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A History of Dutch Corruption and Public Morality (1648-1940)

A History of Dutch Corruption and Morality showcases 300 years of change, continuity, and diversity in the history of Dutch political corruption and public morality. It analyses a series of corruption scandals and shows how the following debates were connected to the big changes of that time: from the Dutch Republic, to the Age of Enlightenment and the Batavian Revolution into the era of the modern parliamentary democracy.

Toon Kerkhoff, Ronald Kroeze, Pieter Wagenaar & Michel Hoenderboom
04 August 2020

The book showcases a large variety in what was considered to be corruption: bailiffs accepting personal payment to buy off a prosecution; tax gatherers withholding money; mayors dividing jobs between themselves; money from the war chest disappearing into private pockets journalists receiving bribes; preventing political friends from being prosecuted. These matters were not incidents and preventative measures were taken, ranging from a ban on gifts to laws on official bribery. Even democracy and modern bureaucracy in itself were seen as corruption prevention measures. Yet many forms of corruption were tolerated, often as a result of political administrative circumstances. This book addressing good and bad governance and corrupt public officers provides insight into a fascinating history as well as the foundations on which the current political administrative system and its morality have been built. It shows, for instance, the strengths and weaknesses of the current Dutch approach on corruption. The book also offers a concise comparison with other European countries. 


•    Contrary to popular images of the corrupt regents of the Ancien Regime; there were in fact limits to what administrators were allowed to keep for themselves during the period of the Dutch Republic (1588-1795). 
•    A shift can be detected from co-existing moral systems in early modern times to a more commonly shared single moral system in modern times;
•    Corruption and public morale were continuously given meaning in a complex context of state formation, democratisation and the constantly shifting dividing line between public and private;
•    Corruption prevention benefits most from the voicing popular grievances and protests of those who are left behind - often in the context of a scandal - against particularism (a small elite claiming power and means) and pro-universalism (towards a government based on justice and equality before the law);
•    The modern democracy, that has been shaped by the constitutional amendment of 1848, is not free from corruption scandals, serious or otherwise;
•    Prominent names from Dutch political history have been subject op corruption debates; from Stadtholder William V to Minister Van Maanen (King William I's most important minister); and from Thorbecke to Kuyper;
•    What is perceived as corruption changes continuously. Even though many existing studies and corruption prevention organisations claim otherwise by emphasising the timeless and universal definitions of corruptions. This study challenges the reader to take a fresh look at the ingrained assumptions claiming unjustly that through the ages corruption in the 'Northern' Netherlands can be seen as isolated incidents.
•    The administration of the colonies and the actions of the Dutch trade and industry were also frequently cause for intense corruption debates in Dutch politics.

Current affairs

•    President Trump preventing an ally to go to jail due to political reasons; the former Dutch ambassador to Nigeria being forced to resign for passing on sensitive information to  private companies such as  Shell, despite of his public function; customs inspectors at the Port of Rotterdam allowing drugs to pass in exchange for money; tax privileges and rulings for those people with the right contacts and enough money to be able to afford lawyers; politicians and civil servants making the wrong choices; this study helps to understand how corruption comes into being and what can be done to prevent it;
•    The study shows why certain behaviours are considered problematic today by demonstrating that thinking about present-day good governance is based on public values and morals that have a long history in continuity, change, and diversity. The current meaning and appreciation of, for instance, representation, neutrality, or legitimacy did not come from nowhere;
•    The study is relevant and on trend because it shows that over the centuries corruption keeps re-emerging in different forms. Making the need for corruption prevention an ongoing cause for concern. Which is why politicians and the public should remain vigilant in what they perceive as legitimate use of public offices and means. Corruption prevention is never 'finished', because the context of good and bad behaviour will continue to change;
•    The study shows that so-called 'one-size-fits-all' assumptions about corruption prevention and integrity are historically incorrect and provide poor advice for today's situation. In order to understand corruption, the specific political and socio-economical context of the moment should be analysed carefully. Only then can you create an understanding of effective preventative measures, which can also be applied within a European or global context. Stereotypes about the integrity of the 'North' and the corruption in the 'South' are clouding the real issues 'here' and 'there'. What has proven to be successful in one country can easily lead to failure in the next. 

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