Corruption and conflict of interest as a conceptual problem. The situation in Hybrid Political Orders

Start date
Thursday, 14 September 2017, 13:00
End date
Thursday, 14 September 2017, 14:00
Room 4.01

Research in Progress Seminar by Liesbeth Feikema, Managing Director, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Utrecht


The term ‘Hybrid Political Order’ (HPO) is recently coined by sociologists who considered the notions ‘developing countries’, ‘failed states’ and ‘fragile states’ to be not sufficiently morally neutral. In these notions the ‘Western’ nation state with a rule of law serves as normative standard, after all. Feature of the HPO is that the legal framework is similar to the legal framework of ‘Western’ nation states with a rule of law, which expresses the ‘legal authority’ as distinguished by Max Weber: the law is the ultimate authority. By contrast, the institutional set-up in the practice of daily life in HPOs is determined by outlooks on live that could be considered to be determined by ‘traditional authority’ or ‘charismatic authority’, the other two types of authority that Max Weber distinguishes. Patrimonialism is a feature of these latter types of authority. From a ‘legal authority’ point of view patrimonialism is a form of corruption.

Due to the discrepancy between the outlook on society as assumed in the legal framework and the outlook on society as experienced in practice, HPOs suffer by nature from the blurring of the public and the private domain. Taking a glance at the corruption indices, such as produced for example by Transparency International, corruption is predominantly prevalent in regions that could be considered HPOs. A conceptual analysis of corruption and conflict of interest, on the basis of academic literature on corruption and conflict of interest, demonstrates that corruption, and conflict of interest in an even stronger sense, presuppose a distinction between the public and private domain. Exactly this distinction is conceptually fundamental for the ‘Western’ nation state with a rule of law.

Corruption, and especially conflict of interest, seems to be normatively loaded with a specific type of state. It could be argued that this normative assumption ‘colours’ the observations that regions that could be qualified as HPOs are more corrupt than states that meet the normative standard as previously discussed. This does not necessarily mean that actions that from a ‘Western’ point of view are qualified as corrupt should considered to be less corrupt. It does mean that in order to combat corruption effectively, we first need to look as objectively as possible to the causes of corruption. Given that during the last decades anti-corruption legislation increasingly has shifted to the prevention of conflict of interest, this is relevant task. The prevention of a potential conflict of interest and the prevention of appearance of conflict of interest presuppose profound knowledge of the institutional set up, after all. The public-private distinction is crucial in this respect, and this is precisely a problem in HPOs.

Publication date: 6 April 2017