Atavistic Monsters and Hedonistic Culture: A New Definition for American Organized Crime

By Fred W. Viehe.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper argues that American organized crime is composed of atavistic cultural groups who organize themselves according to an antiquated social structure emphasizing ethnicity. La Cosa Nostra: U. S. Families (i.e., the Mafia), for example, is composed only of men who are of Italian and Sicilian descent. Catholicism is the only allowed religion. Other criminal groups are united solely by their ethnicity whether they are Irish, Jewish, African-American, Cuban, Chinese or Russian. Other criminal groups such as prison gangs and motorcycle gangs follow a similar pattern. This paper also argues that organized criminal groups historically are the chief providers of hedonistic cultural services including, but not limited to sex, gambling, and narcotics. Since the colonial period in the eighteenth century, organized criminal groups indulged in and/or provided illegal goods and services, especially those of a hedonistic nature. These atavistic and hedonistic characteristics recast American organized crime in a new light. Instead of identifying this phenomenon as organized hierarchy and corruption (Cressey, 1969), illicit enterprise (Smith, 1975), syndicated crime (Albini, 1976), ethnic succession (Ianni and Reuss-Iannni, 1976), or as an eclectic ongoing criminal activity (Abadinsky 1985), this definition focuses on the motivations of organized criminals who at one and the same time seek to maintain a past social structure while also pursuing futuristic hedonistic goals. In effect, American organized crime is like a two-headed eagle, facing both the past as well as the future.

Keywords: Atavistic Monsters, Hedonistic Culture, New Definition, American Organized Crime

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp.141-166. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 751.284KB).

Prof. Fred W. Viehe

Professor, Department of History, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio, USA

Fred Viehe is a Professor of American Urban History at Youngstown State University, whose works have appeared in California History, Southern California Quarterly, Journal of Urban History, Proceedings of the Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, The Forum on Public Policy, and A Companion to Malcolm Arnold (edited by Raphael D. Thone), forthcoming.


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