Looking at Italy today, penologists see a curiously non-violent society which becomes progressively less murderous with every passing year.
Despite past images of Mafia gunmen, jealous lovers, and Red Brigade assassins, present-day violations of the Italian criminal code tend to be rather more gentle. Even twentieth- century Italian civil conflicts have been relatively bloodless; the 1919-22 turmoil that saw Mussolini’s fascisti destroy the country’s fledgling democracy only cost about 2,000 lives – and produced about as many books.
When Italians themselves have looked at Italy, however, they have historically seen rampaging anarchy, time-bombs ticking, and daggers drawn as criminals and subversives compete for the honour of destroying the social order. When the peninsula found itself haphazardly unified in the mid-19th century, Italy’s founding fathers inherited many policemen and many enemies. Nervously, they recruited even more policemen to fight bandits and revolutionaries (often the same people).
So suspicious were Italy’s early leaders that they created mutually antagonistic police organisations to ensure that none became too powerful, according to the time-honoured principle of divide and rule.