IMPARTIALITY AND PERSONAL MORALITY
Every anthropologist finds himself in possession of facts that he cannot publish, since to do so would injure the reputation or betray the confidence of friends and informants with whom he has been working. But the case may well be more serious. In societies with formal governments and bureaucracies, laws and regulations are normally stretched, evaded or ignored for personal reasons. Such evasions are plainly an important part of the social structure. Yet to discuss them presents a number of difficulties..
In the first place, the words available are all strongly moral; favouritism, nepotism, malpractice, corruption. When anthropologists took to the study of belief systems, they abandoned the word superstition on the grounds that it means no more than (( beliefs which I think false and silly )) and used instead the neutral word (( beliefs )). But we have no neutral word for evasions of legal and administrative rules, nor for the normal human practice of making use of bureaucratic positions to further private interests in ways inconsistent with the official tasks of the bureaucracy. It is not my purpose or aim to allocate moral blame, or to grade societies morally. The almost universal moral disapproval of these practices is clearly one of the relevant facts. Since disapproval is automatically expressed whichever of the available words one uses, some people will assume that I am attacking something or someone. I can only protest that I have no such purpose, and that if anything, my analysis would serve better the purposes of counsel for the defence than those of the prosecutor. Indeed, I am exposing myself at one and the same time to the danger of charges of condoning immorality, and of charges of publishing malevolent calumny.
My topic presents two more practical difficulties. The first is collecting data. I was lead to attempt this article while I was in the field in south Italy by the frequency, which I found astonishing (naively, I am told by non-British friends), of accusations of malpractice. As we know from studies of gossip and of witchcraft systems (Colson, 1953; Evans-Pritchard, 1931; Gluckman, 195?; Middleton, 1963, etc.), the prevalence of malicious accusations does not necessarily establish their truth, or even a prima facie probability. Attempts to unearth definite evidence very often fail; it is someone else, other people in general, who are accused, without names and without details. Secondly, if one does establish certainty or high probability in specific cases, it is impossible to publish the evidence, and such cases still tell us nothing about the frequency of such practices in the society. I therefore offer only a discussion in general terms, without case analysis.
In the last sentence of his study of Spain, Michael Kenny writes of a the dilemma
of segmentary personal loyalties having to work within and often against the nationalising
impersonality of official systems of authority )) (Kenny, 1961, p. 236). He appears
be contrasting the specific personal duties between kin, neighbours, friends, patrons and clients, fellow townsmen or fellow tribesmen at the local level, with the duty to achieve the impartial and thrifty use of public resources through impersonal and efficient administration in the national interest.
This distinction suggests at once the numerous attempts to characterise the contrast between primitive and civilised, simple and complex, small scale and large scale, folk and urban, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, closed and open. In fact none of these contrasts quite fits the communities of South Italy, yet Kenny's distinction makes excellent sense.
Traditional southern society can hardly be called small scale, primitive or folk, though in a sense the adjective (( closed )) fits fairly well. Even in the hills and mountains of Calabria and Lucania, most people still live in concentrations smaller than these are usually closely tied socially to larger ones. In the towns, in which normally at least four fifths of the people were until very recently actively engaged in agriculture, and the rest lived off it directly or indirectly, there has always been a property owning class, supplying an educated minority of local rulers, sharing through their education in the culture of the cities, and exercising through their unique knowledge of the law and institutions, and their monopoly of relations with the State, a more or less absolute control. The majority of the peasants and labourers had little or no education, and little or no occasion or opportunity to go further afield than the next similar paese, or perhaps rarely to the nearest city. In their (( world view )), and their network of social relationships these people might perhaps be called typically a small scale )), or (( folk )), if these terms mean anything very much (1).
In spite of the links through landowners and the local borghesia to the outside world, these communities were typically closed. Even today, the priests, doctors, lawyers and teachers are remarkably often natives of the paese in which they practice. Thus they, like the rest, live in a society with an intense network of many-stranded ties. No one is a complete stranger to anyone else, almost every act towards anyone takes place within an established network of relations, which controls conduct. Whatever one does is generally known, and likely to affect one's future social life in the community. Thus duties to others are not general duties, but duties to specific people in specific relationships.
A schoolmaster received a phone message,˝coded to prevent intermediaries grasping
the import of it,˝that the son of his childhood friend and family doctor was in difficulties
with his home-work. He dropped what he was doing (thus keeping me waiting an hour
or so), and shot off at once. On another similar occasion, an informant on breaking
off a task on which we were engaged in order to respond to a call for help, explained:
Qui o siamo amici o non siamo amici (( Here, either we are friends, or we
are not )). It took me a few moments to realise that he intended to say that to refuse a request was to end a friendship.
Impersonal bureaucratic impartiality, on the other hand, requires that a person publicly charged with performing duties, or with distributing benefits of any kind,˝grants, jobs, pensions, compensation for injuries, examination marks, personal references,˝ should consciously and deliberately exclude all personal ties to the recipients of these benefits, and conduct himself solely according to the formal rules of the system. If a local authority has a house available, then it must be offered to the next person on the waiting list, and to no other; if a post is vacant in a public body, then it must go to the most highly qualified applicant; if a Land Reform Board has plots of land for distribution, then they must go to those who have rights to them under the law, and only in the order of precedence established by the law.
These two sets of rules of conduct˝for want of better term, I call the first personal morality ˝ are not mutually exclusive. Both exist in all societies, and both may operate in single situation. Most behaviour of most people most of the time is governed by personal morality. By contrast, situations where people are expected to show more regard for rules than for private obligations are rare. Studies of the mechanisms for dealing with dispute in non-literate societies show clearly that such situations do arise in all societies (cf. Peristiany, 1947; Gluckman, 1955; Barnes, 1961), but as society becomes larger and more complex, and above all, as rules come to be written down, the number of situations in which someone has a recognised duty to exclude certain social ties from consideration, increases rapidly. The behaviour of bureaucrats, in formal theory, is based on a large and complex body of such rules.
The creation or sudden expansion by government action of a bureaucracy does not by any means prevent people from continuing to think and behave in terms of a personal morality. Office holders may be seen not as servants of a system of rules but as holders of the power to distribute benefits (or to refrain from imposing losses and sufferings). As such they are subjected to the full weight of informal pressures to serve the interest of their kith and kin, their friends, their clients and patrons. The formal theoretically impartial rules must be stretched, interpreted, ignored or broken in order to make this possible. This state of affairs we call it (( corruption )) though whether it is the system established by the formal rules of the legislator that has been a corrupted a), or the character of the administrator who has allowed personal duties to interfere with his public duties, I am not clear.
By corruption, of course, we also intend other kinds of dereliction of public
duty. It is not perhaps unduly serious that the head of the local Labour Exchange
should be inclined to find jobs more readily for people to whom he has strong social
ties, nor that the son of an old friend should receive higher marks than he deserves,
nor that houses built by the Comune for the poor should be used to reward staunch
of the mayor. But it is not only possible to fulfil obligations already established by the social system; it is also possible to create new ones. It is, that is, possible to trade official compliance for favours, support or money. Thus we pass from favouritism to bribery. But if an official is able without serious consequences to serve the purposes of others, why not his own also? Finally we arrive at embezzlement, at outright theft. Although a more or less continuous scale exists from mild favouritism, ˝ some Oxford colleges prefer the sons of old members to strangers,˝to full scale fraud,˝an Italian customs official admitted to pilfering a milliard (nearly £600,000, or $1,700,000; see any Italian newspaper at the end of May, 1963), three categories are more or less distinct:˝first, favouring people to whom one is under some obligation, second, trading favours with strangers for cash or other favours, and third, granting favours to oneself.
The first of these three is the commonest, and in this paper, the one that concerns me most, since it is part of the system of social relations. All of us, even men of high probity, are sometimes guilty of this much (( corruption )). The second also is of interest because it effects greatly the political structure of the society, and the working of government and political parties. The third, though it poses interesting and important problems, is relatively rare, and bears less on the theme of this article.
South Italy is a society in transition, galloping transition. The pre-war social structure survived in a large measure except for increased poverty and increased population pressure, until about 1950. Since then the pace of change has been steadily accelerating. We can perhaps speak of four major changes. First, a vast amount of new resources have been made available through the Casa per il Mezzogiorno, and to a less extent through other government agencies, for a wide variety of purposes, which have in turn stimulated the southern economy itself to produce more. Secondly, in common with the rest of Italy, the south has had imposed upon it the organs of the welfare state, in a most complicated piecemeal way; there now exist some sixty different enti for social and health insurance, each with different rules, each serving a different category of people (2) Innumerable provisions exist for pensions, social assistance, contributions for peasants to buy land or build houses, contributions for land-owners to (( transform )) their land from extensive to intensive cropping, contributions for setting up industry and
cooperatives, and so on. All this implies the provision of a vast bureaucratic
system of great complexity. Thirdly, there has been a revolution in the means of
transport and communication. Roads have been built and improved the number of cars
has increased out of all recognition, the amount of temporary migration for work
likewise, postal and telephone service have greatly increased, and of course also
mass media, especially radio and television. Fourthly, a system of elected governments
with full adult suffrage and freedom for rival political parties has given people
at the bottom a weapon, a