From an article by Larry Garner and Roberta Garner in the November issue of Current History:

Historically associated with the differences between the north and south {in Italy} is the power of the Mafia, an institution that jars sharply with the new image of Italy as a dynamic and advanced capitalist democracy. The Mafia challenges the modern state's claim to have a monopoly on the organized use of force. Indeed, the assassination of public officials known for their anti-Mafia views is still a common occurence in the south.

Magistrates and criminologists are gradually shifting away from the prevailing model of the Mafia as a single unitary criminal organization with a definable pinnacle that could be neatly cut off by the indictment and conviction of top leadership. This model, which formed the working hypothesis of magistrate Giovanni Falcone and underpinned the "maxi-trial" of 122 indicted mafiosi, suffered a practical defeat when 82 of the defendants, including the presumed "boss of bosses," Michele Greco, were acquitted in the spring of 1989. The old theoretical model has given way to a view of the Mafia not as a unitary organization but as a pattern of behavior and a way of doing business that pervades southern Italian society. It is characterized by a multiplicity of groups, the use of violence as a sanction, reliance on family ties and other personal relationships as a means of establishing trust, the interpenetration of legal and illegal markets, a norm of silence vis-a`-vis outsiders and close connections with the state and local political system. ...

Mafia organizations will cease to play a role in Italian life only when the institutions of society -- especially public institutions -- are reformed and come to operate according to more universal and less violent norms.