Pope Francis Takes on the Mafia

“If you’re a young Mafia gangster out on your first date, I bet it’s real embarrassing if someone tries to kill you” – Jack Handy

A few days ago Pope Francis made some remarks calling out Italian mafia organizations and asking them to repent. I’m not catholic, but I seem to write about this pope a fair bit. It is refreshing to see him call out wrongdoing – and this case with the mafia is just one example.

The pope’s main beef here appears to be that the mafia participates in “enslavement” of other people:

“My thoughts are with the suffering of women, men, and also children who are exploited by the many mafias who make them slaves, through prostitution, through many social pressures, … They cannot do this, they cannot make our brothers slaves, we must pray to the Lord to make these mafiosi convert to God.”

Well amen, and well said. The Bible tells us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” – Prov 31:8.

The pope is calling on those organizations that operate outside the law, above the law, and use extra-legal pressures (and enforcement functions) to keep people under thumb, to set the captives free. It is an age-old story. People produce and people consume – and some people realize they could consume more if they simply harvested the production of others. In the case of the mafia they force “others” to be prostitutes, or marginalized slaves of some sort, in order to consume what they haven’t produced.

Boy – this seems like an awfully familiar topic. Hmmm, where have we heard this before?

Of course it’s not just the mafia who put people under thumb to consume what they didn’t produce. It is the very nature of unlimited democracy. When government power extends unchecked in a “majority rule” system, sooner or later the 51% will figure out they can have a pretty good go of it if they just take everything the 49% has.

The pope’s notable taking-of-offense at enslavement, particularly of our brothers, is praiseworthy. Alas, the enslavement of our brothers extends beyond the machinations of mafioso across Italy.

So how do we fix it? How do we set the captives free? Francis’s appeal is a good thing, and may even lead to a few turned hearts and released slaves. But it is unlikely to produce systemic change.

Harry Browne, long-time Libertarian presidential candidate, was fond of saying that “the Federal Government is the biggest mafia organization of all.” He meant this as a slight, and perhaps it is, but I think there is something more pragmatic in the saying. The mafia has these people enslaved, and will continue to have them enslaved until a “greater power” sets them free. If the government is the biggest mafia organization of them all, then they presumably wield the greatest power and can set these people free (or at least enslave them on different terms).

Here is where I’d usually set off on a rant about how making immoral actions illegal forces some people outside of the normal channels of legal protection, leaving them at the mercy of organized crime. However, prostitution is legal in Italy, and yet somehow these women are forced to perform their services at the behest of criminal elements. Why? One can only conclude that the government is not stridently committed to one of its primary functions: collective defense of individual liberties.

But the government is the people. At least that’s what we say we believe – “We the people …”. Thus, change in the government functioning in defense of individual liberties, particularly for the lowly and downtrodden, will stem from a change in the mindset of the people regarding this government function.

What does such a change look like? Naturally there must be compassion for the oppressed – but I suspect there already is. We also have to come to the conclusion that enslavement is worse than immoral but non-oppressive behavior (give the prostitutes equal protection, real equal protection). While we’re at it, we need a general commitment to the freedom of man. A man can hardly be oppressed (made unfree) if the biggest “mafia” in town has a singular commitment to making men free.

Alas, making men free is rarely at the heart of the political mind these days. No, we seem more committed to making men “good” and doing “good” rather than freedom – and we generally get neither. Attempts to make men “good” push those who choose “evil” outside of the normal channels of legal protection, and attempts at doing “good” only come at the expense of the producers, which is itself enslavement.

But I believe we can change it … we really can. We the people can make this government into whatever we want (as can the Italians with their government), and if we want to set men free (at least from their fellow men) then we really can. But such freedom comes at a price. We will have to tolerate that some men will use freedom “as an occasion to the flesh”. They’ll do immoral things. They’ll have sex outside of marriage (perhaps for pay), they’ll use drugs, they’ll hoard money to themselves and refuse to help the poor. Are we willing to tolerate such immoral behavior to make men free? I suggest we can’t have both – which will we choose?

So kudos to pope Francis. He keeps on hitting out against issues of oppression … and keeps giving me a good lead-in for another post on human freedom and equality.

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