What’s the line dividing politics from organised crime?
The land they called home had been confiscated from the Camorra – the Neapolitan mafia – just a few years ago. It’s what they told us when we arrived at the non-profit Al di là dei Sogni, north of Naples, at the end of last year. Land which had once lain abandoned, used to dump refuse or hold meetings the bosses wanted kept quiet, was now welcoming the disabled, the prostitutes, the migrants and the recovering drug addicts as well as the group of students I’m accompanying. More than fruit, vegetables and jams, what’s really being produced – or rather, formed – is a community built on dignity and solidarity. Duties and responsibilities are tailored to the needs and capacities of each person, and what’s really important are the relationships between people. The money is of secondary importance. As per the legal provisions governing non-profits in Italy, it’s distributed equally. What’s left over each fiscal year is used to invest in new equipment, improve production and the quality of the workspaces. That is, any extra money is re-invested in the community itself.
What a difference to organized crime. Listening to the stories of some of its victims, I couldn’t help but feel angry. I couldn’t help but feel angry that a group of people had unjustly monopolized wealth for themselves. And not just economic wealth. They had monopolized political wealth in a region which the central government in Rome had long failed to govern well. In the political vacuum, the Camorra had granted itself the power to give or to take life, to decide who could live and who must die. The Camorra did what any power wants to do once it’s obtained its power. That is, maintain it. The Camorra built a system based on “family” and “honour” known as the code of omertà. According to this code, the honourable man is the one who closes his eyes, his ears and, most importantly, his mouth – perhaps for his own self-preservation, perhaps because he’s on the take. By playing the Camorra’s game, he becomes the creature of an unjust system. A system that would chew him up and spit him out as soon as it deems this necessary to its continued existence.
Now all this reminds me of a question once posed by Augustine. “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms?” (The City of God, IV, 4). Augustine draws up a parallel between the political power – the state – and the criminal organization. The thin line that separates one from the other is the exercise of justice, or the rule of law. And not just any law, but a just law. A law that places the person at its heart. We could ask ourselves, here, on what, precisely, the dignity of the human person is founded. Augustine would say that it’s founded on the creation of the person in the image and likeness of God, and therefore that the just law ultimately depends on the divine law. This is way beyond the scope of this article. So, returning to my main point: where just laws are flouted by the state, or where the state publishes unjust laws, the state is no different to a criminal organization, whether or not it’s the people who’ve given them power. I don’t think we need to look very far away to find living examples proving Augustine’s point. Just consider Malta.
Just like the omertoso, we’ve allowed the powers-that-be to form our way of thinking, to form us in a culture blind to abuses of office and power. We’re rather happy with our culture of clientelism and with the rape of our environment, as long as the NSO tells us that there’s money in our wallets and we’re able to afford the latest flat-screen (or as long as some so-called “progressive” causes are won). We’ve been taken in by a culture which considers money, comfort and the power of the will as its highest goods, adoring their shimmering and their shining whilst crushing underfoot the weakest in society, those who reveal to us the truth of our idolatry – the poor, the immigrants, the uneducated, the elderly and the unborn.
“Development […] cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man” (Populorum Progressio, 14). The just society is the society of the rule of law founded on the dignity of the human person. It’s a society where the absolute dignity of each person is respected, where he or she is cared for, where his or her full potential is allowed to develop without unjust barriers, where each person can thrive in a clean and safe environment. It’s a society where wealth is distributed justly and reinvested in the community, not concentrated in the hands of the few. It’s a society where my wants are not only preceded but also exceeded by my responsibilities. The just society isn’t run by the Camorra.