Camila Vergara

Monday, November 18, 2019 - 19:00 to 20:00
Netherlands Institute at Athens, Makri 11
Event Description: 

Camila Vergara (Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Columbia Law School), "Oligarchic Democracy: Corruption as Systemic Political Decay"
Discussant Prof. D. Charalampis, moderator Dr Spyridon Tegos

If one agrees that the minimal normative expectation of liberal democracies is that
governments advance the welfare of the majority within constitutional safeguards,
increasing income inequality and the relative immiseration of the majority of citizens would
be in itself a deviation from good rule, a sign of corruption. I theorize the crisis of democracy
from a structural point of view, arguing that liberal representative governments suffer from
systemic corruption, a form of political decay towards oligarchy. After surveying different
conceptions of corruption in the history of political thought as well as recent attempts at
redefining political corruption, I argue that we moderns still lack a proper conception of
systemic corruption comparable in sophistication to the one offered by the ancients because
we are as yet unable to account for the role that procedures and institutions play in
fostering corruption through their normal functioning. I propose to define systemic
corruption as a long-term, slow-moving process of oligarchization of society’s political
structure: the rules, procedures, and institutions that affect the sociopolitical realm. In such
a conception, inequality is factor of corruption because it enables inequality of political
influence and the drift toward oligarchic democracy. Under this framework, neoliberalism,
as an ideology that has the effect of increasing socio-economic inequality, is conceived as a
corrupting ideology because it enables the further oligarchization of liberal democracy. I
analyze the case of the recent popular uprising in Chile, ground zero of the neoliberal
experiment, as an example of systemic corruption and the inadequacy of the current
corruption index to capture democracy’s drift into oligarchy.