Corrupt leadership is not the root cause of a country’s problems but rather the effect of another greater problem, which is the ‘corruption of knowledge’.
IN a democratic society people are “the masters” because they have the power to choose their leaders. It is assumed that the majority of the public know what is good for them and the country, and that they will only choose good people as their leaders because only good people will be able to bring goodness to society.
Hence, democracy comes hand in hand with proper education where people are taught how to make right decisions in their life. This education should enable the public to know what kind of life they ought to live, what kind of society to promote, nurture, and defend, and what kind of people to lead them towards achieving those ends.
So, if in the end, it is corrupt leaders who are being elected to power, we can only conclude that society as a whole must have been wrongly educated.
It simply means that the kind of education the people received did not give them the ability to recognise true leaders, or the courage to acknowledge them. It means that education has made them generally ignorant and cowardly; both combined are the root cause of all forms of corruption.
We must admit that “corrupt leaders” do not just emerge out of nowhere and suddenly are entrusted to lead society. Corrupt leadership, according to Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, is not the root cause of our problem but rather the effect of another greater problem which he calls the “corruption of knowledge”.
Corruption means the impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle. It is a departure from the original, or from what is pure or correct.
The word “corruption” is usually used in reference to dishonesty and illegal behaviour by people in positions of authority and power. A corrupt person behaves in a way that is morally wrong, punctuated by dishonesty in return for money or power.
Corrupt leaders, according to Prof Syed Muhammad Naquib , can only emerge from and thrive in a corrupt society. They are actually false leaders, meaning they are not qualified to carry out the responsibility entrusted upon them.
Yet they are still given the responsibility by a misguided society, and that indicates that that society is actually deeply immersed in a crisis of knowledge, to the extent it cannot differentiate between true leaders and charlatans. In such a society true leaders will never be recognised and acknowledged.
Having said that, the well-known saying, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” has to be put in the correct perpective. To take this saying in its literal sense means to believe that anybody who is in a position of power will inevitably become corrupt.
Such a belief is fallacious and dangerous. It rests on the assumption that humans are naturally evil and self-centered. One who holds such a belief could also believe that “might makes right”, or be an idle skeptic, who believes in no hope, and would laugh at any suggestion to reform the human condition.
The majority of people, however, still believe that humans are naturally good and despise evil. So they would take the saying above as a reminder that power tends to corrupt people, but power itself is neither good nor evil, it is man who makes good or evil use of it.
As such, society has to make sure that power is in the hands of good people, oppose any form of corruption, and seek to reform a corrupt administration or a system that breeds corrupt practices.
If corruption is a departure from what is good, pure or correct, it is incumbent to know in the first place what is good, pure, or correct in order to be able to recognise whether or not corruption has occured.
That is the role of teachers and educators: to liberate the public from ignorance by making them aware of the assumptions, inconsistencies and contradictions of the politicians on major issues affecting them. This, however, will not happen if the scholars themselves are corrupt.
“Corruption of the best is corruption at its worst”, goes the saying. It is indeed worse than the corruption of the politicians and public administrators. As such, if we want to fight corruption we must begin with the universities.
We must make sure that the universities do not become breeding grounds for corrupt leaders devoid of intellectual and moral integrity.
Professors who profess nothing other than their allegiance to their political masters should not teach in our universities because they will only perpetuate cowardice and flattery.
In the 5th century BC, rhetoric was commonly taught and practised to influence people in order to gain money, fame and power.
It was used by the sophists and their students to promote and defend corrupt ideas, such as the opinion that pleasure and power should be the ultimate ends of human life, and to scorn those who insist on pursuing the way of virtue.
Gorgias of Leontini (483-375 BC), the celebrated teacher of rhetoric, was a sophist who doubted that we can ever know the truth or, if we can know it, that we should be able to communicate it to others.
His doubts led him to abandon the search for objective truth. Instead of appealing to the intelligence through logical argument he taught his students to use rhetoric (the art of persuasion) by appealing to feelings and emotions.
Politicians, then and now, are notorious for their use of rhetoric. They know that not many people are intelligent enough to weigh arguments and verify the evidence presented to them. Today, rhetoric coupled with rigorous advertising and public relations exercises are used extensively to influence public opinion.
Rhetoric uses language without logic, while advertising and public relations manipulate images and events to mislead the innocent public. And those who control the media easily control one’s choices and decisions.
Democracy, therefore, is about who commands the support of the majority, not about who is right or wrong.
The solution to the problem is not found merely in demanding a free media. Free media in the sense of being free from political affiliation or patronage does not guarantee that people would have the freedom of choice.
Freedom is an attribute of the soul, and what we call “freedom of choice” would not be possible without knowledge.