Photo by Sarah Joy (CC)

No society, developed or developing, northern or southern, escapes the problem of corruption. Every political system, democratic or non-democratic, struggles to maintain the integrity of its institutions. This is a common problem, yet we approach it with differing visions of what public integrity is, what accountability means and how to define and respect the obligations of public office holding. Inherited legacies of colonial rule, political economies, and patrimonial traditions of authority create moral path dependencies that shape but also deform each society's attempt to maintain integrity and honesty in public office. A commonplace of inter-cultural condescension is the idea that certain societies encourage—and are then captured by—a "culture of corruption." One important purpose of a dialogue is to subject this idea to critical scrutiny and to ask whether norms about integrity and trust in public office holding are culturally relative. Or whether in fact there is more agreement about corruption's evil than one would expect. Corruption eats away at all societies and does damage to all of them, in different but devastating ways. If it harms all of us, what progress could we make in refining and re-stating the universal norms that will help all of our societies to rebuild basic trust in our institutions and our office-holders?

--Centennial Chair Michael Ignatieff

Excerpt from Global Ethical Dialogues: Concept Paper