Book Chapter

Epilogue: the British way in corruption



Cawood I & Crook T (2022) Epilogue: the British way in corruption. In: Cawood I & Crook T (eds.) The many lives of corruption: The reform of public life in modern Britain, c. 1750-1950. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 279-297.

First paragraph: One of the core aims of this volume has been to begin the task of piecing together the bigger picture of how corruption has undermined and exercised public life in modern Britain during and since the ‘age of reform’, through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Conceptually, as an object of thought, as much as practically, as an object of reform, corruption has proved tenaciously problematic and protean. It is tempting no doubt, in the manner of the social scientist, to seek to tame its unruly qualities in this respect and to operate with a single definition, even a ‘universal’ one, captured in a pithy sentence or paragraph. To be sure, as the introduction has suggested, within the Western tradition of political thought, ‘corruption’ has long possessed a core set of (metaphorical) meanings (i.e. of decay and degeneration), and has always referred to the generic problem of the subversion of the public good by the interests and actions of a particular individual, group or class. But the challenge, as this volume sees it, is to work with, rather than against, the grain of the incredibly rich and diverse ways this basic conceptual form has been developed and deployed at particular times and places. It is only by doing so that we can fully appreciate why the corruption of public life has been – and remains – inextricably linked to the public life of corruption: to the ways, that is, it has been persistently debated and discussed, refashioned and redeployed, as the stuff not just of moral and political critique but of popular agitation and partisan politics. The objects of attack and sources of anxiety and scandal certainly changed as Britain entered the ‘age of reform’, and continued to change thereafter, as we have seen; and they were articulated in new idioms and refracted through new ideologies and ideals. But none of this entailed a diminution in the politics of corruption and its capacity to provoke varied diagnoses.

Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online31/05/2022
PublisherManchester University Press
Publisher URL
Place of publicationManchester

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Dr Ian Cawood

Dr Ian Cawood

Associate Professor, History