One model of looking at Capone which is suggested by Laurence Bergreen is the idea of that he is a pivotal figure in the movement from the "Old World" to the "New World." Capone did, after all, seem to maintain some of the mannerisms and business approaches of the Neapolitan Camorristi crime groups. These were smaller-scale criminal societies who offered their services as "political fixers," manipulating politics at a local level and even helping the local police forces maintain order (Bergreen, 25-27). As well, they maintained a certain ethic in their criminality. Such a philosophy is evident at times in Capone, who, for one example, upon learning that two of his Sicilian colleagues had been aiding his enemies, invited them to dinner to talk over the problem. After he furnished a lavish meal, he leaned over to his guests and told them he knew about their betrayals, and launched an all-night torture session on the men until little remained of their bodies (Kobler, 166). Capone followed the old paradigm of "hospitality before execution" (Citation).

Capone's Soup Kitchen (Bardsley).

Along with this idea of the "New World" we see evident a certain glamour, an acceptance of the surface-value and an almost nihilistic devotion to self-promotion above every other concern. Morality is brutally murdered with the figure of Capone, who seems to represent a coming to terms with the darkness inside of man. For one thing, Capone basked in his celebrity. He even hired Damon Runyon as his press agent. When he heard news of the intent to bring him to trial, of the ongoing government investigations to pin hard evidence against him, Capone began to mount a "publicity campaign" to sway public opinion in his favor. Among a number of other falsely philanthropic gestures, Capone opened a soup kitchen during the annals of the Depression. He murdered or arranged the murders of countless men, many of whom were innocent. With Capone, then, even the abandonment of morality is made to appear beautiful and is worthy of celebrity and glamour.

Such an idea of a conjoinment of the old and the new, of a pivot in our method of perceiving the world and accordingly acting in it is forwarded in Saul Bellow's Chicago short story, "Cousins."

Bellow's protagonist in the story, Ijah, has a revelation when a cousin of his asks him to use his legal sway to help their cousin get a reduced sentence. "Mind, I absolutely agree with Hegel (Lectures at Jena, 1806) that the whole mass of ideas that have been current until now, 'the very bonds of the world,' are dissolving and collapsing like a vision in a dream. A new emergence of Spirit is-- or had better be-- at hand. Or as another thinker and visionary put it, mankind was long supported by an unheard music which buoyed it, gave it flow, continuity, coherence. But this humanistic music has ceased, and now there is a different, barbarous music welling up, and a different elemental force has begun to manifest itself, without form as yet" (Bellow, 205-6). Indeed, Ijah himself seems to be the site of such a transformation-- while he is still "Old Worldish" in his devotion to study and in the facade of a life he has chosen to live (he is a lawyer), he finds himself subject to strange interests, forming a dark inner-life. He develops an obsession with a native Siberian tribe. "In this dark land you entered the house by a ladder inside the chimney... There were photos of dogs crucified, a common form of sacrifice. The powers of darkness surrounded you" (Bellow, 211). Ijah reads these books to "play hooky" from his normal life, he seeks solace in such a world. Moreover, he continually does favors to his cousins to show them that he has chosen the right life for himself. He is, at base, narcissistic. He uses his ties to the traditionally virtuous as a curtain to hide his real dark passions behind-- he even uses his alleged morality as a tool for the immoral end of proving himself better than the rest of his family. In short, Ijah is Bellow's modern man, torn between his virtue and moral traditionalism and his more base desire to indulge in darkness and immorality.
Another important history to examine as relates to Capone is the history of his brother, which provides a counter-example perfectly suited to our discussion of the corruption of the institutions of government and law enforcement. Al Capone's eldest brother, Vincenzo, moved out of Brooklyn early in his life, situating himself in Homer, Nebraska and adopting the false name of Richard Joseph Hart. There, "Hart" became a Prohibition officer, a newly-formed group of law officials responsible solely for finding bootleggers and violators of the Volstead act. These agents were ironically given greater authority than local law enforcement officials, though their low wages made them extremely susceptible to bribery (Bergreen, 63). During a trip to Sioux City, Iowa, Hart was in pursuit of a Native American Indian bootlegger. He and his cohorts spotted a Buick they believed to be the suspect's car and began firing upon it, killing the driver. Upon reaching the car, however, they realized it was not the bootlegger at all, but rather an innocent White man, a father. Hart's life was threatened by a bootlegger's group, who said they would hang him, and he went into hiding until his trial for manslaughter. Eventually, the pro-Prohibitionists, including the Women's Christian Temperance Union, one of the most influential Prohibitionist groups in getting the Volstead Act ratified, garnered enough support that Hart was found innocent under the pretense that he was doing his duty.

Hart (Bardsley).

This anecdote provides an interesting perspective on the hypocrisy of the Prohibitionists. Hart was, of course, guilty of manslaughter-though he was on the job, his reckless actions caused the death of an innocent man. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, in pushing forward the idea that he was merely "doing his job" is paradoxically advocating a morality (prohibition) at all costs, even the cost of an immoral enforcement (immoral in its recklessness). This story shows that not only were government agencies and law enforcement officials often persuaded to abandon their duty, but that the purveyors of the policies which are often thus abandoned are corrupt in their blind adherence to their principle. Again, we see the strange "New World" of the modern "darkness" or immorality as represented by Bellow, here penetrating even the most morally-stringent representatives of "Old World" morality (the WCTU).
Reading Carl Sandburg's "Chicago" provides reflection on this idea.

"They tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again"

Clearly Sandburg is referring to the mob here. But we can read the statement in another way, as indicative of the violence also by the government and its enforcement arms, though often the mob is indistinguishable from the government, as we have seen. Taking an example from the life of Capone, "Big Jim" Colosimo, Chicago mob boss who was succeeded by Torrio, was originally an extortionist for two Chicago aldermen, and was promoted to Chicago Police Department precinct captain after he convinced his street sweepers' union to vote for them. Particularly the word "crooked" seems to suggest a reference to politics, since terms like "crooked politicians" have become pervasive in popular culture. Sandburg's poem demands an acceptance of the reality of such violence, since he responds to complaints of violence with a simple "Yes". Again, a nihilistic absence of morality seems to be equated with the modern, and with Chicago.

Colosimo's Cafe (Bardsley).


/// © Taylor Hales and Nikolas Kazmers, All Rights Reserved, 2004 \\\