The Corruption of Liberal and Social Democracies

25 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2015 Last revised: 14 Dec 2016

See all articles by Timothy K. Kuhner

Timothy K. Kuhner

University of Auckland, Faculty of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2016


Thomas Piketty repeats throughout Capital in the Twenty-First Century that today’s levels of inequality are not inevitable, much less natural, and has connected the state of democracy worldwide to rising economic inequality. Wealth transfers from the state to the private sector, wealth transfers from labor to capital, and tax laws favorable to the concentration of wealth require that the participatory and representative facets of democracy be kept in check. Beyond suitable material conditions, the growth and maintenance of inequality necessitates a justificatory ideology. This Article explores the possibility that the laws of political finance can help connect the dots. Legal patterns in the financing of campaigns and political parties point to two distinct forms of oligarchy in play: plutocracy, representing the decay of liberal democracy, and partyocracy, representing the decay of social democracy. Together, these legal forms of corruption appear to have co-opted democracy’s values and outputs, paving the way for neoliberalism. This Article focuses on plutocracy, the form of corruption most affecting the United States at present.

Keywords: Campaign finance, political theory, legal theory, democratic theory, political finance, liberal democracy, social democracy, constitutional interpretation, plutocracy, elections, corruption

Suggested Citation

Kuhner, Timothy K., The Corruption of Liberal and Social Democracies (January 1, 2016). 84 Fordham L. Rev. 2453 (2016), Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-25, Available at SSRN: or

Timothy K. Kuhner (Contact Author)

University of Auckland, Faculty of Law ( email )

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Auckland Mail Centre
Auckland, 1142
New Zealand


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