Gianni Sarra

Thesis title:

The Dirty Rules Dilemma: Achieving Justice in Conditions of Corruption


When the rules and norms of a democratic society are considered unjust, how should just actors move forward in such systems when tangible political victories require engagement with those same unjust systems? For example, if an aspiring candidate considers their polity’s existing campaign finance system akin to legalised bribery, that same politician might plausibly face a situation where they need to engage in the system in order to win.The existing accounts of how to deal with this dilemma within political theory are, I argue, currently insufficient. Some theorists would argue that it is unforgivable for politicians to justifiably engage in these structures – a position I argue is untenable for those who want to enter politics to challenge injustice. Others would argue that the existence of these structures means that their opponents should “suspend” their objections for now, a position I argue ignores the discrete damage engaging with these structures can inflict.These “dirty rules” dilemmas should be viewed as a subset of the much-discussed dirty hands dilemmas, where achieving desirable outcomes or preventing disasters requires committing real and tangible moral wrongs. In dirty rules dilemmas, these dilemmas emerge not from the individual wrongs of others, as with traditional dirty hands dilemmas, but from the structures and institutions that govern politics.The structural and remediable character of dirty rules dilemmas draw attention to current shortcomings within the dirty hands debate, namely on how to establish meaningful prescriptive and evaluative guidelines without invoking theories that deny the reality of said dilemmas. To tackle these shortcomings, tools of just war theory such as proportionality, just cause, and discrimination, when rooted in a shared foundation of discussing permissible wrongdoing, will be ported into the dirty rules context. This is promising in helping real-world actors navigate dirty rules dilemmas.

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First supervisor:

Robin Douglass


13 – Politics, Public Policy & Governance