I don’t usually say this — in fact, I’ve never said it — but go read Frank Rich: specifically, his long column on the Decade of Bamboozlement . Beneath the flash of the cons that characterized the past ten years, however, is a quieter and truer truth: corruption. It is, as even Machiavelli would admit, exceedingly difficult to avoid corruption in the course of a life devoted to seeming and not being . (Someone still needs to connect the dots between mass faux friendship and “actor’s faith” among democratic individuals.) Over the course of this decade, we have seen big cons revealed time and again to be the opposite of what they seemed. But the key to understanding how and why we are living in the age of the con is to rediscover the meaning of corruption.

When people speak of corruption they refer to corruption of the spirit and corruption of the flesh. Correspondingly, reactions against corruption have taken political and anti-political form. One of the primary tensions on the right nowadays being between those who want to fight corruption by rallying around classical republicanism and those who put more faith in the repudiation of political struggle itself, we might infer that enemies of corruption are destined to be divided. But this would be wrong. Though the anti-corruption coalition as a whole might never be more united than the average Venn diagram, the diagram’s middle portion contains some individuals convinced of the necessity of both a political and a non-political response to corruption — and able to organize the entire coalition, or a decisive chunk of it, accordingly. When this class of leaders appears, this particular age of the con will at last near an end.

But not, I think, without a fight. We have compiled a long list of excuses for corruption, and we may surprise ourselves in our hesitance to forget them.

Articles by James Poulos

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