Protection Rackets

Alexander Murray

  • The Crisis of the 12th Century: Power, Lordship and the Origins of European Government by Thomas Bisson
    Princeton, 677 pp, £23.95, November 2008, ISBN 978 0 691 13708 7

Young men who join gangs are participating in an alternative system of social cohesion. Each gang upholds its collective will through a range of penalties which include death, torture and mutilation, and keeps poverty at bay by theft and the sale of contraband, or, in more mature organisations, by kidnap and racketeering. In time, leadership concentrates in the man whose mastery of the idiom is the most complete, and he becomes the ‘godfather’, his authority protected, outside his immediate family, by a perimeter wall of terror.

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