‘The Society of Friends’

The Mafia and Politics

by Michele Pantaleone, with a Preface by Carlo Levi, translated by Margaret Stephens
Coward, McCann, 255 pp., $5.50

It would seem that this generation of Italians was in a unique position to do away with the Mafia once and for all. We can determine its historic origins and social causes, define the conditions in which it flourishes, and should therefore be able at last not merely to prune a few branches but to strike at its roots. And at the present time all Italian political parties, both in power and in the opposition, consider the Mafia a national shame and are vociferously determined to do what is necessary—conduct investigations, vote ad hoc laws and special appropriations—to exterminate it. We are only the latest in a long line of defeated Mafia fighters. Our forefathers, fathers, and older brothers tried to cure it according to whatever diagnosis was fashionable at the time. These remedies were by no means wrong: But insofar as they were only partially right they produced only partial results. The Mafia was intimidated at times, once in a while driven underground, but never conquered. In fact it always bounced back more powerful and arrogant than before. One hundred and more years of wrong approaches should therefore have made it easy for our generation to determine exactly what is to be done. For some reason, this has not yet happened. At the moment of writing, the Mafia, though hampered and embittered by national and international initiatives, is flourishing more than it ever did in the past.

Our generation should be helped, for one thing, by the vast number of good books now available on the subject. There used to be a few standard authorities that everybody quoted. The best (still the fundamental text) was written in 1876 by Leopoldo Franchetti, called Condizioni politiche e amministrative della Sicilia. Franchetti was the descendant of a distinguished Jewish family from Venice, a man of means, a patriot, a Liberale, who was made a baron by King Umberto I for his many civic acts. He wrote his book on the basis of only one visit to Sicily, but described the phenomenon more or less as we know it today. Every year since World War II more books have appeared, a few written by foreigners, many of them based on painstaking research or field surveys. There are the famous works of Danilo Dolci (Report from Palermo, Outlaws, Waste) which contain a mine of facts gathered at the source. A former judge, Giuseppe Guido Loschiavo, is the author of a learned historic and juridical study called Cento anni di Mafia. The feeling of life under the leaden oppression of the society was described by one of Italy’s greatest living novelists, a Sicilian school teacher named Leonardo Sciascia, in two novels, Il giorno della civetta and A ciascune il suo. There are works by journalists, some of them hurried compilations with lurid covers, and one superior piece of reportage, Michele Pantaleone’s The Mafia and Politics, with a Preface by Carlo Levi, now translated into English.

PANTALEONE WAS BORN in the town of Villalba, one…

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