The fall of Governor Blagojevich (whom I suggested we support in his stand against Bank of America just yesterday) is not just an example of despicable personal conduct. Rather it is indicative of a deeper culture of corruption at the institutional level.
If one governor is indicted and convicted on charges of corruption…well, we could say that it happens. It’s easy to write off such an event as an aberration. Simply get rid of the corrupt individual, elect someone else and move on. But the case of Illinois is not such an aberration.
Indeed, when two governors in a row and four of the last eight governors turn out to be corrupt (technically Gov. Blagojevich has not been convicted, but come on!) that might be an indicator that something more insidious is at work. According to the Chicago Tribune 79 Illinois politicians have been convicted in the last thirty-six years!
That’s just the number convicted. When we factor in dynamics of power, networks and connections, bureaucratic status and control and all the myriad ways that those in power can avoid responsibility, and we can assume that there are even more such cases. I’m not sure of any research to suggest the rate of corrupt politicians that get caught as compared to those who do not, but 50% of governors and almost 80 pols seems pretty high.
What does this mean? Well first, it means that replacing the governor will not solve the problems of corruption in Illinois. It does not matter the reputation or personal integrity of the person selected for that office. St. Francis of Assisi could be resurrected and placed in the Illinois State House, and that in and of itself would do nothing to clean up Illinois politics.
The state government, perhaps even the whole government infrastructure from local to state organizations, are corrupt at the institutional level. The rational process of government is distorted. In any institution, those most adept at fitting into the bureaucracy have a profound advantage for raising their status. When that institution is corrupt, corrupt individuals possess the advantage. It could be hypothesized, if this is the case, then the most corrupt individuals will congregate at the top of the hierarchy.
Secondly, the very legitimacy of state authority is questionable in the light of a history of scandals. An illegitimate power structure, lacking authority pressures those at the lower levels of the hierarchy in how they deal with the public. A principle function of government is to create and enforce laws. It is those at the lower levels who do the actual work of enforcement, police, civil servants and bureaucrats. This is the process of norm creation.
But if the instruments of formalizing norms is delegitimized, then it could happen that the norms themselves become meaningless. How can police enforce the rules on the public when those responsible for the institution exist outside of the very laws they create? Why should any citizen accept police authority, or bureaucratic authority within government institutions. A state of normlessness ensues.
And this normlessness puts strain on the society as a whole. If people do not feel that they can turn to the government for justice, then they may feel obligated to persue their own justice, as is the case with the Republic Windows and Doors employees.
The state structure of Illinois will need a radical restructuring to purge it of malingerers, thieves and racketeers. Yet who can the people of Illinois trust to make such a transition? When the very people we turn to to counter corruption are themselves corrupt, who can the people turn to? Such a purge, in and of itself, could be destabilizing.