American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
This paper forges an analytics of the current epidemic of white-collar corruption cases in late capitalism. Kant famously explained enlightenment as “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.” This presentation focuses on what appears to be the opposite of Kant’s definition: entitlement. Kant’s idea that immaturity is ‘self-imposed’ oddly resonates with ‘entitled’ actors in contemporary corruption inquiries who appear to be ‘trapped’ in what seems to be a redundant desire for power, excess, and advantage often related to monetary dealings. In documents defending corrupt actors across a variety of legal systems, one can always find formulaic narratives describing an actor’s life prior to the alleged corrupt activities. These narratives circulate in the media and become part of the public’s understanding of the accused. The Manafort and Cohen legal cases provide two grounding examples from the current US political class. Each of these actors forged connections to political circuits of power that enabled them to spin their expertise into financial capital. National security expertise can likewise be transformed into financial capital, as seen in corruption cases involving Admiral Othon, the father of Brazil’s nuclear energy program, and General Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor. All of these actors were financially comfortable, even by white-collar standards, but perhaps the desire to financialize their own cultural capital is central to understanding the seeming redundancy. The paper suggests that an examination of the paths of entitlement narrated in these legal defense documents may help reveal deeper patterns with respect to the redundancies and excesses of corruption.