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Conflict of Interest in American Public Life

Conflict of Interest in American Public Life

Andrew Stark

ISBN 9780674012134

Publication date: 09/15/2003

Ranging over a wide array of cases, Andrew Stark draws on legal, moral, and political thought--as well as the rhetoric of officeholders and the commentary of journalists--to analyze several decades of debate over conflict of interest in American public life. He offers new ways of interpreting the controversies about conflict of interest, explains their prominence in American political combat, and suggests how we might make them less venomous and intractable.

Stark shows that over the past forty years public opinion has shifted steadily toward an objective conception of conflict: instead of considering case-by-case motivations, we have adopted broadly prophylactic rules barring a variety of circumstances with no regard for whether individuals facing those circumstances would be moved in culpable ways. At the same time, we have shifted toward a subjective conception of interest: where we once focused narrowly on money, we now inquire into various commitments individuals might pursue in ways that could impair their judgment.

In exploring the consequences of these twin migrations--the passage of "conflict" from a subjective to an objective understanding; the transformation of "interest" from an objective to a subjective conception--the author aims to make our debates over public ethics less vexatious for officials, and more lucid for citizens.


  • An arrestingly original interpretation of conflict of interest. Stark earns his theory the hard way, the right way: he immerses himself in legal decisions, political conflicts, bureaucratic policy memos, you name it. Working from the ground up, he offers an elegant structure full of novel and mischievous insights. The book belongs on the shelves of lawyers, politicians, and journalists--it represents a powerful new way of working on ethics and policy.

    —Don Herzog, University of Michigan Law School


  • Andrew Stark is Professor of Strategic Management and Political Science, University of Toronto.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 5-11/16 x 8-7/8 inches
  • Harvard University Press