Mark Knights: “Anti-corruption in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-century Britain”

Mark Knights , de l’Université de Warwick, présentera sa communication “Anti-corruption in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-century Britain” le jeudi 18 février, de 17h à 19h. Maison de la Recherche, 28 rue Serpente, Paris 6e , salle D421.

En raison des contrôles de sécurité, les personnes extérieures à Paris IV souhaitant assister à ce séminaire sont invitées à se munir d’une carte d’étudiant ou d’une carte professionnelle, ou encore d’une carte d’identité et de cette annonce imprimée.


This paper examines anti-corruption in Britain and its colonies, from the late sixteenth century reformation to the reform movements of the nineteenth century (when the term ‘anti-corruption’ was coined). There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to treat the topic across a period of 250 years.

The first is to emphasise that cultural, administrative and political changes took a very long time to effect: anti-corruption was waged in bitter skirmishes that were part of a long battle drawn out over a very considerable timeframe. There was no quick ‘anti-corruption’ moment, even if the pace of change did undoubtedly accelerate during some key periods, such as the 1640s-50s, and the 1780s-1830s.
Second, treating the topic over several hundred years shows that although ‘early modernity’ was a period of transition, it was not a simple linear process towards a modern, uncorrupt state. Corruption was not simply eradicated in the nineteenth century; and there were interesting fluctuations both in the scale and success of anti-corruption over time. Seeing anti-corruption in terms of waves of activity and success seems more realistic than a teleological trajectory that charts progress towards the triumph of anti-corruption.

Third, we should be wary about suggesting too abrupt a shift from a corrupt pre-modern world to a non-corrupt modern one, and about equating anti-corruption solely with modernisation. In the era of the renaissance and reformation, an anti-corruption ethos (as opposed to state reforming measures) was driven by religious and humanist motives but that did not mean that those forces were weak or ineffective. Anti-corruption, then, was not just a modern concern or symptom of modernity; it just took different forms at different times to meet changing circumstances in the dynamic religious, political, administrative, legal, economic, social and cultural spheres.