As the upholders of the citadel of democracy in the world, we citizens of America praise ourselves for the relatively few instances of overt corruption evident in our country’s government operations. We as Americans, however, embrace an ideal of democracy that exists only when cited to bolster nationalistic fervor. Regardless of how the United States’ political structure is viewed in theory, in practice, Americans face many issues that stem from a corrupt political enterprise so ironically praised for democratic values.
In evaluating modern day crime and punishment, one can easily draw upon the parallels between today’s practices and those of the eighteenth century. In truth, I question whether we have advanced at all from rudimentary criminal practices of the eighteenth century exposed by Daniel Defoe in Moll Flanders. How is the criminal enterprise of today, an enterprise accused of “rewarding the wealthy and punishing the poor,” any different from Newgate, where criminals with money could bypass standard means of punishment (1)? We live in a fiscally driven world that began with the economic surges of the eighteenth century. Unfortunately, on our way to a completely consumerist society, we have lost our moral guidance; oftentimes, we now seek to quickly maximize profits over acting to fulfill our moral obligations. In this regard, it is no surprise that works such as Moll Flanders, and other works written to reinstall morality, oftentimes through instruction, into the lives of all citizens, are as equally applicable today as they were roughly three hundred years ago.
The current issue regarding inmates’ abilities to pay bail exemplifies one of the many similarities between two seemingly dissimilar time periods: the U.S. today and London in the eighteenth century. In the town of Lubbock, Texas, the issue of corruption is clear. Even though justified with its necessity in “making a living,” Lubbock’s bail bondsmen attempt to keep pretrial companies as unproductive as possible (4). These bail bondsmen have no problem keeping inmates away from the pretrial companies and consequently causing them to be stuck in prison for an absurd amount of time pending their trial. Perhaps most corrupt of all is that these men that the bondsmen are keeping from other methods of liberty could not even afford the services of the bondsmen. In essence, the bond companies are using political schemes and “the power of money” to inhibit other people’s agendas without advancing their own (4). If that does not sound like corruption, or to use a more fitting definition, moral perversion, what does?
Moll has a similar prison experience, although, having money, she is more equatable to the bondsmen who benefit from corruption than the inmates who suffer. In Moll Flanders, corruption is evident in not only the way that Moll can bribe officials to escape her transportation sentence, but also in the actions of the men employed by the prison. The ordinary of Newgate, or Chaplain of the prison, would in the morning preach “Confession and Repentance,” while in the afternoon, he would be found “drunk with Brandy and Spirits” (218). The prison workers and superiors in Lubbock are as corrupt in many ways as well. The workers with any kind of decision making authority are inhibited in their actions by what is deemed politically correct. For instance, one official justifies letting the issue of overstuffed jails come to such a deplorable state with “I don’t want [people] to think I’m soft on crime” (7). As in Moll’s time, the importance of appearance oftentimes overshadows the value of human life.
For Daniel Defoe’s writing, Newgate prison functioned as the extreme setting of melancholy and despair. People were sent to Newgate prison, chiefly, for one purpose: execution. In order to contrast the livelihood found from transportation, it is even likely that Defoe embellished some of the corruption found at the infamous prison. It is scary to think that a potential over exaggeration of a place that housed, for execution, offenders of such petty crimes as stealing scraps of cloth is even closely comparable to today’s justice system. If, in fact, Defoe was exaggerating, is the deducible conclusion that Defoe’s attempt to correct society failed? Has society actually degraded even farther from its crude state during the eighteenth century? I would argue that yes, we have failed to learn from the instruction of Moll and that our greed will eventaully lead to our destruction as our desire for monetary success consumes us.