our vices, their crimes

There is an essay on trust and the Mafia by a sociologist, Diego Gambetta, that includes an interesting quote by Tocqueville. Before he travelled in America, Tocqueville went to Sicily. Not much of the manuscript he wrote about this visit survives. But Gambetta quotes this sentence from an imaginary dialogue between a Sicilian and a Neapolitan in which Tocqueville presents viewpoints on corruption. The Neapolitan has been scolding the Sicilian for being ruled by criminal gangs -- mafia. The Sicilian replies: ‘dénaturée par l’oppression, 1’énergie cachée de notre caractère national ne se révèle plus que par des crimes; pour vous, vous n’avez que des vices.

Somehow, that sentence illuminates the relationship between the United States and Mexico. As long as the black market in drugs and labor is a greater churner of revenue than any licit market in Mexico, the political structure is going to be chronically undermined; and as long as the U.S. refuses to accept the market consequences of the vices to which the American people are addicted -- that is, the inevitability of a drugs and illegal labor market -- but tries to "stem" these markets with a regime of punishments, the black market in Mexico will continue to be one of the great, rational roads to riches. Decriminalizing drugs in the U.S. would have beneficial effects not only in the US, but elsewhere.

On another, related note: LI has found a blog devoted to the present situation of Mexican politics run by Michelle Dion, who is currently the visiting Fulbright-Garcia Robles professor at the Centro de Invstigacion y Docencia Economicas, which impresses the hell out of us. We learned, for instance, via Dr. Dion, of an incident in the Congress yesterday that involved a PAN legislator spitting in the face of a PRI legislator.

Unsurprising, actually. In spite of the American press’ presentation of PAN as a harmless, democracy loving party, PAN was started as an openly fascistic party in the thirties.

It often goes unremarked that the roots of fascism are not simply described by the love of force. The most successful anti-mafia program in Italy’s history was implemented by Mussolini. The petit bourgeois distaste for corruption is genuine. Remember, it was, of all people, Jesse Helms who was most vociferous about the corrupt ties between the S&Ls and the Senate in the early nineties – Helms was the prosecutor of the Keating Seven. This isn’t to say that the ultra-right will always, itself, be above corruption – the chance of a legislator being corrupt depends more on the ability of that legislator to accrue a vendible power than on any ideological slant. LI assumes that personal integrity, here, is a very minor variable, and not one that is usually part of the make up of those who become politicians. Institutions forge character, and character accumulates in institutions to press the limits of institutional possibility to ever greater extremes.

However, the appearance of non-corruption is a very important fascistic draw. Since the left sees all too clearly the similarity between gangster organizations and ultra right organizations – Brecht made this the whole basis for dramatizing Nazism – it interprets struggles between fascists and organized crime as a struggle between two equally criminal groups. However, this use of “criminal” extracts the word from its pragmatic context, and so blurs the everyday way people look on such struggles. This is a topic LI will someday return to.