Some aspects of honesty in periods of political transition julius Moravcsik

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Diogenes tried to find an honest man in Athens with a lantern, but he did not fare well. Today he might engage in the same search, perhaps strengthened with electronic gear but it is unlikely that he would have more success than on his earlier tour. Honesty is a many-faceted and tantalizing concept. Most people agree that honesty is a good thing. Yet we encounter so many breaches. People would rarely denounce honesty, but have great difficulties embodying this attitude, especially in times of crisis and social-political turmoil. Alternatively, honesty gives place to corruption often in times of indifference and lack of concern with interpersonal transactions. Honesty is not one of the goods. It is not interchangeable and is often not seen a mere instrumental value. In this paper I defend the view that honesty has both intrinsic and instrumental value. Thus it resembles other fundamental values like health or wisdom. Honesty is a character constituent, but we often ask also what its value is, forgetting that this question can be asked only once we fixed what items we regard as useful, and why.

In this paper we take up honesty because its contrast with the opposite, namely corruption, sheds a lot of light on the latter. Corruption is, however, today a global problem, emerging in a variety of cultures. Thus it is advisable to place honesty into the context of a general view on human nature. We shall argue that being an agent is an essen­tial ingredient of human nature. Then we will argue that though honesty is not an essential ingredient of human agency, it is an essential part of the good human agent. Within this specification we use ‘good’ in a general not exclusively moral sense. As we explain later, this is the same sense of ‘good' that we use to talk about a good knife, a good mathematical solution, or a good friendship. After a brief but sharp analysis of honesty, we shall turn to an analysis of social-political transitions. Eventually we narrow the scope of this paper to viewing corruption in times of socio-economic and political transitions that affect our life fundamentally. We shall offer some conjectures on why corruption is typically rampant at such periods, and offer a few steps towards remedies.


THE COMPLEXITIES OF HONESTY. Honesty is not to lie, cheat, steal, or engage in other forms of deceit. This shows that we have two main dimensions of honesty. One is veracity. What we say and communicate to others is to be true or approximate truth as much as the circumstances allow this. The other is to avoid deceit, in action, in postures we take, and similar other aspects of interaction with others. The emphasis in the one dimension is that of truthfulness, in the other of not presenting deceitful appearances. In a general sense we can see, these as aspects of reliability or trustworthiness. As soon as we survey the ingredients of this notion, we see the need to construe the key elements as indeterminate and thus needing contextual interpretation. Deceitfulness involves hiding things. But what counts as a relevant case of hiding? Not every minimal hiding, arising out of shame, for example will count as deceitfulness. Again, what counts as a lie depends on social conventions concerning how much accuracy we expect of people in this or that context. Different standards affect war and peace, business and family relations, and actions affecting the welfare of our community in some vital way.

Thus 'honesty’, ‘truthfulness', ‘reliability’ and 'deceit' are open-ended concepts.1 Thus we see the multiple ways in which these terms need be reinterpreted not only from context to context, but also situation to situation. To these considerations we need to add that lies and cheating can emerge in cases of varying importance and magnitude. Sometimes much is at stake, at other times the community does not bother.

Honesty is something we owe to people. But unfortunately, we owe this in many cases to different kinds of people and communities. Hence we see in this connection the problem of multi-agency. We owe honesty to these groups but that may hinder our being able to exercise it also to another group. We must not be deceitful, but at times this forces us into divided loyalties, and thus priorities must be established.

So far, we have, among others, questions of magnitude, importance, different contexts of conduct, and several other elements as parts of what should go into making decisions involving honesty, or closing our eyes to "mild” cases of corruption.

The complexity of the concept of honesty may be daunting, but fortunately it can be divided into parts that on a practical level stand on their own. Thus we need not expect that unless one understands honesty in all of its details one cannot achieve the kind of honesty that will fit one's cultural and economic contexts. As the American writer Theodore Dreiser showed, in some rural contexts honesty can amount to little more than a few taboos and for unusual cases, guidelines. The fact, noted above, that the key elements in the definition of honesty are open-ended shows already that for many more complicated cases we need guidelines not sharp rules. Rules, to be efficient, require specificity and sharply defined concepts. This we cannot offer in the case of honesty. But this is not a loss. Rule following by itself is a matter of rote learning and more or less superficial beha­vior patterns, at least in ethical contexts. Developing sensitivity towards guidelines and the emergence of attitudes that underlie a variety of different behavior-patterns are crucial elements for agents who will have to face challenges to honesty in a variety of situations. As Dreiser shows in his writings, people who lived all of their lives in a rural context have often grave difficulties to reinterpret the demands of honesty once they move into urban industrial settings.

This paper argues that honesty is a fundamental element in the character of a good human agent, and that the relevant sense of ‘good’ used here can be given a non-question-begging account. (I.e, an account that does not depend on purely on moral foundations).

Our line of attack is to sketch first salient elements of what we can regard as essential in human nature, and show that honesty cannot be included in that notion. We then develop the concept of a human agent as one of the items necessarily belonging to humans. But honesty is not an essential element of agency. So finally we turn to the notion of a good human agent, in the sense mentioned above, and we will argue that honesty is a part of that concept.

To think of something as essential to human nature is to think of it as one of the items without which being human could not be conceptualized. For example, some level of intelligence, both theoretical and practical, must be a part of human nature. Nor can we think of a human bereft of all emotions as a normal human. (Or human at all?) It seems that once we consider humans as acting, deciding, deliberating, evaluating creatures we cannot conceive of them without their being agents. Thus the argument here does not come from medicine or chemistry, but from what William James called our unavoidable pragmatic background as exhibited in everyday life. Getting up in the morning already requires trivial, hardly noticeable decisions such as making the movements that get us out of bed, taking the first steps towards being able to feed ourselves and so on. We are not forced to decide on these matters in some chemical sense. But deciding not to do these things would lead us under normal circumstances to suicide.

Given the variety of tasks that confront us in a given day, and the big differences between outcomes depending on how we choose and execute, we cannot help but think of agency as a partly normative concept. That is to say, we can be better or worse agents, again in a non-ethical sense. E.g. we can be more or less consistent, more or less capable of understanding the consequences of our actions, and more or less able to keep in mind the human elements that are parts of our environment and whose plans and decisions our actions can influence for the better or worse.

We can draw at this stage two conclusions. First, that being an agent by itself does not necessitate honesty. Not being honest will prevent us in being able to perform some actions and participate in some relationships. But the basic mechanism and its working does not perish even if we perform all of our deliberations and executions of plans in completely dishonest ways.

Our second conclusion, however, should be that even if qua human being and decisionmaker not being good at agency does not take away from us our capacity to be agents, it does take away some of the normatively desirable characteristics. In short, a characteristic like honesty is needed in order for us to be good agents (in the sense specified). The goodness of agency can be described in a number of ways. But the philosophically rational way of doing it is to give the description as relative to the sound performance of certain types of actions and the development of certain attitudes. Specifying "what we need to be good at" will cut down on debates about what does or does not make someone a good agent.

Completing this sketch of honesty requires also a clarification of the sense of 'good' employed in the phrase 'good agent' as used in this essay. There are two frequently used senses of 'good'. One is the instrumental sense. We speak of items as good for the accomplishment of some task, or as 'good for Jones'; i.e. an item being good for the welfare of a given agent. So this second sense can be seen as a subspecies of the instrumental sense.

We use 'good' also in a moral sense in which instrumentality does not arise. Thus respecting others can be seen as morally good in itself. This does not mean that it does not have also good consequences, but that beyond any instrumentality attached, it has also intrinsic worth. A certain basic respect for others can be seen as a fundamental constituent of the character of the good agent.

The sense of 'good' as employed in our phrase 'good agent' differs from both of these senses. Health, for example is not only useful, but can be construed as a basic constituent in the make-up of a good agent. In any adequate characterization of a good and sound agent we need to start with some needed state of health. For different tasks this may involve different aspect of health. (For the forester not the same as for a banker). We cannot present a completely instrumental description of the healthy person. For sooner of later we must ask: what is the description of a good human under which we specify the foundation of his structure relative to which the instru­mental descriptions are measured.

Similar considerations apply to the characteristic of having wisdom. Wisdom has instrumental value, but also an intrinsic value that, like with health, represents goodness apart from moral considerations. We can label the totality of characteristics as wisdom, health, being a good agent, as what constitutes the foundations of the "complete human". There are many further ingredients. Reasoning ability, ability to form concepts, imagination, planning ability, sensi­tivity to the suffering of others, the appreciation of joy in people's lives, and others.

The guidelines for describing the good agent are: considering the main aspects of human life, and selecting a few characteristics from each that will add up to the potential of what we regard as the foundation. Alternatively, as starting points, relative to which we then specify the instru­mental as well as constitutive items. E.g. some main parts of the human agent can be listed as: intellectual capacities, both theoretic and practical, our cooperative emotional capacities, our capacities to form successful relation with other human individuals and communities, and reflective capacities covering the domains just mentioned. Within these one can list key factors required for successful functioning. These will make up the core of the character of the good agent, with other characteristics added when different contexts require this. This complex structure, with partly detachable aspects, enables us to speak of agents as being not just "good or bad", but better and worse. This gain, however, comes also with a price. For though in theory these items are conceptually distinct, in practice there can be clashes among them. For example, being merciful in certain contexts is a functioning constituent, but it can clash with justice. Or, as in Martha Minow's work, we can see for­giveness clashing with justice.2

There is no way of measuring these items, like we measure money, clothing, or released time. But as Roger Noll has pointed out, we can compare things even when measuring is not available.3 So we can rank in terms of importance the various ingredients. This is unlikely to yield a rigid priority list for all contexts. But we can consider importance of a given item, and weigh this against other considerations. In a society in which the restoration of law is a key issue leading to recuperation, justice is likely to be more important than mercy. In individual relations with others mercy should triumph in cases in which exercise of this virtue is more likely to lead to an overall condition of psychological healing in the community. An intrinsic value maybe superior to another if in a context it leads to a deepening of understanding of human relation, while the possibly clashing other item represents also goodness (in our sense) but deals with less fundamental items in the human make-up.4

As in the case of specifying what health is, here too in the cases of these other ingredients empirical constraints must be considered while building up idealizations. The good agent we are discussing a good HUMAN agent. Limitations on memory, sensitiveness, depth of comprehension and other such items must be considered if we want our notion to be realistic and thus relevant to ethics, and the more general development of notions of human excellence.


HONESTY AS A BASIC INGREDIENT. Why should we construe honesty as essential to the good agent? As we saw honesty has two aspects; affecting veridicality and lack of deceit. Honesty in the first context contributes a key element to successful communication, with others and with oneself. The quality of honesty is linked to communication analogously to the way philosophers like Michael Dummett construes language as "aiming at truth".5 The latter observation admits that we use language often for lies, inaccuracies, etc. but expresses the view, difficult to state precisely, that languages are structured so that primarily truths can be expressed by their parts. We can view honesty and communication in the same way. It is difficult to conceive of language as developing primarily as a tool for saying what is false. The false is contrast-dependent with truth. In typical cases the lie, saying what is false, presupposes that we know what truth would be. Furthermore, we assume that the honest truthful communication is what we aim at under normal conditions. A good deal of honesty underlies our planning, deciding, and similar cognitive states. Describing an utterance as false presupposes that we understand what the opposite, truth, is. Still this conceptual dependency does not prove that truthfulness is a key constituent of goodness. But we can take this further step when we ponder what communication would be like without our being able to assume that nor­mally what is communicated is designed as expressing truths. Lying rides "piggyback" on truth-telling.

One might even try to explore whether lying to oneself and others ALL THE TIME is really a possibility from a pragmatic point of view. How would this function in detail? When I get up I lie to myself about the possibilities of getting out of bed, about the need to make plans for the day ahead, about all of my feelings towards others, and so on.

These thought experiments do not prove the impossibility of a language of the FALSE, or cognition arranged completely around the notion of lying, but at least they point in that direction.

Similar considerations affect the possibility of total self-deception. We know that humans can deceive themselves and persist in that state for a long time. But this is typically in the context of being able to show the deception in contrast with areas within which we do not deceive ourselves. (These vary from person to person.)

HONESTY DOES NOT STAND ALONE. From a purely conceptual view, honesty is an individual excellence. One could be alone on an island, and still practice honesty, at least to oneself. But this essay considers honesty as a factor in fighting corruption. In this context we focus on honesty as a relational virtue. It should govern our links with other humans and the community in general. This section presents the view that in social context honesty is closely tied to two fundamentally social virtues, namely those of trust and responsibility. We will consider not only purely conceptual, but also practical ties.

First, let us note that being honest implies at least some kind and degree of trustworthiness. Being honest means - among other things - not to lie. Thus being honest towards some others brings with it some reliability and thus trustworthiness. But it does not bring all kinds of reliability. One can be honest but in various ways quite unreliable. E.g., the person who does not lie, but loses every object one gives him. So our first conclusion should be that honesty in some way underlies trustworthiness, but not in all ways. Again, trust seems to go with some kind of honesty, but not all kinds. Someone can be trustworthy in the sense of being loyal, but not be a generally honest person. There are practical links between honesty and trust. We see this once we place our examination in a social and temporally extended context. If one is loyal to some people, one subjects himself to risk. Maybe the other person will use the honest information in his own advantage and against the other. Thus in the normal contexts the development and maintenance of honesty work best when we can place at least some degree of trust in others. Surely, this is also the context within which we try to engender (teach?) honesty. Our primary aim is not to train martyrs who insist that they will be honest even if the whole world uses it against them.

We find the same intertwining between honesty and responsibility. Again, I can be responsible to myself in splendid isolation (Robinson Crusoe?). But this is not what will work primarily against corruption. We need to place responsibility in a communal context. Even here, we can find examples of people who act most of the time responsibly, but do not have a clear concept of honesty, and though they are aware of the consequences of their actions will hide these from others, and when questioned will defend this on egoistic grounds. But in practical terms, when fighting corruption what we want is the kind of responsibility that goes with honesty. We want humans to be aware of the consequences of their actions (as far as this is possible) and report these honestly to those affected so that moral and prudential matters affecting both parties can be discussed. At the same time we should note also that responsibility to oneself requires honesty. If I cannot be even honest with myself, how will I recognize the consequences of my actions, especially when these affect others? Thus we see close links, especially on the practical plane, between the three characteristics: honesty, trust, and responsibility. This affects also maintenance and especially learning. On the account we gave of honesty, this contains a conceptual core not exhaustible by rules, and capacities for manifestation and implementation. The same applies to the other two virtues with which we dealt here. Thus mere rule learning following cannot be the essence of acquiring these characteristics. (This can be shown also by pointing out that each of the three has also an emotive component, and one cannot govern emotions by rules alone, since only what is in our power can be governed by rules, and emotions do not fall fully into this domain). (Blum 6). How do we help people acquire and maintain such characteristics? Full treatment of this question is beyond the constraints of this essay. But we do know that role modeling, as in training students for patient care (Moravcsik 7), plays a key role, and so does the analysis of examples. This is incorporated today more and more in medical education in the USA. Analogous techniques could be used in situations in which we train individuals or communities to acquire openness towards developing the three virtues we covered.

Finally, honesty, responsibility, and trust make up a large part of what is required of a good agent, who tries to fight corruption. There are other large areas of ethics relevant to agency, such as overcoming frustration, developing concern for others that goes beyond utilitarian considerations, and several others. But the three together make up an important part, because the denial or simply absence of these three make up the corrupt society in which freedom and the securing of goods without hurting others will not be possible.


VARIETIES OF DISHONESTY One might think that as with scientific and many other kinds of concepts we can apply the same analysis of honesty across cultures. We can see that this is false, by considering not the positive, but the negative part of the issue, namely dishonesty. Dishonesty can surface in many different ways, and is the result of a variety of external pressures. Typically, though perhaps many pressures and their overcoming crop up in most cultures, in different kinds of social structures different pressures are most salient. Furthermore, in different socioeconomic structures different kinds of temptations are dominant. So negative sentiments might block honesty, such as fear. E.g. if I am honest others higher on the power hierarchy might find themselves threatened, so I am too much afraid to be honest. On the other hand, sometimes what blocks honesty is a positive good being available easily and beyond what in society should be one's share. Money is such an item. At times even basically good things like love of friends and relatives might block honesty.

A full discussion of dishonesty is beyond the scope of this essay. In this work we shall restrict ourselves to one main thesis: Different socioeconomic structures will provide different temptations and obstacles with regard to honesty. Thus we need to look at dishonesty and corruption in different ways in different cultural-economic contexts. Understanding this, and putting it into practice would have considerable practical impact. It opens up a way of dealing with the problem of dishonesty; not merely trying to eliminate it "across the board" with some reward system, monetary or otherwise. The conceptual framework that we built up in the previous sections serve as the foundation for our approach. For we have argued that honesty has two aspects. The core concepts that involve commitment to values beyond the utilitarian ones, and the modes of manifestation/implementation that do differ and are more utilitarian depending on the pressures and temptations. Furthermore, in the second section we showed that we need to deal both on the practical and on the theoretical level, with clusters of excellence, and not consider each in "splendid isolation". In what follows we will contrast problems of dishonesty in the former East-European countries with those in the "West", such as the USA. First, two caveats. Our analysis does not claim that there is a complete separation between the causes of dishonesty in East and West. There are most likely elements preventing honesty in various degrees in both socioeconomic systems in the different geographical locations. But we want to concentrate on certain salient or dominant clusters. As we shall see, different socioeconomic systems do bring with them different pressures, opportunities, and temptations even in the realm of honesty. Secondly, our main concern is to illustrate a kind of analysis and approach, not to argue that the details must be right. If the approach is seen as useful, others will hopefully present further, a more subtle analysis involving further subdivisions and this further context-relative saliencies. Let us concentrate on Eastern Europe. Communism hoped to create obstacles, for example, in the handling of relations between employees of different ranks, which eroded honesty, and created much fear of communicating honestly. Ideally the key relationship between subordinate and chief should be respect that leads to cooperation. But if the relationship depends on arbitrary steps by the chief, and not mostly on the professional competence of the chief, their political status leaves the subordinate defenseless. Fear takes over, and honesty can deteriorate into flattery. This is an oversimplified picture. To be realistic, many contextual modifications need be added. But at least what we brought out here is one of the main problems in a communist system and other dictatorial systems.

Our analysis shows how one can start to remove one obstacle in the way of honesty. A more professional and less politically influenced relation will lessen fear and thus remove some of the negative elements blocking the development of honesty. Furthermore, a legal system must be developed that allows the employee to have recourse in case abuse by the higher ranked ones is rampant (Suppes). This was then a removal of something negative. A positive challenge is providing opportunities in which honesty and responsibility can be practiced. This is obviously not an exclusively communist problem. But in a society that is governed on the basis of a monolithic political dogma honesty that can lead to new proposals and ideas will be discouraged. Furthermore, the kind of responsibility that we see in lives of small shopkeepers will be stifled. For every move even on that level will be discouraged by higher-ranking people. One does not want to "stand out" among others, for envy, when helped by political position, can harm the enterprising person. (It may be that some analogues to what is sketched here can be found within some religious orders also).

We could discuss at least half a dozen other problem-creating factors. But hopefully the examples sketched at least show how we can take up negative and positive obstacles as well as the enabling and active manifestations of honesty (actions that lead to it or actually implement it). Our approach will seem, however viable only if it can be shown to apply also to other economic-political systems. Hence a few words about the problem of dishonesty in Western capitalist countries. In terms of temptation a key factor is vast amount of money being available for financial transactions (investment, sale etc.) Here there may be a clash between creative management of funds and - because of lack of control on the participants - gambling with funds without much concern for what is good for those who entrusted the company with their money on one hand, and the need for rigorous check on those managing the money and an awareness of the need for responsibility, not just greed for more profit on the other. Thus in Western countries throwing too many opportunities for yielding to temptation is a problem. Earlier it was generally understood that free enterprise works only when coupled with responsibility. There is no doubt many still believe this today, but there also are many advertised cases of ignoring this caveat.

Another problem with honesty in the "West" is the relative unpredictability of economic changes. It is one thing to have free market etc. when we can assume that those participating are professionally trained and have social responsibility, and another when millions invest directly, without experience, looking only for short-term gains, and change investment constantly. For in the second scenario what we have is general instability in society. In opposition to so many cries about how everything changes, and how exciting this is, we must emphasize that without some basic stability, honesty, and responsibility will not function well. Responsibility is a temporal phenomenon. It assumes that what I can take to be some of the consequences of my planned actions will in fact be materialized in the future if I act in a certain way. If I cannot be reasonably sure about some consequences, responsibility makes no sense. The same applies to honesty. Our being honest presupposes that it will in some way help building a better community, or maintain a good one. But if my honesty remains a lonely heroic stand, without becoming a part of communal functioning, then it becomes nothing but moral martyrdom. For honesty to be an important element in communal functioning requires time, and within a given time period some stability of certain communal structures.

In summary, our considering the variety of ways of dishonesty, and the correlated variety of ways of healing moral decline, and maintaining honesty, helps with understanding the variety of ways in which honesty can be implemented as well as kept from decline. Awareness of the importance of context should not tempt us to lapsing into relativism. Relativism says that a solution that seems good to you may seem good to me, and that there is no truth of the matter. Contextual but objective treatment of the contextuality of implementation of honesty says that means and expressions of the same kind of honesty may differ but that in a given situation there are differences between better and worse solutions, and the criteria have objective content.


IS HONESTY FOR SALE? This question is ambiguous. For often when we talk about buying honesty all we mean is that we corrupted an honest person, and got him to give up his honesty. We are not buying honesty, we are bribing an agent not to be honest.

In a more serious sense, we can consider in a context solely the instrumental aspects of honesty, and ask someone to place above them certain other goods, such as monetary or other material rewards. Such cases crop up all to often. But let there be no illusions about "buying” honesty. All we do is take someone who has been taking bribes, and get him to stop taking bribes from others but take these only from us. In this case we gain honest conduct from persons, but certainly not honest character. Paying someone to act democratically or honestly in certain contexts in exchange for some reward is just to get someone to be bribed in order not to take bribes from others. If a third party emerges and offers the agent in case even more rewards than the second person did, we can hardly expect that the central agent in the example will not give in.

But if a person believes that one ought to aim at being a good agent, and that honesty is an essential element in a good agent, thus having also intrinsic merit, then we can expect the agent not to yield to corruption. Naturally, we are all subject from time to time to weakness of will, but such lapses are to be distinguished from the repeated dishonest acts of the person for whom acting honestly was just doing what the "highest bidder” expected. Honesty is a combination of external factors, basically conduct, and inner conviction coupled with certain honesty-constituting attitudes. If we want genuinely honest people, we should help people to develop the appropriate attitudes and character. Unless it is in the initial stages of youth or naiveté of other sorts, we should not try to buy with external rewards, but try to help people see the intrinsic value of honesty.8 We should project to them a society of preponderantly honest persons, and contrast this with a society in which fear and distrust is rampant, and contracts are meaningless. Needless to say, there is much room between these extremes for the mixed cases. But in terms of individual and communal goals we should keep the conception of honest people and institutions in mind, and remember that what people call buying honesty, or gaining honesty with rewards, is merely at best a short-run solution, deluding us frequently with the idea that we solved problems for longer periods of time.

TRANSITION AND CHARACTER. or "when the policeman moves off the corner".

There are many different types of political-economic transitions. Some are slow, and some are sudden, often forced on a community. Urgency may arise either because of external pressures, or because of internal tensions in the society. In other cases the transition amounts to a rebuilding process, as the one in Germany after WWII.

Apart from these differences, we must recognize the variety of factors involved, in various combinations, in transitions. Some transitions are caused by primarily technolo­gical changes, such as the "computer revolution". Others may be primarily political, such as border changes. Still others are fuelled at least partly by moral considerations, such as the Civil War and abolition of slavery in the USA.9 Needless to say, in many cases we have a combination of these elements involved in the transition. In order to deal with the transition at hand properly, we must recognize the complexity, and consider the types separately as well as the processes in which these interact.

Different elements might play roles in these transitions. Some are psychological, inclu­ding matters of attitude, change in moral outlook, or codes of conduct. In other cases the transition affects only matters of economics and politics, such as a "change of guards" in the English government.

Our difficulties arise not only in the analysis of what types and factors are present in a given transition, but also in the recognition that though in many cases we need to work on many aspects of the transition (economic, political, attitudinal) simultaneously, change in the different parts of the transition might require different amounts of time, depending on the nature of the factors. For example, laws can be changed usually quicker than attitudes. On the other hand, attitudes might have been changed, but their expression held up because of the relative slowness with which certain technological changes must be implemented. This survey of complexities should help us understand the transition with which we deal at a given time. It should also make us wary of simplistic overall judgments of the form "they (given group) succeeded in making the change.” Maybe laws have been changed, but the accompanying attitudes are still in the process of development.

Another problem is that changes are not always of the "from A to B” type, but also the "A to the partly unknown" type. Stanford economists cautioned early that there is no strong empirical evidence supporting either the thesis that we can change a socialist society into a capitalist one, or the other way around.

When can we formulate at least temporary judgments about a society in transition? Opinions on this vary. One extreme: Chou En ‘lai, the Chinese statesman, was asked some decades ago what he thought of the French revolution. After some thought he said: "too early to tell". On the other extreme we hear from politicians already at this, still rather confused, state of things that this or that Eastern country has or has not "made it" with respect to certain transitions.

Let us move briefly from this picture of complexities to the much starker picture mentioned in our section title. (Most of what follows is based on personal experience). When two armies or political structures are facing each other, with a "no man's land" between them, we face the "policeman moved off the corner" situation. In the no man's land there are no laws functioning, there is no law enforcing agency, there is no law to be enforced. Many people, but not all, faced with this situation think that "anything goes", and behave accordingly. They steal every­thing from the local grocery stores, break into abandoned buildings, etc. There is no institu­tional remedy to the wrongs and harms inflicted. On the other hand, from the fact that anything could go, it does not follow that anything should go. Thus one can record side by side horrible cruelties and heroic self-sacrifice. The maintenance of some law and order and individual decency will depend on how much of pretransitional morality people bring with themselves even when no institutional backing will support such stances.

Someone might interject that such transitions are very different from those facing today both the USA as well as East/Central European countries. But closer examination shows that there are common elements, and that one can learn from the stark experiences of war or pestilence also lessons that are applicable to the contemporary situations.

One of these lessons is the recognition of the danger when a political party or other power is in charge of determining what is worth while in life, and what should be the guidelines concerning conduct and social attitudes. With a view to drastic changes in which the party/power and all of its edicts disappear, we should acknowledge the utility of the citizens having their individual-oriented morality as well. 10 The latter does not depend on what politicians say. Its sources can be religious, philosophical, or other cultural factors. Thus, e.g. a sense of honesty, viewed as an individual excellence, not dependent on political changes, is very valuable in cases when "the policeman moves off the corner," but also in cases of less drastic transitions. Maintaining this duality in a community in such a way that it should have practical value is not easy. For if the individual values are very different in terms of scope from whatever the political credo demands, the values might not have any impact on what should underlie political/ideological changes. E.g. perhaps the withdrawal of the Russian Orthodox Church - or to some extent the withdrawal of the Roman Catholic Church in WWII--from confronting political ideologies might have contributed to individuals saying as well "the Church does not condemn or interfere in any way, why should we?" We must tread a very fine line of having individual morality and at the same time it having something to say about moral constraints over ideological credos. Indeed, is withdrawal really possible? After WWII in some parts of Europe, when people said that they are apolitical and do not want to join the political/social life, the reply of the ideologues was often: "taking that stand today is also a stand with respect to the political arena.” The concept of honesty that we are discussing seems like a prime candidate for being such a rare concept that does not take concrete political or economic stances and recommends itself as an excellence that should survive political changes. The topic we sketched here is very complicated. It underlies, however, the kind of defense of honesty that we gave in this essay.

Another element that we can borrow from the extreme case with which we started is the creation of a communal spirit that involves seeing that with respect to the perils of the im­pending transition "we are all in the same boat". (Well treated in novels of Albert Camus). This is not a matter of a political manifesto or new economic prescription. It is an attitude that can develop in a community in which people come to see the common dangers and challenges as more important than the individual or small-group interests that will divide us. Achieving this state of mind in a community is a matter of what aspects of our situation we see as salient. Psychologists and philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein have pointed to the importance of this psychological phenomenon. Depending on what we see as salient, we can interpret the same drawing as a duck or a rabbit. Far-fetched as it may seem, we can take this notion and apply this to the community attempting to assess the results of the transition and the cost of the process itself. Different features will be salient to different types of people. For some the temporary suffering and breakup of relations seem salient and are thus against the transition. For others the promised advantages outweigh the disadvantages. One problem is that what is predicted as a temporary disadvantage may turn into a permanent feature of the new situation. For example, the complaints may touch on personal relations, then the promise is made that these can return to how these were before the transition. In fact, they remain in what was seen as a mere temporary stage. Relations that were warm and personal may be affected by industrialization. Though it is promised that the so-called dehumanization is only temporary, it may become part of our everyday life without our noticing it. Humans can become more callous and indifferent without them being aware of this. Awareness of these traps help to minimize the dangers.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE? In view of all of the complexities that we surveyed, and the heavily contextual nature of causes for changes that lead to corruption, one might wonder how we can say anything general about how the challenge of a transition can be met. Still, several of the concepts we analyzed function on a level that is general in the sense of not dealing with processes that must be characterized under specific econ.-political conditions. As we saw, honesty, and hence corruption, have a variety of causes in different contexts. Still, we can say things that help providing some foundation for the contextual solutions. 11

First, attempts at transformation demanding changes not only in economic and political terms but requiring also a reorientation in the psychology and ethics of the citizens requires that certain educational practices be implemented.12 These are neutral as to right-left, capitalist-communist etc. dichotomies. For example, we should start out educating people how to assume responsibility for actions involving smaller units, such as a group of farmers, a few people running a small business, and so on. Secondly, economic and governmental operations should be implemented with the maximum of trans­parency, so that individuals understand what is being done, why, and what the elements of the accountability constraints are going to be.13 Conducting our business in this manner may take much time, but once the process is completed it is on sound grounds. An example of this is the diffe­rence between ways in which countries build highways. In many countries the government decides the path, and local landowners are compensated the best one can. In large parts of Switzerland, however, road building across communities must be approved by votes in all the affected units. This takes more time, and forces compromises, but at the end a firm agreement is reached among all of the affected parties and these agreements last for a long time. Given the technologies of the modern world, projects involving major transitions will involve what the social sciences call the “multi-agency problem.” That is to say, those working out the steps of the transition will have to justify what they do to a variety of "agents” involved in the project and its consequences. Some might adopt a "reductionist'' program. According to this we should try to divide the project and the benefits as well as sacrifices involved into atomic units, each linked to a participating citizen. Within such a scheme, conflict resolutions are simply the matter of compromises between many individual interests. In most cases such reductionism will not work. Community interests (school, hospital, legal system) have a holistic nature. The community needs the schools and legal system, and we cannot reduce this to this or that indivi­dual reaping this or that amount of benefit or loss. The education mentioned above could involve teaching this to people at the teenage/college student level.

Another path to prepare people for the thinking that is required in cases of drastic transition is to take up as examples the ethics of the professions, such as medicine, law, etc. This is a field growing both among American and European philosophers. All the problems of the communal good not being merely the conjunction of individual interests, the need to agree on the holistic communal aims, the problem of accountability, and others emerge in this area. It might be easier to convince citizens of these matters in the context of given professions than in politics and economics. Furthermore, the thesis that freedom of action in a community requires responsibility is taken by most as self-evident in the context of the professions. It is not that difficult--at least intellectually speaking--to see the analogous situation emerging in the context of a country as the unit, and political-economic transition as the context offering the challenge.

To sum up, the key issue is to fill the conceptual and intellectual vacuum that a drastic transition like Apartheid to post-Apartheid, communism to democracy, etc. present us with.14 Even when leaders claim that "'we start from scratch", this is rarely, if ever, the case. Some indivi­dual excellences such as honesty can help any system that strives for adequacy. The difficulty is to draw on what we called "transpolitical" values and apply these to the building of the post-transition world without such values operating on a level that is too abstract or in any case do not touch our econ.-political life sufficiently.15 Working out the right level of gene­rality on which the enduring values should function is a key challenge for those facing the transition problems that, if not treated, will persist as a vacuum and will not be concrete enough to offer meaningful guidance.

J. Moravcsik


  1. For more details see Moravcsik, J. 1998, Meaning, Creativity, and the Partial Inscrutability of the Human Mind. CSLI, Stanford.

  1. Minow, M. 1998, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, Beacon Press

  1. I am indebted to conversations with Roger Noll.

  1. On intrinsic value see K. Korsgaard,1996, Creating the Kingdom of Ends, Cambridge University Press.

  1. Dummett, M. 1972. Truth, (with postscript) in Logic and Philosophy for Linguists, ed. Moravcsik, J.

  1. Blum, L. 1980. Friendship, Altruism, and Morality, Routledge and Kegan Paul

  1. Moravcsik, J. Health, Healing and their Values, 1999, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, Working Paper Series No. 99.11

  1. On this topic I am indebted to conversations with Bruce Ackerman.

  1. Fogel, R. 1989. Without Consent or Contract; the Rise and Fall of American Slavery, Norton.

  1. On the need to have enterprises posit their own set of values, see J. Collins and J. Porras, 1994, Built to Last, Harper.

  1. For an interesting account of considering for different psychological back grounds for different forms of democracy, see Bell, D.H. et al, Towards Illiberal Democracy in Pacific Asia, 1995, St. Martin's Press

  1. Minow, M. Op-cit.

  1. For a fine account of the need for these conditions see Tyler, T. Why Do People Obey the Law. 19 Yale University Press, 1990.

  1. For a critical account of a transformation, see Lotter, H.P.P. 1992, Religion and Politics in a transforming South Africa, Journal of Church and State, So. Africa

  1. For consideration of both economic and humane values see Sen, A. 1996. On Economic Inequality

Among the key themes of this essay we find: a) The problem of transition in which "the policeman moved off the corner"; in short, there is no clear legitimate police and judicial authority. This extreme case admits of degrees; e.g. some military police authority but no judicial authority. b) The frequent arbitrariness of officials in a period in which law and order, at least on the surface, survived, but given the temptation of no clear lines of authority, officials exercise their power in arbitrary and often self-serving ways.

Both of these problems surface also in "Public Participation in Consolidating Democracies" by Susan Rose-Ackerman, for Collegium Budapest, Workshop In “Creating a Trustworthy State". A detailed comparison between what I interpret as compatible proposals is beyond the scope of this paper. But it should be of some value to emphasize here the key moves that I see as ameliorating these situations. One of these is efforts to retain individualistic ethical principles, be these religious or secular, to survive and thus smoothen the transition when official moral edicts are no longer in service and new ones need more time for development.

With regard to the problem of arbitrariness, this essay suggests that every effort should be made towards transparency in political institutions and principles that are to be developed. The work of transition itself has to be transparent in order to give the population a chance to build up confidence in new regimes, laws, and ideologies.

In summary, herewith some key claims of this essay some of which have been made by others too, but these, when taken together form a scheme that this essay presents for consideration. Certainly, there is no evidence that in practice this collection of proposals is already being implemented.
These proposals are:

1) Mere instrumentality, utility, will not do. Instruments need be used to achieve our goals, and some of these need to have also intrinsic value (e.g. honesty).

  1. Since the causes of corruption are diverse, "one size does not fit all," and we need to approach corruption in a pluralistic way, without surrendering the basic intrinsic values that it embodies.

  2. In transitions, with threatening corruption, humanistic values are especially important in pointing out salient features of a well functioning community. MONEY ALONE CANNOT BUY GOOD TRANSITIONS.

4) Our main topic should be honesty vs. corruption. This involves talking about character, internal states even more than mere behavior. Changing mere corruption-behavior is a medicime that is in most cases short-lived.

5) Susan Rose-Ackerman gives an example of different attitudes underlying collective preferences concerning social goods in different East-European countries. To this I can add only a less formal anecdotal support. In my classes at Stanford I polled students as to their preferences between two scenarios. (A) Society has wise leaders but population has hardly any say about governance. (B) Citizens have a lot of say about governance, but authority of officials is very limited, and there is no "ruling group of wise men or women". Having presented these alternatives at Stanford, I presented the choice also later to my students in Singapore. The American students preferred option (B), and the Singaporean students option (A). (Both groups of students were college level, and roughly the same age. )

These differences need be seen not as one better than the other; but as equally viable alternatives, depending on different cultural background, and the implementation of new modes of governance need to take in to consideration these and similar cultural differences.

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