Men of Respect: A Social History of the Sicilian Mafia
New York: The Free Press, 1992
Subject, Methods, Database:
A study of the historical development of the Sicilian Mafia from the mid 1800s through the 1980s, based on official documents, court files and the pertinent literature.
The Mafia emerged after Sicily's reunification with Italy in 1860 as a loose collection of groups, so-called cosche, which were each centered around one powerful figure who served as power broker in a particular territory. The binding force of these groups was kinship, instrumental friendship and violence.
The Mafia had its basis in traditional Sicilian culture which endorses the use of violence for the achievement of economic goals, and in the cleavage between landowners and peasants. Landreform created tensions that, in the absence of a state-monopoly of violence, brought landowners to call on mafiosi to function as an institution of social and land control. This was particularly the case in the Palermo area where inequality in the distribution of land was most blatant.
By excercising social control on behalf of the ruling class, the mafiosi entered into an alliance with the political elites on the local and national level. Thus, "by the end of the nineteenth century the Mafia firmly represented part of the civil and political society of central-western Sicily and of its links to the state" (p. 95).
During Fascism, attempts to eradicate the Mafia were not successful in the end because they were conducted on a pure police basis and thus failed to tackle the social roots. The Mafia groups survived in the guise of landownership that no longer needed to have recourse to private violence since the direct protection of its interests had been taken over by the state.
After the liberation of Sicily in 1943, the Mafia groups progressively reacquired positions of power. Mafiosi were appointed to public offices by the Allied administration, then played an important role within the Sicilian separatist movement. During the agrarian reform period from 1943 until 1950, they resumed their function as mediators among the state, large landowners and peasents. Finally, the contribution of Mafia groups to the suppression of banditry "created an inextricable nexus" between the state and the Mafia. During the 1950s, politicians, namely from the Christian Democratic party, and mafiosi entered into a partnership in the control over the distribution of public benefits. At the same time, a new generation of mafiosi emerged, characterized by an intense involvement in drug trafficking, a greater willingness to use violence, including violent acts against representatives of the state, and a luxurious life-style. Unlike traditional mafiosi who, after an initial phase of illegality, managed to attain positions of respectability within their community, the new mafiosi lived a great part of their lives as fugitives from justice.
The development of Mafia activities on a larger scale beyond the confines of a quarter, a single large estate, or a township, particularly in the case of drug trafficking, brought with it a crisis of the traditional territorial demarcations between Mafia groups and led to the creation of a coordinating body, the so-called commission, which, however, did not fuse together the cosche into a single monolithic organization. Instead, the Mafia continued to be an ever-changing system of alliances.
Another consequence from the involvement in drug trafficking was the need to launder money, i.e. to invest it in legitimate productive activities. This, in turn, led to an expansion of Mafia influence and Mafia pratices in the business sector.
The Mafia is not a single association but rather a system of deeply rooted alliances with close ties to the political power system. Unless there is a radical cleanup of the state apparatus, it will not be possible to eradicate the Mafia.
The value of this book lies in placing the Mafia in perspective with the socio-political cleavages of Sicilian society. The changing internal structure and social position of the Mafia are explored within the broader context of changes taking place in the economic constitution of Sicily, the emergence of new political elites and Silicy`s status within the political system of Italy. At times, though, it is hard to follow Catanzaro`s line of reasoning. It is not always clear what factors he believes to be responsible for certain events or developments, for example the use of violence against representatives of the state beginning in the 1960s (see p. 182-191, 215). Thus, in comparison with other major books on the Mafia, such as those by Henner Hess, Pino Arlacchi and Diego Gambetta, Catanzaro's Men of Respect is not quite as compelling and convincing.
"Men of Respect", by providing a good understanding of the changing socio-political context of the Sicilian Mafia, is certainly an essential Mafia-book. But the argumentation could have been stated with greater clarity and precision.
Arlacchi, Pino, Men of Dishonor: Inside the Sicilian Mafia (M. Romano, Trans.), New York: William Morrow, 1993
Gambetta, Diego, The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993
Paoli, Letizia, Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003 [read review]
Stille, Alexander, Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, New York: Pantheon Books, 1995
© Klaus von Lampe, all rights reserved.