, the plebeians and the nobles. On the other hand, in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle provides deep analysis of pleonexia and distinguishes the injustice of the man who wants more than what is due to him from all the other kinds of injustice. Specifically, he dwells upon the description of the man who is pleonektes kai anisos and closely connects greed with inequality. In the Constitution of Athens Aristotle describes Solon as the governor who «would prefer the good and the salvation of the state to any greed for his own gain (pleonexia)» and clearly opposes the common good (and justice as the common good) to pleonexia. Therefore, corruption and inequality seem to be two faces of the same medal, both in Solon and in Aristotle. Lastly, as the crime of corruption is nowadays ascribed to a person qualified in relation to his or her juridical position of public officer or of a person in charge of public service, in archaic and classical Athens too the moral matter of corruption was always intertwined with the political one. Not only this: if Solon’s corrupted governor was, from a moral point of view, still personally responsible of his own hybris, the development of democratic theory and practice later produced the conviction that much as the consequences of corruption were political so were the causes. I will argue that, in the debate on the best form of government, from the logos tripolitikos to Aristotle’s Politics, and in the passage from the epoch of the great legislators to the understanding of the rule of law as an alternative to the rule of men, the cause of corruption was no longer identified with the governor’s personal immorality, but with the bad distribution of power at an institutional level.