Agencies of World Reform
Corruption and the Fifth Chapter of Panorthosia
By John Taylor; 2010 March 24, Ala' 04, 166 BE
Today let us continue our essay series on John Amos Comenius's ideas about how to eliminate corruption.
Defining Justice and Corruption; Balance and Moderation
Like a well managed flock of sheep, society has to balance security, the sheepdogs that guide and protect the flock, with enterprise and growth, the sheep themselves. Too much of one or the other will bankrupt a pastoral farmer.
This state of moderate balance we term justice. The Arabic word for justice, "'Adl," comes from the problem of loading a camel. Too much weight on one side or the other will at worst topple the beast of burden, and at best it will tire it long before other, properly loaded animals.
Furthermore, the greater the weight in question, the more crucial proper balance becomes. A recent study of the gait of running elephants found that these largest of land animals move less than two centimetres around their center of balance when they are running at top speed. With so much mass to move, any jostling at all would shake it apart. This implies that the more universal the justice, the more important moderation and balance become. Justice on the world level, therefore, must be extremely stable in order to move the seven billion souls that make up the human race anywhere at all.
This definition of justice applies especially to the question of corruption. Corruption is a state of imbalance that prematurely weakens and impedes the natural progress of society.
Reform Starts By Extirpating Corruption
In the fifth chapter of Panorthosia, called "The Idea of Universal Reform," Comenius sets up two apparently contradictory facets of truth that security officials must keep in balance. The first is the need, as far as possible, to avoid being infected with the attitudes and thinking of the corrupt,
"To be uncorrupted is better than to be reformed, for being constantly is better than being intermittently. It is better not to be wounded, than to be healed. It is better not to commit crime than to pray for forgiveness." (Panorthosia, Ch. 5, Para 3, p. 88)
Avoidance of the causes of criminality is the preventive medicine of security. It is far better to avoid wrongdoing in the first place than to have catch and punish wrongdoers. It follows, therefore, that the real front line of any policing operation is not the beat cop but the teachers in the schools. Protection of society must be a major concern of all, but especially of intellectuals.
On the other hand, Comenius says, one is often better for having been infected and worked a form of corruption out of one's system. Many illness leave the survivor with immunity from future infection. As Nietzsche said, what does not kill me only makes me stronger. Two hundred years before, Comenius put it like this:
"Nevertheless to be reformed to a better or fuller or stronger state than before is better than to be uncorrupted." (Ch. 5, Para 3, p. 88)
Thus every crime or instance of corruption must be looked upon as a learning experience. Don't just call in the detectives after a murder, call in the teachers, professors and thinkers. For once a learning experience is understood, it then becomes a teaching opportunity. It is important, therefore, to distinguish between what is inherently good, and what is not, before we can say that something is basically or incidentally corrupt. As Comenius puts it, "A Subject of Reform is a good thing which has begun to be corrupted and must be restored to its former condition." (Id.) If it is not essentially good, it is harder to deal with.
"A thing that is not good in itself is more liable to corruption than to reform."
Comenius evidently is seeking to extend the parable of the house built on the foundation of sand and the house on rock. He compares this aspect of the elimination of corruption to a building. A thing that is not a good in itself is a building that is located "on a disagreeable, unhealthy site." As long as there is mobility and choice, nobody will want to go near such a building, so its state of purity or corruption is moot. Things that are inherently good are likely to be less corrupt than otherwise,
"The less corrupt things are more easily reformed (like a building with some trivial structural fault). Things that are exceedingly corrupt are difficult to reform (like a building in a tumble-down condition)."
Thus the job of the security professional is not to monitor and control every move that every individual makes, it is simply to shift the overall balance so that society can move forward efficiently. This demands a proper understanding both of universals and of what is best left to rot.
"A thing that is utterly corrupt is not open to reform. If it must be restored, it needs to be constructed anew, such as a building that has collapsed, a garment that is completely worn out, a vine that is completely destroyed, a clock that is totally damaged, or a life that is lost. (For there is no medicine for the dead)." (Para 3, p. 87-88)
Universal Measures Against Corruption
If there is to be reform on a universal level, which is the very title of the work in question, Universal Reform, or Panorthosia, there must be some way to abolish the skewed burdens and unfair distribution that lead to corruption. Comenius holds that a solution to corruption can only be worked out by applying reason and spreading education,
"Without knowledge of the causes of corruption, he does not know the form of his restoration. ... Without knowledge of the cures, he does not know the efficient means to his restoration. This means that he does not know how to reform corrupt things. On the other hand, an understanding of the causes of corruption is the foundation of reform." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 5, Para 5, p. 88)
Comenius uses the example of a farmer whose fields are threatened with flooding. The systematic approach he uses is the same thing we should do when faced with corruption,
"If you wish to stop a flood which is destroying your fields, you must put up flood-gates, divert the waters or drain them away; and to prevent their return, you must build an embankment on both sides of the river, so that the waters cannot breach it or overflow again. In time you will have reformed the dangers of flood damage. (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 5, Para 8, p. 89)
Our family lives on land in Ontario beside the Grand River. As in Comenius's example, it was constantly under threat of severe flooding until a system of barrages and fish gates was built along its entire length in the late 1970's. Building reinforced embankment did not prove necessary; a simple system of concrete floodgates in the towns of Dunnville and Caledonia solved the problem long before we moved here. In order to build such a system, expert knowledge was necessary, along with the means, money and materials, and organization, government authority, a bureaucracy and police to maintain rule of law. All these are necessary to solve any large problem -- the difficulty now is that at the world level these means are not yet operative.
"The Agency of Reform is something that has the power to reform a thing. (Obviously every original agency needs an instrument to assist it in action). Hence the axiom: Nothing is reformed unless an agency of reform is forthcoming). The power of the agency of reform can be subdivided into three functions (1) to check the corrupting factors, (2) to restore corrupt things to their proper form, (3) to establish them when reformed. Hence the axioms:
I. Evil is not removed unless you remove its cause.
II. Nothing is reformed unless you restore it to its true form.
III. Corruption returns very easily, unless you firmly establish the things that have been restored." (Ibid.)
Comenius's suggestion here to make up universal tools for extirpating corruption is a good mission statement for a department of planetary security under a world government.
The task of this security agency would be largely technical. It is impossible for the average person to say exactly what a world security apparatus might do to reduce corruption. For the same reason back in the 1970's it would not have been possible for anybody but a civil engineer to decide what might stop the flooding on the Grand River. However, we the people can and must draw up general principles for experts to follow. One of the most important is the principle of keeping everybody honest.
This principle cannot be fully implemented under a state capitalist system that breeds and thrives in a closed atmosphere of rivalry, competition and secrecy. Often officials are more cloaked than the criminals they are charged with controlling. Under a world government, though, the dream of complete transparency would at last be possible. Open bidding in fair auctions would precede every purchase. The use of undercover agents would cease, and every security agent would be charged with speaking the truth under all conditions -- studies have found doctors and police officers lie more often than any other profession.