The Political Regime of Cosa Nostra: Between Independentist and Consociational Pressures

During the decades, Cosa Nostra has also established its own peculiar political system of interest representation made up of an executive, a legislative and a legal branch. The separation of powers, as elucidated by Montesquieu (1977) in The Spirit of the Laws, is not present in the form observed in modern democracies. Similarities, however, do exist. As noted by Paoli (2003, pp. 40-64), contrary to common wisdom, the Commission, whether it ever existed in the form portrayed in the movies, was not supposed to the central government of Cosa Nostra, but a representative mechanism for consultation of independent mandamenti and provinces who decided by deliberative-patriarchal consensus. As portrayed by several state witnesses (in particular, Tommaso Buscetta, Antonino Calderone, Francesco Marino Mannoia and Luciano Messina to quote only the most famous ones), not only do decisions followed the patterns of direct democracy with deliberative meetings by the representatives of each mandamento (sometimes also by raise of hands), but even the process of elections of representatives follows a democratic pattern. The capi-mandamento are elected often on an annual basis either by open vote (rising hands) among the members of the clan, or, when security concerns emerged, as in the case of large family in Palermo, by secret ballot.

In addition, also the myth of an undisputed command of the boss should be dismantled. According to Cosa Nostra’s unwritten ‘constitutional’ procedures, every boss had on his side a consigliere, whose task was not simply to give him advice on what policies to choose, but also to act as the ‘checks’ to his activities on behalf of the clan (the consigliere is, hence, an intermediate organ responsible for intermediate ‘checks and balances’ of powers). Only with the advent of Riina and Provenzano the system of ‘checks and balances’ of powers took a more personalistic form, but here it should also be remembered that this situation, already the object of several tensions within the members of the clans, drastically changed since their arrest.

Due to its patriarchal nature, as Paoli (2003) has noted that the political regime established by Cosa Nostra tended, however, to a self-reproduction of power, and the ideal direct democracy aspirations were continuously challenged by authoritarian centripetal tendencies.

In addition, because of the existing decentralized and personalistic institutional structures, contrasting ideas, interests and needs on a determined ‘criminal politics’ to pursue often emerged. In order to deal with this issue, the organization of the decision-making made up of a mix of centralized and decentralized distribution of power and authority aimed at favouring the construction of national and international alliances, which, then, tended to stabilize the system as a whole.

For example, even though conflicting interests between two families operating in the same province emerged, this did not preclude the stability of the overall system, since other compensatory alliances with other clans in other provinces (or even within the same province in the Italian territory) or abroad were established. The system of governance in Cosa Nostra can, as a consequence, be described as a highly effective system of political representation capable of dealing with the increasing complexity that stemmed from its quasi-federal territorial structure and endemic individual tensions.

Clans face, in fact, the constant dilemma of maintaining autonomy to maximize their own business and profits, while looking for alliances and partnerships so as to increase their power and influence at the highest level of the ‘official’ decision making, eg. Italian parliament or senate. Hence, it can be concluded that consociational and independentist pressures aimed at a regionalist state-building often merged together in a highly unstable mix of configurations and re-configurations of powers that took place in the national as well as in the international political and business arenas (for a review, see Jamieson 1994; Falcone and Padovani 2001; Paoli 2003; Pezzino 2003; Dickie 2004; Lupo 2004). This is particularly true in the case of the connections present in the United States, though the same now holds true for the connections with other ‘integrated criminal systems’ present in Eastern Europe, Russia, Commonwealth of Indipendent States and China (see my other blog posts here and here).


  1. Cosa Nostra (‘Our Thing’): An Introduction
  2. Historical Legacies of Cosa Nostra 
  3. Cosa Nostra’s Political and Governance Mechanisms: National and Transnational Ties 
  4. Cosa Nostra: System of Values and Norms
  5. Cosa Nostra’s System of Taxation and The Transnational Criminal Integrated System
  6. The Political Regime of Cosa Nostra: Between Independentist and Consociational Pressures
  7. The Transnational-Based Criminal Market Economy
  8. Cosa Nostra’s Criminal-Fare Regime 
  9. Cosa Nostra’s Systemic Problems 
  10. The ‘Anti-Mafia’ Organization: A Historical-Institutionalist Approach
  11.  List of Sicilian ‘Noblesse’ (Noble Families) A-Z
  12. Reference List

     

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