Saturday, January 08, 2005

State and Mafia

State and Mafia
What is the difference between states and organized crime organizations? American sociologist Charles Tilly (here), in his famous essay War Making and State Making as Organized Crime argues, “If protection rackets represent organized crime at its smoothest, then war making and state making-quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy-qualify as our largest examples of organized crime.”

In order to support this powerful statement Tilly gives an account of the development of the European modern state to demonstrate how, at their origins, there is nothing substantially different between the State and Organized Crime. “Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence”, slowly however, certain Princes (Organized Crime bosses) prevailed. It is however false to believe that the elimination of local rivals led to an undisturbed domination of the winners, beyond the territory of medieval European city-states, power alone was not sufficient to rule. Thus in order to assure a stable control over a particular territory the ruler needed to make a pact with the population. In other words his power needed to be legitimate, not in some universalistic understanding of the word, but to the extent it reflected the normative expectations of the population of the given territory.

Thus the difference between the organized crime group and the state is in the level they manage to represent these normative expectations. This is what, in the long run, distinguished the violence produced by states from the violence delivered by anyone else.

Apart from contributing to the theoretical understanding of the concepts of the state and organized crime this debate could serve as a heavy critique of the neo-liberal right wing political attempts to promote, what they consider to be the only legitimate function of the state-that is physical protection. Tilly sees no essential difference between the monopoly of protection and the monopoly of coercion. In the sense of this critique the neo-liberal minimal state ideal is no different than the organized crime group.

Suggested reading:
-Niklas Luhmann, Law as a Social System, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004. (For the definition of law as a stabilizer of normative expectations within a society)
-Charles Tilly, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime”, in Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Theda Skocpol (eds.), Bringing the State Back in, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985.
- Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, Basic Books, New York, 1974.


dynode said...

Now bear with me and all will come clear. Then again, it might not. It probably depends on how long you've been reading books such as ANARCHY, STATE AND UTOPIA or LAW AS A SOCIAL SYSTEM.

He began at a young age and it seemed to make sense prowling the garbage cans that scabbed a matrix of alleys around which the neighborhood declined, hunting discarded milk bottles, pop bottles, beer bottles, all lugged to the corner grocery store where there was better value when those bottle deposits came to him in trade rather than cash.

A penny-candy treat, then to the comic-book rack and even better value if the torn covers or the dog-eared were chosen.

It made sense. He learned to trade comics, trade marbles, trade baseball cards, trade peeks: I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.

"Trade is a social act," wrote John Stuart Mill, philosopher, economist, and elaborator of the greater good.

The man is usually up and about early in the morning, shaved and ready to go before last night’s mist has burnt off. Donning a battered hat embellished by a beaded hatband sprouting scraps of paper covered with exquisitely neat handwriting, he follows curiosity from here to there, searching out the likely.

Seldom does he knock. They’re usually waiting, alerted by a preternatural aura preceding his plans, an emanation he never tries to analyze, simply accepts as part of an always surprising reality, something helpful to the daily grind so necessary to accumulation.

First the handshake, firm and forthright to some, of a doily delicacy to others, then he begins to talk. After the mellifluous words of a few sentences set the mood, he eases back behind cornflower blue eyes twinkling out of a warmth of smile-crinkles, occasionally commenting but mostly listening to an accounting of aches and pains, how fast the kids are growing, who hasn’t been heard from in a month of Sundays, what the neighbors are up to, Jesus saves or the hell with it, the cost of living and damn those politicians, all the variegated chips and bits of kaleidoscopic personality and biography.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he continues a trade begun with the very first remark until someone is the satisfied owner of a complete videotape collection of the Dead End Kids evolved into the Bowery Boys evolved into a degree in sociology, a truckload of gherkins, a lifetime supply of immunizations, a lifetime and beyond of carpet tacks or grass skirts or erasers, the holy dust from a martyr’s tomb, whatever he thinks will tease loose what he wants, what he needs.

Eventually, he has another addition, another memory saved from fade, the other side of an argument, the lubricious underside of soft and round, a treasured memento. He has the old page and a new page, the remnant of something and the beginning of something else, the joke that only one person ever laughed at, a different accent, a necessary reminder, Grandpa’s parole, a one-of-a-kind perfume homemade only for tomorrow, some poor soul’s exception to the rule, a rare map to what’s gone forever, signs and portents, even a prediction or two or three – the third put forth as prophecy, a favorite recipe just for special meals, a worn deck of cards shuffled to another fulfillment or continued exhaustion, the end of her rope, a diary embroidered with strands of hope, that stray fact, a hodgepodge of fancy furbelows, more pieces of the onward and upward cross-country jigsaw puzzle he is patiently assembling.

"Trade is a social act." Those words, tucked away in Mill’s treatise, ON LIBERTY, were published in Great Britain in 1859 and private thought was traded for public recognition.

Across the ocean, an erstwhile colony and then a trading partner, the Land of Liberty, about to be kept whole in a bloody civil war, was adding another piece, the state of Oregon. And in that very same year, the world’s first oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania. And the baseball club of Washington, D.C., was formed. And Whistler’s Mother’s son was painting. And Charles Blondin crossed the thunder of Niagara Falls on a tightrope. And was there anybody in the cheering throng who knew Niagara as the name of a long-gone Iroquois settlement on the river? And John Dewey was born to be a mover and shaker in America’s system of public schools. And Washington Irving, who traded on imagination and created Rip Van Winkle, died. A coming and a going. All pieces in the puzzle.

Piece by piece, until in the 21st century the man rests wherever he finds himself after a long day. Fingering the hatband of his old fedora, he considers the latest additions to his growing collection of minutiae. Piece after piece fits together, hinting at what he has always suspected.

Tomorrow’s another day, another trade. It never ends, but this is America. Remember? The Land of Liberty. And if he just keeps at it, if he can put the whole shebang together, if he can make sense of it, then more power to him. He’s already added much to the truth found in garbage cans and comic books.

Thank you, good member of The Transatlantic Assembly, for one more piece.

Srdjan Cvijic said...

I wish to thank Dynode for his inspiring comment. I am not sure that I really manage to reply to his peace, probably I do not. But let me say something more about the arch-libertarian, for many but not for me, Robert Nozick.

I must say that I am personally still not convinced of whether side, if any of the two, has it right, right-wing, property oriented, ultra-libertarians, or the left-wing concerned state-interventionists. “Trade is a social act” but also “State is a social product”.

I have started my PhD passionately convinced that Nozick has it right, that the minimal state is the right answer, but that was the provocative-me (not the intellectually honest-Me), then the moderate-Me or as others would say the academically mature-me (I am still doubting that I really did or that I ever will mature in this or any sense) learned how to read Nozick in a different this point I will spare you of my own interpretations...look at what Nozick says in his later work.

He describes his work in “Anarchy, State and Utopia” as work of a “young man” and argues,
"Other people in conversation often want me to continue to maintain that young man’s “libertarian” position, even though they themselves reject it and probably would prefer that no one had ever maintained it at all…Once having pigeonholed people and figured out what they are saying, we do not welcome new information that would require us to re-understand and reclassify them"(In Robert Nozick, The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations, Touchstone, New York, 1990, p. 17).

In this way Nozick opens a way to possibly reconsider some rigid assertions in his original work.Nozick cannot escape from the observation that property is not an independent value in his normative system but merely an instrument to further individual’s instinct of self-preservation, which we find in his account on inheritance. Moreover, his account on bequeathing restates the balance between freedom and equality Nozick tackles in his critique of Rawls, contained in his original work. Nozick, argues that the purpose of bequeathing is an expression of emotional link between two persons, as well as it could mark in his view an extension of someone’s identity. Still, often the institution of inheritance outgrows its two aforementioned original purposes and passes material wealth down to generations of anonymous people. Neither, it could be argued that it is an expression of the emotional link between two people, nor that the identity of the original earner is efficiently preserved since his identity would be known only to the devoted fan of genealogy. As Nozick argues, in such a way, the original purpose of this social instrument is perverted as to produce continuing inequalities of wealth and position.” Nozick suggests a comprehensive system of bequeathing that would make this institution correspond to its original purpose, creating limits to the absolute supremacy of private property. Nozick does not develop the application of this revised institute of inheritance to the realm of the state and its enforcement apparatus but it challenges the supreme normative worth of the institute of property. Would this mean an institution of the comprehensive redistribution mechanism like that of Rawls? Not necessarily. However, one is to take this reflection on his previous work as the possible hint to refine Nozick’s political philosophy. In this way one can distinguish between valuable elements of his theory and pure libertarian political ideology. In my thesis at least, I try to do that.

dynode said...

When I made my initial idiosyncratic comment I thought it would befuddle you, or irritate, or you would accept it as the compliment it was intended to be. I am gratified you accepted it.

Now to the business at hand. It seems that Nozick, as you explain his maturing views about the State's limitations upon inheritance, for instance, is edging toward Tilly's concept of Mafia/State, since taxes ("protection" money) will certainly be imposed upon the wealth that originally began as a bequest to an individual. That is, it will tax if it does not outright confiscate.

It seems to be an innate quality in humankind to formulate theories, no matter how mundane or sophisticated, whether to explain the behavior of a neighbor down the block or how we order ourselves under the State or why the balance of power between/among nations shifts. But you know as well as I do that theories are mental constructs and thus cannot contain all the ramifications of the phenomena we seek to understand/explain/control. One theory stands firm until another gains more adherents, or until the original postulator changes his position. (Even then, as Nozick biographically suggests, the rejected theory might continue on.) So mighty Einstein, bless his memory, must be smiling that winsome smile of his as he ponders (and cheers) the intellects chipping away at the edges of the theory of relativity.

Only the fool will question why the intellectual/academic devotes time to imagining and then constructing theories if none of them are perfect. While I shamefacedly admit to my share of foolish actions, I do not consider myself a fool. Elaborate and express your theories as you will, as I do mine (see my first posted comment), because another of our innate qualities is that we seek perfection, whether or not we can achieve it. More to the point, theories give us a framework within which to make decisions and then to act.

So to the fool we respond, though s/he probably could care less, that we imagine and then exert the mental effort to construct theories because even imperfect theory affects action that, to a greater or lesser degree, affects the future of nations and certainly of unknowing fools.

You mentioned parenthetically that you doubt if you will ever "mature in this or any sense." From what very little I know of how you think, you do not present yourself as immature and that, ipso facto, demonstrates you are maturing. Have faith. You will surprise yourself one day when you look in the mirror and recognize what you have become.

By the way, have you ever read THE MELIAN DIALOGUES in which Thucydides puts forth the truism that "the strong do what they can while the weak do what they must."?