Realism About Political Corruption

Posted: 12 May 2015

See all articles by Mark Philp

Mark Philp

University of Warwick - Department of History

Elizabeth Dávid-Barrett

University of Sussex

Date Written: May 2015


This article explores how realism in political theory can inform our understanding of political corruption. Whereas political moralists see corruption as a problem of implementation, which does not undermine their values, realists see corruption as posing a more fundamental problem, challenging the very nature of politics and undermining the attempt to establish and exercise authority in the ordering of conflict and the allocation of resources. Recent realist work has sought to characterize a discrete type of “institutional” corruption, and to construct political corruption as the antithesis of good governance or impartiality. Other work has focused on the micro level, drawing on new insights from psychology and experimental economics to analyze individual decisions and motivations to behave corruptly. This article challenges scholars to build future research upon a richer understanding of the realities of political life that are intrinsic to both individual and institutional patterns of corruption.

Suggested Citation

Philp, Mark and David-Barrett, Elizabeth, Realism About Political Corruption (May 2015). Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 18, pp. 387-402, 2015, Available at SSRN: or

Mark Philp (Contact Author)

University of Warwick - Department of History ( email )

Coventry CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

Elizabeth David-Barrett

University of Sussex ( email )

Sussex House
Brighton, Sussex BNI 9RH
United Kingdom

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