jjoffe6_BERTRAND GUAYAFP via Getty Images_sarkozy jail Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

Sarkozy’s Conviction Is a Win for the Rule of Law

From France to America, democratic countries are affirming the fundamental principle of government by law, not by men (and women). That is the message of our time that should reassure the Cassandras who believe that despotism is on a roll.

HAMBURG – The harsh sentence handed down to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was found guilty of influence peddling, confirms anew an ancient truth of politics. Even in the world’s most firmly entrenched democracies, corruption remains a curse.

Power always gets you more power. It works its magic better than greasing palms with money. The strong don’t need to wave their purse. Five hundred years before the verdict against Sarkozy, Machiavelli famously declared in his Discourses that “Gold alone does not procure good soldiers, but good soldiers will always procure gold.” In other words, clout beats cash.

So, power is the hardest currency in politics, creating temptations that cannot be exorcized, but must be contained and controlled. This is why democracies have devised intricate checks and balances, above all, an independent judiciary – something despots don’t need to worry about. The three-year prison term given to Sarkozy, from 2007 to 2012 the mightiest person in France, shows that the French system is working as designed.