In terms of their power today, how does it compare to, say, 25 years ago?
The entire historical leadership of the Sicilian mafia, for example, is behind bars apart from one man – Matteo Messina Denaro.
That doesn’t mean that the mafia is dead – far from it.
The Camorra in the form of an Honoured Society re-emerged in the 1970s, in Raffaele Cutolo’s remarkable Nuova Camorra Organizzata.
Cutolo probably borrowed the ideas for his organisation – the most numerous in Italian mafia history – from the ’Ndrangheta, into which he was initiated, as well as from books about the old Neapolitan Honoured Society he borrowed from prison libraries.
The Cosa Nostra and the ’Ndrangheta have a dynastic politics that resemble the royal families of medieval Europe.
In other words, they keep their women at home and they use them as pawns in the diplomatic game.
Revolutions need an armed wing, and the idealistic patriots who were conspiring to overthrow the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies – as Southern Italy and Sicily were called – and unite it with the rest of Italy, formed an alliance with violent criminals whom they used as revolutionary muscle.
Our best guess at why the mafias are organised like freemasons – with admission rituals, hierarchies, internal courts and codes of behaviour – is that they learnt that way of organising themselves from these patriots, many of whom were freemasons or involved in Masonic-style secret societies. Firstly, the ’Ndrangheta arrived slightly later – in the 1880s.
The easiest way to define a mafia is as a freemasonry of criminals – it’s the freemasons for murderers – and that’s what the Cosa Nostra and ’Ndrangheta are.
The Camorra is different in that it’s a catch-all term for a much less centrally coordinated archipelago of gangs that range from city drug dealers to clans that look much more like the Sicilian mafia, like the Casalesi – who threatened to kill the journalist Roberto Saviano.