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Politicians: mafiosi?

Henry at Crooked Timber links to Charles Tilly’s 1982 essay Warmaking and Statemaking as Organised Crime [pdf], which by happy chance dovetails nicely with my previous post on the US Justice Department’s current system of deferred prosecution for corporate malefactors, and reader Richard’s apt characterization of it as basically a protection racket. Tilly’s paper opens with a nice riff on the possible valences of the word “protection”:

In contemporary American parlance, the word “protection” sounds two contrasting tones. One is comforting, the other ominous. With one tone, “protection” calls up images of the shelter against danger provided by a powerful friend, a large insurance policy, or a sturdy roof. With the other, it evokes the racket in which a local strongman forces merchants to pay tribute in order to avoid damage, damage the strongman himself threatens to deliver. […]

[C]onsider the definition of a racketeer as someone who creates a threat, then charges for its reduction. Governments’ provision of protetion, by this standard, often qualifies as racketeering. To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary, or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket.

TWAT, anybody?

One comment
  1. 1  Graham Giblin  April 21, 2008, 11:51 am 

    The appeal to national security as a protection racket has been going on for a very long time indeed. It was an article of propaganda faith for Goering. You know the famous Nuremberg quote:
    “the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked” etc.

    I don’t wish to sidetrack comment on this use but “protection” has been used just as UnSpeakably in another context.

    Until the second half of the 20th century, Aborigines in Australia had a different understanding of the word, protection.
    From the 1890s almost every state had an Aboriginal Protection Board. The job of these “protectors” was to remove tens of thousands of part-, and pale-skinned, Aboriginal children from their families so that they could be “merged” into the white culture. (“Full-bloods” were not removed but were left, in their racial degeneracy, to die out; a eugenic strategy to fade out the aboriginal race – slowburn genocide, if you like.)

    [The] Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia, AO Neville, wrote in an article for The West Australian in 1930:

    “Eliminate the full-blood and permit the white admixture to half-castes and eventually the race will become white.”

    Some protector!

    [Happily, on 13 February this year the new Prime Minister, as almost his first official act, made a formal apology in Parliament to what have become known as the “Stolen Generations” for the wrong that was done to them.]

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