The Mafia Families of Corleone
By Justin Cascio
This is an excerpt from Justin’s book.
How Families Create Social Value for the Mafia
The Mafia began in the latifundia of inland, central-western Sicily, in the decades after the Bourbon king replaced feudalism with private land ownership (Blok, 1974; Hess, 1973/1998; Mack Smith, 1988; Lupo 1993/2009). The right to enforce and interpret the law in most communities of western Sicily was held by the barons. The authority to use violence was passed down from the king to his vassals, and from them to the men who worked on their estates. Gabellotti concentrated power by exploiting their positions as middlemen. Using coercion and threats against both landowners and peasants, the gabellotti grew wealthy and powerful. When feudalism ended, because the state did not sufficiently exert itself to secure its monopoly on violence, the Mafia system grew more entrenched.
Authoritarian values, the normalization of violence, distrust of the state, high esteem for family honor, gender segregation, Sicilian and Catholic identity, a lack of boundaries among the resources of branches of a family and their businesses, are some of the norms and values shared by traditional Sicilians. They are passed down through the same primary and secondary channels of family and society that form every human being’s core identity and influence what courses of action we can perceive as open to us. Family type, one’s role within it, and the formative experiences of childhood, augment these selective forces. In the case of Mafia, these values are harnessed to create a resilient and endless band of allies who will use violence to achieve the family’s aims, including by indoctrinating a new generation (Goldsmith, 2020; Halket, Gormley, Mello, and Mirkin, 2014).
Hess (1973/1998) asserts that the biological family is at the center of the Mafia because of the strength of kinship ties in maintaining trust among criminal associates. Trust is one of the only methods the Mafia has for reducing the high cost of doing business in the fragile, often illegal industries they dominate. Their other tool is violence.
A psychopathy profile characterized by relatively high scores in antisocial or borderline personality, and lower scores in narcissistic personality traits, distinguishes mafiosi from their unaffiliated criminal peers. “[M]afiosi showed significant antisocial traits but they maintained a capacity for emotional connection…” (Schimmenti, Caprì, La Barbera, and Caretti, 2014). This combination allows the same individual to form trusting relationships with others, but also to employ violence—sometimes against the same people—without misgivings.
The individual who uses violence internalizes the rightness of their actions. Amoral familism justifies any action with appeals to authority and the primacy of family. Ianni and Reuss-Ianni describe an inability to see moral value in any principle or institution outside the family among the Mafia family members they meet. The solipsism of Mafia family values is a destructive element of cult thinking, but it is one that can survive when the subculture supports it.
The most important bonds for establishing mutual trust are those of kinship (Hess, 1973/1998). By hijacking natural, essential, social structures, the Mafia enters a parasitic relationship with the family. Mafia families gain power in the exchange, but become vulnerable without continued collaboration. The Mafia family resembles the Italian state in that the fusion of Mafia and a traditional model of authority produces a mode of governance in which corruption is an inescapable feature (Hess, 2011).
Every mafioso, estate agent, landowner, or king who wants a piece of the value that workers create, operates out of greed. Each justifies his use of violence to fulfill that desire. The gabellotto’s innovation, which led to the Mafia’s birth, was to capitalize on the fear he inspired in both the landowner above him, as well as in the sharecropper below.
The right to use violence in one context tends to normalize its use in adjacent contexts (Blok, 1974). Domestic violence, for example, has multiple root causes, among them family systems of origin in which violence is normalized, substance abuse, and certain personality and psychological disorders (Goldsmith, 2020; Dryden-Edwards, n.d.). At the individual level, experiencing domestic violence as either an abuser or a victim can signal low self-worth and low education.
The use of violence in any realm is strongly linked to the belief that its use is authorized. Initially, the power of an estate manager or guard working on behalf of a baron was using agency granted by the Almighty, through the monarch and his vassal agents, to maintain order and security for landowners. The Mafia is not opposed to state powers, although mafiosi are frequently defined by their resolute resistance to recognition of state agency. As the Mafia’s relationship to the Italian state makes clear, it is agnostic in regard to other powers, and will use whatever serves its own purpose of consolidating and expanding power over a territory (Hess, 2011).
When the laws changed, the gabellotti’s real power remained strong. But his legal justification was only ever a thin cloak of expedience over his true power, which was his ability to summon violence from a dozen or more men who would fight for their family honor against anyone who resisted his authority. Sicily’s rugged independence and authoritarianism come from a long history of legal neglect, in which might made right. Strong man rule, backed by credible threats of mortal violence, was the norm to which Sicilians were long adapted. Dozens of Sicilian expressions extol the virtues of minding one’s own business and not making oneself an easy target. With the breakdown of feudalism, those old values justified the gabellotto’s continued use of violence.
Blok, A. (1974). The Mafia of a Sicilian Village, 1860-1960: A Study of Violent Peasant Entrepreneurs. Harper Torchbooks.
Dryden-Edwards, R. (n.d.) Domestic Violence. Stöppler, M. C. (Ed.). Retrieved 24 January 2020 from https://www.medicinenet.com/domestic_violence/article.htm
Goldsmith, T. D. (2020, January 14). What Causes Domestic Violence? Retrieved 24 January 2020 from https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-causes-domestic-violence/
Halket, M.M., Gormley, K., Mello, N. et al. (2014). Stay With or Leave the Abuser? The Effects of Domestic Violence Victim’s Decision on Attributions Made by Young Adults. J Fam Viol 29: 35. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-013-9555-4
Hess, H. (1998). Mafia & Mafiosi: Origin, Power and Myth. (E. Osers, Trans.). London: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. (Original work published 1973)
Hess, H. (2011). Approaching and Explaining the mafia phenomenon. Attempts of a Sociologist. Sociology. Available online at https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Approaching-and-Explaining-the-Mafia-Phenomenon.-of-Hess/fd679b86a76dcd86a8dd412245ec93db37c7a3aa
Lupo, S. (2009). History of the Mafia. (Shugaar, A., Trans.). Columbia University Press. (Original work published in 1993)
Mack Smith, D. (1988). History of Sicily: Modern Sicily After 1713. Dorset Press.
Schimmenti A., Caprì C., La Barbera D., Caretti V. (2014). Mafia and psychopathy. Crim. Behav. Ment. Health 24, 321–331. 10.1002/cbm.1902
“In Our Blood” can be purchased at AMAZON. The book description can be found below.
“The Mafia is usually described as hierarchical, with capos and soldiers reporting to a boss. IN OUR BLOOD proceeds from a different view: that the Mafia’s principal organizational units are the mafioso and his immediate family. Pivotal figures in Mafia history, including present-day mafiosi, have direct genealogical ties to one another and to the earliest recorded Mafia gangs in Corleone. Organizing around the sacred bonds of blood, marriage, and godparenthood has proven vital to the success of the Sicilian Mafia in the United States. This fully referenced genealogical history of the Mafia families of Corleone names dozens of gangsters and their relationships to one another. The conclusions drawn from sociological and historical evidence are striking and have implications for Mafia families — and the rest of us. Whether your interest in the organization, migration, psychology, and family systems of the Mafia is personal or academic, this book is for you.”
Justin has many books in the Non-Fiction, True Crime, True Mafia, Crime genre. “In Our Blood” is his first book. He has done extensive research into the Mafia and Mafioso of his ancestral hometown in Sicily. He has a website called Mafia Genealogy full of information. “In Our Blood” along with Justin’s other books can be found on Amazon, as well as in our Bookstore