Priti Patel, ancient Rome and moral leadership

by Daniel Hough

Daniel Hough does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Priti Patel’s ignominious departure from the UK cabinet after it emerged that she had held undeclared meetings with Israeli officials during a personal holiday exposes many flaws in her conduct. The commentariat tells us she showed a lack of judgement, a lack of awareness of due process and a willingness to conduct what, in effect, was her own foreign policy.

One word that hasn’t come up so frequently is “corruption”. That’s in many ways understandable. Corruption is generally understood in transactional terms with four key parts. An act is understood as corrupt if there is a (i) deliberate attempt (ii) to abuse (iii) entrusted power (iv) for some sort of private gain. Corruption is normally regarded as a process rather than an outcome and acts that tick all of those boxes are subsequently judged as such. That all of those terms can and do require some sort of external judgement to be made ensures that we can’t talk about objective realities. We do, however, have a decent starting point for making sense of a complex world.

This understanding of corruption is, however, relatively new. Indeed, it’s only in the past few decades that corruption has been understood in this form. Yet corruption has, of course, been around for as long as humans have sought to organise themselves. Aristotle, for example, argued corruption is a symbol of the dysfunctionality of states that have moved away from their “pure” state of being. For Aristotle and a number of his contemporaries, corruption has a clear moral dimension and that moral core is the very essence of corruption, leading inevitably to decay, degradation and ultimately state failure.

Why Rome fell

A similar logic has been used by historians such as Ramsay McMullen when they argue that the ever-deepening problem of corruption is the primary reason the Roman Empire fell.

MacMullen’s thesis is straightforward and well documented: corruption led successive governments to concentrate more on the need to generate private gains (of whatever sort) for themselves and their supporters, and less on the demands of running a large and complex empire. The moral core that characterised much of the thinking of Rome’s founders had withered away over time; subsequent Roman leaders not only lost control of the government, but the government lost sight of what it existed to do. Even when it became apparent that corruption was at the core of the administration’s work, attempts at reform came too late. Like a cancer, corruption had penetrated too many parts of the public ethos.

The fall of Rome was also pivotal in Montesquieu’s thinking on corruption (and state failure). He explained in detail how the virtuous thinking of Rome’s founders helped it become an empire, but how the corruption of Rome’s moral fibre ultimately brought the empire down. For Montesquieu and MacMullen, as well as many others, corruption was at the very core of Rome’s descent into dissolution.

A question of morals

Corruption, no matter how it is defined, certainly has a moral dimension to it. That remains so regardless of the fact that many would prefer to couch their analysis, and, indeed, their prescriptions, in the language of rationality, interests, costs and benefits.

Much of the recent work on corruption – produced largely by those with the economist’s mind-set – has purposefully avoided the moral minefield and instead aspired to embrace some sort of objective understanding of corruption. That’s ultimately unlikely to be a fruitful way forward in terms of actually fighting corruption in practice; morals drive understandings of what’s appropriate and ignoring them doesn’t mean that they simply go away.

Bringing issues of morality back into our analysis subsequently helps us comprehend much more about what we understand corruption to be as well as how (and, indeed, whether) we go about tackling it. The moral dimension to the corruption challenge, therefore, cannot be an optional extra.

It’s with that in mind that the behaviour of Priti Patel is so interesting. There is little evidence to suggest that she might be guilty of corruption in the modern understanding of the term, but she certainly did do things that corruption analysts of yesteryear would recognise as falling in to that category. At a push one could certainly argue she broke the ministerial code and that’s clearly a process violation. But it is really by looking at broader normative issues of what’s right, why it’s right and how we can recognise it as such do we really see why behaviour such as Patel’s can be so corrosive.

Rome ultimately didn’t fall because of the specific acts of one person. Rome’s problems escalated over time as the moral core that characterised the thinking of Rome’s founders ceased to shape their decision-making. Theresa May is hardly Romulus Augustus, but a government that neglects the importance of moral leadership is in dangerous waters. If nothing else, Priti Patel’s resignation should give us reason to ponder the ramifications of that.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.




To subscribe to Facts and Arts' weekly newsletter, please click here.

To follow Facts & Arts' Editor, Olli Raade, on Twitter, please click here.

If you have something to say that you want to say on Facts & Arts, please

Write to the Editor, or write a comment in the comments section.

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Added 12.06.2018
Extract: “Nothing is beautiful except what is true,” Cézanne once said, “and only true things should be loved.” As the philosopher Jacques Derrida put it: “The truth in painting is signed Cézanne.” Perhaps it is this above all else that makes him the indispensible painter for our times, this era of so-called ‘post-truth.’ For Cézanne “painting was truth telling or it was nothing.” That is what it meant to paint from nature, to be primitive, to be free from all affectation, to be like those “first men who engraved their dreams of the hunt on the vaults of caves…” This is why we need to look and look again at Cézanne. And it is perhaps best that he has come to the National Gallery, to D.C., but a stone’s throw away from where truth is daily made a mockery of, and lies are proffered with breathtaking ease.
Added 06.06.2018
Extracts from the article: "Johnson and Johnson recently announced that it was halting a clinical trial for a new Alzheimer’s drug after safety issues emerged. This latest failure adds to the dozens of large, costly clinical trials that have shown no effect in treating this devastating disease. The growing list of failures should give us pause for thought – have we got the causes of Alzheimer’s all wrong?".............."Another option is to look at the risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s. One of these is type 2 diabetes." ............"Testing these [diabetes] drugs in animal models of another neurodegenerative disorder, Parkinson’s disease, also showed impressive effects, ............These new theories bring a fresh view on how these diseases develop and increase the likelihood of developing a drug treatment that makes a difference. To see any protective effect in the brain in a clinical trial is completely new, and it supports the new theory that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are caused, at least in part, by a lack of growth factor activity in the brain. These new theories bring a fresh view on how these diseases develop and increase the likelihood of developing a drug treatment that makes a difference."
Added 01.06.2018
Extract from the article: "The most common defense of truth is the pragmatic one – namely, that truth works; that true beliefs are more likely to get the job done than those that are not true. The pragmatic account of the value of truth is not wrong, but at the same time it is not enough. Truth is not valuable for solely instrumental or extrinsic reasons. Truth has intrinsic value as well. When we reduce the value of truth to instrumentality, it is a very short step to saying that we just want beliefs that work for us, regardless of whether they are true or not."
Added 14.05.2018
During the first century of modern art, Paris was a magnet for ambitious artists from all over Europe. Remarkably, the current exhibition at Paris’ Petit Palais tells us that “Between 1789 and 1914, over a thousand Dutch artists traveled to France.” Prominent among these were Ary Scheffer, Johan Jongkind, Jacob Maris, Kees van Dongen. But of course most prominent were Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondrian.
Added 10.05.2018
The Jewish Museum in New York City is currently presenting the work of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943), featuring just over thirty paintings by one of the most distinctive and significant artists of the early twentieth century. Focusing on still life paintings, of which he was a master, "Chaim Soutine: Flesh" includes his vigorous depictions of various slaughtered animals - of beef carcasses, hanging fowl, and game. These are dynamic works of great boldness and intensity, and taken together they constitute a sustained and profoundly sensuous interrogation of the flesh, of carnality - of blood, skin and sinew.
Added 08.05.2018
The impact of air pollution on human health is well-documented. We know that exposure to high levels of air pollutants raises the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But there is growing evidence to suggest that air pollution does not just affect our health – it affects our behaviour too.
Added 05.05.2018
 

The May bank holiday is intimately linked to labour history and to struggles over time spent at work. In the US, May Day has its origins in the fight for an eight-hour work day at the end of the 19th century.

Added 01.05.2018
Quote from the article: "Who is talking about how globalized the world was between 1880 and 1914 -- until war broke out and fascists subsequently determined the course of history -- and the parallels between then and now? Globalization always had a down side, and was never meant to last forever -- but the gurus chose not to talk about it. It is always just a question of time until economic nationalism reappears, but the gurus have done a poor job of addressing the nexus between economics and politics, and its impact on business, which is the real story."
Added 29.04.2018
"......if we did manage to stop the kind of ageing caused by senescent cells using telomerase activation, we could start devoting all our efforts into tackling these additional ageing processes. There’s every reason to be optimistic that we may soon live much longer, healthier lives than we do today."
Added 29.04.2018
Many countries have introduced a sugar tax in order to improve the health of their citizens. As a result, food and drink companies are changing their products to include low and zero-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar. However, there is growing evidence that sweeteners may have health consequences of their own. New research from the US, presented at the annual Experimental Biology conference in San Diego, found a link with consuming artificial sweeteners and changes in blood markers linked with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in rats. Does this mean we need to ditch sweeteners as well as sugar?
Added 25.04.2018
Female doctors show more empathy than male doctors. They ask their patients more questions, including questions about emotions and feelings, and they spend more time talking to patients than their male colleagues do. Some have suggested that this might make women better doctors. It may also take a terrible toll on their mental health.
Added 25.04.2018
The English-born Thomas Cole (1801-1848) is arguably America's first great landscape painter - the founder of the Hudson River School, the painter who brought a romantic sensibility to the American landscape, and sought to preserve the rapidly disappearing scenery with panoramas that invoke the divinity in nature. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Thomas Cole: Atlantic Crossings" is an astounding exhibition featuring a painter of extraordinary power and vision, underscoring his environmentalism and the deep sense of loss that pervades many works as he reflects on deforestation, the intrusion of the railroad, and the vanishing beauty of the untrammeled wilderness.
Added 23.04.2018
Quantitative evidence from three independent sources — auction prices, textbook illustrations, and counts of paintings included in retrospective exhibitions — all pointed to the fact that some important modern artists made their greatest work late in their careers — Cézanne, for example, in his 60s, and Kandinsky and Rothko in their 50s. But the same evidence indicated that other important artists produced their greatest work very early — Picasso, Johns, and Stella, for example, all in their 20s. Why was this was the case: why did great artists do their best work at such different stages of their careers? I couldn’t answer this question until I understood what makes an artist’s work his or her best.
Added 19.04.2018

People of all ages are at risk from diseases brought on by loneliness, new data has revealed.

Added 09.04.2018

I was a senior university student in Baghdad, Iraq. It was March 2003, and over the past few months, my classmates had whispered to each other about the possibility of a US-led invasion and the likelihood that 35 years of dictatorship and tyranny could be brought to an end.

Added 26.03.2018
In 1815, 69-year old Francisco de Goya painted a small self-portrait. Today it hangs in Madrid’s majestic Prado Museum. Next to it are the two enormous paintings of the uprising of May, 1808, in which Madrid’s citizens had been slaughtered by Napoleon’s troops, that Goya had painted in 1814 for King Ferdinand VII, to be hung in Madrid’s Royal Palace. One of these, of the execution of Spanish civilians by a French firing squad, is now among the most famous images in the history of Western art.
Added 15.03.2018

Soon after I enrolled as a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1964, I encountered a fellow student, two years ahead of me in his studies, who was unsteady on his feet and spoke with great difficulty. This was Stephen Hawking.

Added 03.03.2018

A lack of essential nutrients is known to contribute to the onset of poor mental health in people suffering from anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and

Added 27.02.2018

Mindfulness is big business, worth in excess of US$1.0 billion in the US alone and linked – somewhat paradoxically – to an expanding range of must have products.