How corrupt can a meritocratic government be without being perceived as such?

I would like to know what's the opinion-based part of it, so that I may fix it (by replacing it with narrower and more objective qualifiers/criteria). Is it "perceived as such" as hinted in some of the comments? If so, how precise should "popularly perceived to be non-corrupt" be worded? I did not really consider the necessity to designate a precise percentage of the population that's fooled. And there's more questions about popular opinion and plausible deniability.

Someone suggest I use an analogue, "perceived as virtuous to the same extent the Catholic Church was in the 16th century" or "perceived as fair as capitalism" but I don't know if that would do more than distract from the actual setting which is neither capitalist nor Catholic. I could be wrong of course, that's why I'm asking.

If it's something else that's opinion-based, then I would like to hear that all the same.


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I honestly don't agree that your query is terribly opinion-based. I think your root question: what specific actions can the rulers take?, given the constraints of culture, history, and technology, is no more opinion based than every other entirely fictional question we deal with in this forum. I don't think you need to change anything.

As for the Catholic Church aspects of the comments and the parallelism in your question: I always cringe when the Catholic Church is brought up, on account of it being the least understood and most maligned governmental organization on the planet.

There's just so much history and so many details of theology & spiritual governance vs pragmatics & ordinary governance that you almost have to be a Church historian in order to formulate a good question! Anyone else is liable to get lost in all the pseudo history and outright bashing that's gone on the last few centuries. You'd almost have to be a Church historian and a theologian to even come up with an answer. And no, I don't claim to be either.

I'll just say it straight up: people are now (2020) and have always been fully aware that the governmental structure of the Vatican (as a political body) has often been and is currently about as corrupt as any stereotypically Italian mob organisation you'd care to name. Money scandals, sex scandals, cover-ups, deep rooted mutual back washing. And that is just what was going on in the 16th century! We're seeing it all again in the 21st, plus we have the Internet to disseminate all the details and social media to abuse the truth at every turn.

You admitted that you don't know much about the popular conception, which is fair enough. You're pretty far off base, though, when you say but they do have the "God's ways are mysterious" excuse for everything. Quite simply, they dòn't have that excuse at all. Having God for your boss simply means that all the poisons seep out and become obvious even to the most ignorant of observers. Try "they're known by their fruits" instead! The poisons still seep out, but at least you've got a yardstick to measure the good guys and the bad guys with!

And at that time in history, people knew that bishops and popes were getting rich as Croesus from selling indulgences and other frankly disgusting practices. This is why reformers always come to the forefront. (And no, Martin Luther was nòt a reformer. He was a quitter & a revolutionary. Try Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, etc.) One can argue that the first reformer was St. Paul, who rebuked the first pope, St. Peter, over relations between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. And the governance of the Church has been a tug-o-war between excess and reform ever since.

Frankly, I think you've got a great parallel construction going. I think the answer to the question will probably be nothing like what you're thinking, based on what I've read in the question and comments. We'll see what happens if it gets reopened!

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, discussing the Catholic Church is far above my paygrade. That was another reason I was reluctant to follow the suggestion of specifying the popular opinion of my government in comparison with said church. Thanks for your words, and it seems that there are 4 reopeners so far so we might even get to see that answer you are hinting at. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 8:05
  • $\begingroup$ "And that is just what was going on in the 16th century!" It was happening long before then; look up Pope Boniface (or, for that matter, any of the Medici Popes) sometime. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks -- Yes. There have been bad folks throughout the Church's history, which of course, is the whole point. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ If the root question is "what specific actions can the rulers take?" isn't the question too story-based (or simply "not about worldbuilding according to the help center")? Rules & systems = on-topic. Circumstances, plot, and character actions/choices=off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH - I concur. At least as the query now stands, I don't read anything about character choices in the Concrete Question section. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 23, 2020 at 12:04

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