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Political Corruption and Scandals in Japan, Matthew M. Carlson and Steven R. Reed

Reviewed by Saadia M. Pekkanen

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We all have notions that political scandals signify something about the nature of corruption in a polity, with consequences for elections and democratic politics. It is more difficult, however, to define and tease out the exact nature of the relationship between the two. Does the presence of scandals indicate the prevalence of corruption, for example? As more and more political scandals come to light, do they mean higher and more intractable levels of corruption in the national political arena? And how do the durability and intensity of these elements play out in Japan, which was once rocked by shocking and high-profile scandals involving prime ministers and top politicians? The authors’ scholarly task is not an easy one, but they make solid progress that makes for fascinating reading.

To define political corruption, they sensibly follow others in adapting a legal concept to mean “perverting the functioning of the democratic process” (p. 15). They are forthright that their definition—indeed, the very word “pervert”—opens them to charges of being normative and subjective. While there is no getting around this, identifying specific aspects of behavior that tamper with, hinder, refract, or subvert elements that uphold the democratic process is analytically reasonable.

From the policy perspective of targeting and

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