December 13, 2021

Trust and Distrust: Corruption in Office in Britain and its Empire, 1600–1850 is published!

My book, Trust and Distrust: Corruption in Office in Britain and its Empire 1600-1850, has now been published by OUP. My copies arrived, appropriately enough, on International Anti-Corruption day.

cover from pdf

The book seeks to show

  • the importance of seeing corruption and anti-corruption over a 'long early modern' period, joining the eighteenth and early nineteenth century to important seventeenth century developments
  • the protracted and hard-fought nature of the development of the state, public office and office more generally. Sale of office, for example, took over 150 years to legislate for, and even then the process was not fully complete until 1871.
  • the development of the legal notion of 'trust' as it was applied to office, a concept that required standards of accountability, accounting, disinterestedness, care and integrity; but also the role of distrust of politicians and officials in limiting their ability to use their positions for private gain.
  • how domestic and imperial debates about corruption intertwined, and how hybrid public-private institutions and outsourced powers (such as the East India Company) often blurred the boundaries between licit and illicit behaviour
  • how ideas about, and definitions of, 'corruption' and 'office' evolved and changed over time
  • the growing importance of ideas about 'public money' and its accountability through commissions for public accounts, parliamentary inquiries and impeachments; but also of informal accountability mechanisms such as the press (which anti-corruption campaigners insisted ought to be free), public debate and whistleblowers
  • how rules were not in themselves sufficient to restrain behaviour and that public discussion about the ethics of office played an important part in calibrating what was acceptable
  • how anti-corruption was contested and therefore also both political and politicsed
  • the gestation of the concept and language of 'conflict of interest'
  • the ways in which social and cultural institutions such as friendship, gift-giving, patronage and kinship frequently meant that the dividing line between public and private was difficult to draw and how such institutions were (and arguably still are) invoked to legitimise what others condemn as corrupt behaviour. Understanding the restraints on reform may be as important as the factors pushing in its favour.
  • the study of corruption and anti-corruption offers a lens through which to explore tensions in state formation, tensions that resulted from war and colonial expansion as well as developments at home.
  • a shift from seeing some offices as sources of private gain to a more impersonal duty to the public
  • how the past can be instructive about the moral dilemmas involved in holding an office or exercising power, and how a historical cultural context shaped the evolution of British anti-corruption mentalities and processes.
  • how the study of ideas and of practice can be productively yoked together

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The Monster of Corruption, a detail from a satire of 1819

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Images on this site are Trustees of the British Museum. The views expressed on the blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the University.

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