Tag Archives: criminology

Felia Allum, Isabella Clough Marinaro and Rocco Sciarrone (eds.), Italian Mafias Today. Territory, Business and Politics (Cheltenham: E. Elgar, 2019)

As an Italian academic who has lived and worked in North America and Northern Europe, I am frequently saddened, but by no means surprised, by the cavalier references that my non-Italians colleagues frequently make to the mafia. On the one hand, they somehow assume it to be a rather prosaic and obvious aspect of daily life throughout Italy, and Italy alone. On the other hand, perhaps conditioned by “TV series such as Gomorrah, the US ‘reality’ TV show Mob Wives” (1) or by Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather movie trilogy, they talk of it as though the mafia were something cool, glamorous, almost enviable: the magic union of Svengali and Giorgio Armani.

In their book, Allum, Clough Marinaro and Sciarrone have competently collected an instructive introduction and, above all, fourteen original essays in criminology and the social sciences at large that, at the very least, can easily and immediately dispel such facile yet persistent conceptions of the mafia. For one, as all the essays patently exhibit, there are many mafias, not one, i.e., the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Campanian Camorra, the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta, and the little-known Apulian Sacra Corona Unita. Indeed, as Luciano Brancaccio and Vittorio Martone explain in the second original essay in the book, even the Neapolitan and Campanian Camorra should be understood in the plural, i.e., as “Camorras”, given their “multiplicity of groups, their internal variations and their high conflict rates.” (31)

Secondly, as many essays concurrently indicate, all such mafias are more than capable of reining in their immediately profitable and inevitably violent activities in the short run, so as to seek prolonged and diffuse influence in the communities that they infiltrate, or manage secure revenue-streams via complacent white-collar experts and professionals, whether all of this happens in Italy or abroad. This quiet modus operandi is designed not to arise suspicion among the local law-and-order institutions, already-established criminal groups, and/or the populations at large. Thus, for example, the reader can reflect on the low-profile presence of the Italian mafias in the City of London, in select cantons of the Swiss Confederation and in Luxembourg, as capably discussed in the twelfth original essay of the book, “Italian mafias across Europe”, penned by Joselle Dagnes, Davide Donatello and Luca Storti (191–207). If anything, the reduced visibility of these criminal organisations is, ironically, made transparent by the more and more secretive character of the mafias compared to what they were like in the 19th century and, possibly, up to the 1950s or 1960s, at least in southern Italy. This increased secrecy has also affected the ‘Ndrangheta’s old and quietly tolerant “[r]elationships with the Catholic Church” (56), which are discussed in the third original essay in the book, “’Ndrangheta: A (post-)modern mafia with ancient roots”, written by Enzo Ciconte.

Thirdly, there is nothing cool, glamorous or enviable in suffering the consequences of mafia-related activities, whether in southern Italy, central and northern Italy (see the ninth, tenth and eleventh original essays, dealing with, respectively, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Rome), or abroad, meaning primarily in the Americas, Oceania and Europe (e.g., “Germany, France, the United Kingdom (UK), Spain, Switzerland, the Benelux countries and Romania” (Dagnes et al., 193)). Any half-sane reader of this book is unlikely to find anything inspiring in the mafias’ very long list of crimes against: police officers and magistrates (e.g., “Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards” (Alessandra Dino, 17) in 1992); innocent civilians; urban and rural landscapes and environments (e.g., the so-called “Sack of Palermo”, ibid., 14); Italian immigrants abroad (e.g., the sorry plight of the Calabrian community in Australia, tackled in Felia Allum’s and David Bright’s penultimate original essay in the book); honest entrepreneurs (e.g., corrupt “public officials” favouring mafia-related clients over the genuinely deserving economic competitors (Salvatore Sberna and Alberto Vannucci, 94)); and ordinary tax-paying Italian citizens, who cannot receive adequate healthcare and/or use viable garbage-disposal facilities because of the mafias’ grip on local “public services” (Alessandro Colletti, 122).

Finally, the book concludes with a highly instructive chapter on the history and main characteristics of the “anti-mafia policies” developed in Italy since the 1960s (La Spina, 225). While avoiding the intricacies and details of the legal instruments and institutions created over the past six decades in order to tackle specifically the mafias, so as to reduce and prevent their diffusion and activities, the reader can grasp and appreciate the extent of the work done by both public authorities and civil society in order to counter the nefarious influence of organised crime in many parts of Italy.

The book is not a history of the Sicilian mafia or of southern mafias. For that kind of work, the reader will have to rely on a very different literature, of which there is certainly no dearth. Instead, this relatively compact volume (x + 291 pp.) gives a thorough account of:

(A) the scrutable trends of mafia-type criminality in Italy over the past twenty years; and of

(B) the latest known developments in their inner organisational structures and criminogenic relations with productive and political agents in the so-called “grey area” of non-affiliated enablers and facilitators of mafia-type activities (e.g., lawyers, accountants, bankers, etc.), in Italy as well as abroad.

As such, this book should appeal, in primis, to criminologists and social scientists. However, I would strongly recommend it to anyone who may have an academic or personal interest in understanding recent Italian history. Above all, I would recommend it to law- and policy-makers internationally, for Italy’s long tug-of-war with the mafias has many useful lessons to teach to countries and communities that have not yet experienced the scourge of criminal power syndicates operating in their midst, or that collude with such syndicates by offering far-from-transparent financial services—hence contributing to the enormous human suffering and grave social devastation that the mafias have been causing since the 19th century.

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, Moral Blindness in Business. A Social Theory of Evil in Organizations (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

The market as an organization of economic interactions and as an idea governing our thoughts about the economy is both more complex than is usually accepted, and more limited. In this century, and in the last, economists and other theoreticians developed the market as an idea capable of explaining human interactions in general rather than just economic interactions. This has had unfortunate effects in our thinking.

One is that some started believing that homo economicus was a real person, not realizing that actual human beings are more complex than theoretical constructions assuming full information and perfect rationality. Another is that the easy presumption gradually gained widespread recognition whereby the State was the problem in the economy, while the free market was the solution to practically everything. Both these effects have turned out to be wildly misleading. On the one hand, human beings are more unpredictable and complex than theoretical constructions. On the other hand, in many instances, the State is the solution to social and economic problems, not the free market.

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff has written three interesting books on business ethics. The latest one, reviewed here, is on moral blindness in business. The idea, it seems to me, is to construct a narrative explaining moral evil in business. The way he goes about it is by taking his cue from Hannah Arendt and her analysis of moral blindness in her discussion of the Eichmann trials in Jerusalem in 1961. Arendt is one of the most influential political philosophers from the middle of the last century. She was a German, a Jew, who fled the Nazi State in Germany and ultimately made it to the USA. She was an early theorist about totalitarianism, but probably she is most famous for her description and analysis of Eichmann at his trial.

She originally wrote articles for the New Yorker about the criminal process that, later on, became a famous book. One of the things that struck her was how ordinary Eichmann was. He was not a moral monster, like Gorgias or Thrasymachus, or a racist, like a white supremacist. Yet, he believed that he was an ordinary man, doing his duty, following legitimate orders, and putting them into practice as best as he could. He was not an official who followed through his commands himself, but he left it to others to do what he had told them to do. Even though he went to the concentration camps, it is not clear if he ever saw what happened to the Jewish victims whose transportation to them he had made possible.

The moral blindness that Arendt detected in Eichmann was his inability to put himself into another’s shoes and the inability to think for himself about the moral legitimacy of the aims of the systems that he too put into operation. He organized the transport system from all over Germany, and from other countries as well, that moved the Jews to the concentration camps. He organized and was present at the Wannsee conference when this “Endlösung” for the Jews was conceived, and he knew from the beginning what all his work was about (p. 62).

What is remarkable about him is his ordinariness, how he seems to be a typical faceless bureaucrat, skilled at putting orders into practice but not worrying about the effects on those who had to suffer the consequences. It seems to me that this is the essence of moral evil as it is understood in this book. This analysis has a number of logical consequences that Arendt pursued, such as that moral disasters, even those of the magnitude of the “Endlösung” of the Nazi regime, could happen to anyone of us, or that the Nazi campaign was not a unique event that was nearly unfathomable because of its evil, but a result of human weaknesses that all of us might be subject to.

Rendtorff uses this analysis of Arendt’s and applies it thoroughly to modern businesses. He argues that modern organizations are subject to the same temptations and human frailties that operated in the Nazi system. Modern corporations that solely aim at securing profit for the owners can easily succumb to the same temptations as the Nazi bureaucracy did. You do not have to be a specialist in modern business ethics to know instances of moral weakness and moral evil. Just think of businesses that are run in such a way that, once or twice a year, a member of their staff is ostentatiously fired in order to keep the others in the staff on their toes. This is an example of moral evil in practice. The interests and dedication of the staff are irrelevant, if you can put fear into their souls; so, they do not object to anything that is asked of them and stick to their work.

Rendtorff is very knowledgeable about Arendt’s political philosophy and he discusses various issues that are relevant to what he wants to say, such as the modern understanding of evil. But it is puzzling to me that he does not discuss the difference between a totalitarian state and a democratic state incorporating a free market, in which the modern corporations operate. There is a major difference between the domination by the State of the whole society, as in a totalitarian system, and the limited government that can be observed in modern states. It is only when you assume that modern corporations do not understand that the very notion of the free market is a moral notion, that you get the weakness and immorality typical of a totalitarian bureaucracy. The important difference between modern democracies and the Nazi State is that the workers, in modern democracies, always have the option of leaving and looking for work elsewhere, however hard as this step may be in practice. This is morally important. Also, there are infelicities of language on nearly every page of the book. The publisher should have made sure of a good proof-reading.

These imperfections aside, this is an interesting book and a serious contribution to a real problem in the running of modern corporations.