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Democracy and the dangerous man: Mafia justice versus citizen virtue

L. Michael McCartney, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Organized crime in the United States has, in the words of political theorist Sheldon Wolin, exerted "significant power and influence, controls enormous wealth, and exhibits many of the same features which ordinarily arouse the interest of political scientists, e.g., organization, authority, power, kinship ties, rules, and strong consensus." And yet, "despite the promising research possibilities," as Wolin has noted, "no textbook on American government provides a place for organized crime in 'the system,' no study of 'polyarchy' or community has taken cognizance of it. This study seeks to remedy that defect. Through scholarly research and the author's own experiences in the criminal justice system, it explores the political nature of organized crime with particular emphasis on the Sicilian and the Sicilian-American mafias. The study finds that the mafia variety of organized crime tends to substitute for the state as the recognized political authority when at least three basic conditions are met: (1) When the state fails to adequately protect its citizens, (2) when a climate of cultural mistrust of state authority exists, and (3) when there is an adequate supply of dangerous men who know how to employ force to obtain order in the manner described by Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince.

Subject Area

Criminology|Political science

Recommended Citation

McCartney, L. Michael, "Democracy and the dangerous man: Mafia justice versus citizen virtue" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9809366.