Great Books on Political Corruption

Government corruption is universal. It is the duty of citizens to fight it at every turn, at every level of government, and in every generation. To arm yourself for the fight it's important to learn what you can from those who have gone before. Some of the greatest thinkers and leaders in history dedicated their lives to fighting corruption.

Many of the greatest books in history are small. Of course, there are some big ones too, but many of my favorites are small. Luckily, many of the greatest books explaining how political corruption works, and how to fight it, are small.

Here are the eight best authors on political corruption. These books and essays constitute a collection of knowledge that is astounding to behold. Reading even a few of these can change your entire perspective on society.

Frederic Bastiat

Bastiat was born in France in 1801 and died in Rome in 1850. He is one of the four major figures in the French Liberal School of economic thought, and made several important contributions to economics such as opportunity cost and the broken window fallacy.

Bastiat wrote a number of works. Right near the end of his life he started producing his best material. In 1848 he published a 12 page essay called "The State". In that paper he defines what the state is. It's a great work. Read it.

More famous than "The State" is Bastiat's 1850 pamphlet titled "The Law". In it he lays out exactly how corrupt people bend the laws of the nation so that they end up doing the exact opposite of what they're supposed to do. My copy is 55 pages long, and well worth the read.

Vaclav Havel

Havel was born in Czechoslovakia in 1936 and died in the Czech Republic in 2011. He was a playwright who made fun of Communism. The government didn't like that. He helped found several organizations that resisted the totalitarian overlords. That landed him in prison for a few years. After the Velvet Revolution he was the President of Czechoslovakia, and then President of the Czech Republic.

His book "The Power of the Powerless" was written in the late 1970s. It wasn't legal to write anything that the government didn't approve, so they had to secretly make copies and get them to people. In 146 pages he lays out exactly what people can do to fight back against a tyrannical bureaucracy. It's a beautiful dissection of how such a system devours freedom and human souls.

Hannah Arendt

Arendt was born in the German Empire in 1906 and died in New York City in 1975. She spent years running from the Nazis in Europe. She came up with the idea of the "banality of evil" while observing the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1962, which led to the Stanely Milgram obedience to authority experiments. She's probably the greatest political philosopher of the 20th century.

Arendt produced a lot of great written content. When you read her essays like "What is Freedom?" and "What is Authority?" you get an education that includes large and important swaths of history and philosophy in addition to politics. But the most important work for us here is her 25 page essay titled "Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government". After you get done with that paper you'll feel like you just read 250 pages worth of material.

Grover Cleveland

Cleveland was born in New Jersey in 1837 and died in New Jersey in 1908. He was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. His terms in office cover major changes with both the Democrat and Republican parties, and in the party system itself.

Cleveland was known for fighting political corruption and party bosses, and that's the most important thing that he did. In a 23 page speech titled "Good Citizenship" he lays out the duty of citizens to participate in government. Because without that there is no way to keep the power of the government in check.

Karl Jaspers

Jaspers was born in the German Empire in 1883 and died in Switzerland in 1969. In psychiatry he created the modern system of mental disorder classification. In history he created the idea of the Axial Age. In philosophy he heavily influenced existentialism.

Jaspers lived in Germany through World War Two with his Jewish wife. The Nazis hadn't allowed him to teach, but immediately after the war he started teaching again. His series of lectures was about the guilt that Germans incurred for the war. Different types of guilt for what they had done, and for what they hadn't done. His 123 page book "The Question of German Guilt" will make you question whether you're not doing something that you should be doing. And how important that is. My copy has a lot of red underlining in it.

Carl Jung

Jung was born in Switzerland in 1875 and died in Switzerland in 1961. He is one of the most important psychologists in history, having originated such things as archetypes and extroversion/introversion.

Jung was Agent 488 for the United States Office of Strategic Services during World War Two. He wrote a lot of stuff. Some of his works still aren't published. I think his most important work is a little 112 page book named "The Undiscovered Self". In this book Jung delves deep into the psychology of what creates and destroys society, and how the individual is the key. To transform the individual is to transform society itself.

George Orwell

Orwell is a pen name for Eric Blair, who was born in British India in 1903 and died in London in 1950. When people say Orwellian they mean something is a totalitarian dystopia. He invented the terms: Big Brother, Thought Police, Newspeak, doublethink, and thoughtcrime.

Orwell is well known for "Nineteen Eighty-Four", but an even better book is his little fairy tale called "Animal Farm". It's about how some animals overthrow the farmers to set up a utopic society, but that society turns out to be horribly corrupt. It's an easy to digest book of 140 pages that shows how someone like Stalin rises to power and rules.

Joseph Schumpeter

Schumpeter was born in Austria-Hungry in 1883 and died in the United States in 1950. He had three major goals in life: to be the greatest economist in the world, to be the best horseman in Austria, and to be the greatest lover in Vienna. He said he achieved two.

Schumpeter contributed an immense amount to economics, such as coining the term creative destruction, which is about how innovation changes industries. He was able to expand beyond that though and even came up with a new theory about the psychology of democratic elections.

His most famous book is "Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy". A part of that book specifically deals with how a society can become corrupt and then crumble from the inside. That part was published as its own 195 page book, "Can Capitalism Survive?", and it is incredibly insightful.

Other Stuff

I don't think it's possible to read even three of those short works without having a major change in how you see the world. Even one might help a lot of people see clearly through the confusion of political corruption.

There are other great works of course. Many of the great political thinkers throughout history have promoted political deliberation in a participatory democracy, and a lot of their works are quite useful: Aristotle, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Locke, Tocqueville, Jefferson, etc.

The Founding Fathers of the United States had a lot of great verbal and written debates on all aspects of government. Many of these are recorded in "The Federalist Papers" and "The Anti-Federalist Papers". George Washington's farewell address is chock full of wisdom.

Then there are people like Frederick Douglass. An escaped slave that was full of good insights about how societies corrupt themselves. I wrote about a lot of that in "The Opposite of Slavery":

There are also the books that show the worst; like "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl about the Holocaust, and "The Gulag Archipelago" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about the prison work and death camps in the Soviet Union.

Every single one of these is useful. The real key is to begin. And then to progress. And then to use that knowledge. People only demand freedom when there has been a violation of the public trust. When that moment comes you want to be prepared. You want to know the history of freedom. The people that have fought for it and the people that have thought about it. It takes both working together to make a difference. These small books are a part of making that difference.


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