Posts tagged with: the sopranos

One of the interesting things you learn when you start working at the Acton Institute is that the brother of Acton Institute co-founder and president Rev. Robert A. Sirico is an actor.  A pretty famous actor, actually.  And eventually it sinks in that Father Sirico’s brother Tony is, in fact, Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos.

Now, if you know anything about Paulie Walnuts, you know that he’s a pretty tough character: a gangster with few scruples about engaging in all manner of violence and mayhem and who regularly curses a blue streak.  And if you know anything about Tony Sirico, you know that—as his younger brother Robert has said on a few occasions—he doesn’t have to act much to play the roles that he has played.  So you can imagine that there was a touch of anxiety from certain quarters here at Acton when it was learned that Tony had been invited to introduce his brother’s keynote address at the 20th Anniversary Dinner that was held last Thursday at the JW Marriott Hotel here in Grand Rapids.

Well, we’re pleased to report that Tony successfully restrained his “French” in his introduction of his brother – “a real priest.”  Here’s the video:

We’ll have more highlights from the dinner this week, so stay tuned to the PowerBlog!

This sounds like a book with a compelling narrative: McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

I’ve often thought about the connection between organized crime and legitimate governmental structures. In the NPR interview linked above, “Journalist Misha Glenny points out that while globalization may have given the world new opportunities for trade and investments, it also gave rise to global black markets and made it easier for criminal networks to do business.” There’s a lot of cogent analysis of trade issues and how government policy not only combats but also contributes to the existence of globalized “black markets.”

It has occurred to me more than once, in watching shows like HBO’s “The Sopranos,” that a good deal of the socio-political aspects of organized crime is explicable in terms of alternative (and often obsolete) forms of governance. That is, often when extorting money from business owners, superficially legitimate services are offered, like “protection,” i.e. protection that the official authorities like the police are unwilling or unable to provide.

Can Tony Soprano claim to be the “king,” or at least “kingpin” of a more feudal or monarchical socio-political structure? Perhaps, just perhaps, there is the hypothetical exceptional situation in which the “outlaws” represent a more legitimate form of governance than official but tyrannical structures (think of Robin Hood, for instance).

But there is at least clear precedent for understanding the reverse to be true; legitimate authorities can certainly degenerate into outright banditry even if bandits may not be able to rise to the level of authentic sovereignty. As Augustine has reflected on the nature of legitimate sovereignty,

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.” (City of God, Book IV, Chapter 4, “How Like Kingdoms Without Justice are to Robberies.”)

And so the appeal to political legitimacy can only be made in recognition of the rule of law, the higher law or the “law beyond law,” that governs all human endeavors.