Essays in Political Economy
Edited by Susan Rose-Ackerman and Paul Lagunes
Chapter 5: Wielding the sword: President Xi’s new anti-corruption campaign
A state achieves legitimacy through multiple sources, one of which is the effectiveness of its governance. Generations of scholars since Hobbes have identified the maintenance of peace and order as core functions of a legitimate state. In the modern world, economic prosperity, social stability and effective control of corruption often provide adequate compensation for a deficit of democracy. Corruption closely correlates with legitimacy. While a perceived pervasive, endemic corruption undermines the legitimacy of a regime, a successful anti-corruption campaign can allow a regime to recover from a crisis of legitimacy (Gilley 2009; Seligson and Booth 2009). This is the rationale behind the periodical campaigns against corruption that have been conducted by the Chinese Communist Party (‘Party’ or ‘CCP’) (Manion 2004; Wedeman 2012). Political leaders in China have found it expedient to use anti-corruption campaigns to remove their political foes, to rein in the bureaucracy and to restore public confidence in their ability to rule. Through anti-corruption campaigns, emerging political leaders consolidate their political power, secure loyalty from political factions and regional political forces, and enhance their legitimacy in the eyes of the general public. In an authoritarian state that experiences a high level of corruption, an anti-corruption campaign is a delicate political battle that addresses two significant concerns. The first concern is to orchestrate the campaign so that it is regime-reinforcing instead of regime-undermining. To remain credible, the regime must demonstrate its willingness and capacity to punish corrupt officials at the highest levels.
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