This is why Beijing's communists police the Internet so vigorously. Information alone does not end the tyranny and stop the intimidation, but since backpack video cameras began televising slaughter in real time, we have seen the dynamic. Slaughter exposed provokes outrage, which escalates internal resistance and increases external political pressures on the perpetrators.
Harsher crackdowns might assure short-term regime survival, but that might lead to calls for forceful international intervention. Liberalization, to include anti-corruption drives, might weaken the regime. Losing the benefits of the regime's corruption machine risks angering or alienating favored cronies, tribes, co-religionists or kinsmen.
Iran's clerics came to power claiming they would end the Shah's corruption. Absolute power, however, corrupts absolutely. The Khomeinist regime is now more despotic and more venally corrupt than the Shah's. Discontent in Iran focuses on the regime's corruption and economic failure.
These same complaints, with local variations, appear worldwide. Political and judicial bribery undermine Mexico's complex war on drug cartels, which is one reason Mexican President Felipe Calderon emphasizes systemic reform. Popular anger at corrupt Communist officials and police fuels dissent in China. Tribal cronyism and debilitating government corruption spurred Kenya's chaotic post-election conflict in January 2008.
Corruption, to a degree, afflicts every society, organization and soul. Corruption's public and political manifestations -- the Arab Spring rebellions have focused on graft, theft, bribery, embezzlement and nepotism -- are symptoms of avarice and ambition.
The Italian poet Francesco Petrarch identified avarice and ambition as two of the five great enemies of peace resident in the human condition (envy, anger and pride being the other three). Corruption is innate to the human condition. To paraphrase Walt Kelly's cartoon character, Pogo, the enemy is us. This is the point where open, democratic systems governed by the rule of law assert their moral and creative superiority -- what the East Europeans noticed.
In free societies, sometimes justice calls the most-powerful elites to account. Crooked leaders, executives and even celebrities, along with their connected lackeys, really do go to jail.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
Be the first to read Austin Bay's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.