Rather than some ‘public trust’ succumbing to ‘private interests’, the recipient of a ‘bribe’ has lost the ability to be a citizen by relinquishing his autonomy. Like slaves, merchants, and women, all precluded from being citizens since they all lacked some basic requisites for properly acting as a citizen, so the recipient of a bribe is incapable of the autonomous thought and moral judgment necessary for being a citizen.
The categories of the public and the private are integral to the modern notion of corruption. Put simply, no corruption in the modern sense is possible if there is no public and private goods. As Philp’s arguments above illustrate, much of the literature on corruption assumes that the apparently omnipresent existence of a concept of corruption is a sure sign that the public and private are also omnipresent social categories. That the ancient understanding of corruption is so far removed from the modern one puts this assumption into question.
Public and private goods
Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies is a useful corrective to this a historical tendency in the corruption literature. For Kantorowicz, our modern understanding of public and private goods is tied to the rise in early modern England of the legal and political doctrine of the King’s Two Bodies. This doctrine asserts that we have two bodies, a public and a private one. In its most developed form, the Two Bodies doctrine asserts that, on the one hand, we exist as concrete individuals with physical bodies, particular passions, interests, obligations, and so forth.
On the other hand, we exist in an abstract sense, as members of the body politic, a body that is beyond our physical bodies and concrete social existence. This body politic is the polity, characterized by the common interests that bind its members together and is materialized in the rituals, personnel and institutions of the state (cf. Kantorowicz 1957, 193-272).
It should be noted that this version of public and private differs greatly from other typical uses of these categories within political thought; notably, the Arendtian understanding of public and private, most clearly exemplified by Habermas’ treatise on the public sphere. Haberm as notes that the terms ‘private’ and ‘public’ first appeared in German in the middle of the 16th century and argues that no such divisions between the private and public existed in feudal societies, he goes on to argue that they did exist in ancient societies and equates the ancient Greek terms of polis and oikoswith public and private (cf. Habermas 1991, ch. 1). Thus, in this sense, the categories of the public and the private are mainly functional distinctions based on different uses of space. The public sphere becomes the space within which individuals can come together and discuss and formulate political opinions and positions. This is contrasted to the ‘state’ on the one hand with its police and legal functions, and to the ‘private’ side of civil society on the other hand with its family ties and market relations (cf. Habermas 1991, 30).
As Albert Hirschman has argued, it is only in the modern era that the concept of interests emerges and this marks a radical break with pre-modern conceptions of the good. For Hirschman it is the increasing dominance of finance and money that explains the change in the term ‘interest’ from being simply a financial term to a concept that is central to our understanding and organization of contemporary politics (cf. Hirschman 1977: 22-31). It is in this context that Hirschman sheds light on the question of Machiavelli’s notion of corruption and notes how the term corruption went through a similar transformation in meaning as interest.