Mafias were established in the feudal world of southern Italy, as a response to the population’s insecurity and demand for protection.
Since the year 1.000, after the collapse of Charlemagne’s empire, the spread of numerous castles in conjunction with continuous incursions by various foreign populations led to the need to rely on local lords as a safeguard.
Born as a means of protection, the mafia has expanded over the years as a real system culture, transforming small medieval bosses into rich aristocratic families that manipulated political power. It has since then become a widespread mentality, centered on devotion to an authority demanding taxes and complete loyalty.
Where the government fails to carry out its functions, the mafia system thrives. It can be conceived as a state within the state, the presence of which renders the government powerless. Since the 1980s, in certain parts of Italy the mafia has gradually overlapped the state, almost merging with it into a single entity – to the point of becoming indistinguishable.
Nowadays there is less talk about the mafia. Some believe this radio silence is due to the government’s annihilation of the mafia; others think that the mafia culture, previously identified as distinct entity, has now spread to such an extent that it is no longer separate from the rest of the institutions, thus becoming the dominant culture. And not just in Italy.
There is no doubt that some of the features of the mafia system have now consolidated and are tolerated in many nations. The uncritical devotion expected by governments, silence forced upon the media, gray areas of power, shared interests between the economic and political sectors and, in general, a division of the world in friends to feed and enemies to suppress are just some examples.
Perhaps in a time where political crises are threatening traditional states, one of the most concrete risks is that governments are transformed into mafia organizations.