Underworld is often understood as something criminal, standing out of law, sometimes also standing against ruler.

It is quite well known that some criminals (mostly murders of children or so) don't live long time because other criminals kill them (because murder of child is simply unacceptable also for them).

But what if underworld would change to protective organisation? And then they (men or even women) would be protectors of chosen people (children, pregnant women, or even sometimes very important people)?

How to make criminal underworld to change into league of gentlemen?

  • $\begingroup$ A related question might be "what makes a man a gentleman?" That question is deceptively hard to answer. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Apr 21 '16 at 0:32
  • $\begingroup$ Your question assumes, incorrectly, that there is a hard line between a criminal organization and a law-abiding one. Consider that in the middle ages, many robber barons became legitimate aristocrats. Also consider the case of Chinese warlords during the transition between Imperial China and Communist China. When the Communists took over, they co-opted as many of the warlords and their "criminal gangs" as they could, legitimizing them. I'm sure you can find many other historical examples when a revolution resulted in former outlaws becoming law-abiding citizens. $\endgroup$ – Lensman Apr 21 '16 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ Taken to extreme, you might imagine a case where an organization like a Tong overthrew an existing government, replacing it with their own rule. In such a case, they would certainly be protecting very important people -- the rulers of their own Tong! $\endgroup$ – Lensman Apr 21 '16 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Lensman: I know that line between criminal organisation and law-abiding one is very smooth, at least with taking into consideration such cases like Jean Valjean (even if probably fictious) that only stole piece of bread because he was starving. $\endgroup$ – Václav Apr 21 '16 at 21:08

The Republic of Ireland had a nationalistic organisation called the IRA (Irish Republican Army). The Government of the UK considered this organisation to be terrorists, and they did indeed carry out killings of innocent people. Many people who sympathised with the aims of the IRA supported them. As a paramilitary organisation part of the role they perceived for themselves was policing their communities. They are synonymous with 'knee cappings' - shooting a bullet from behind a persons knee. This punishment was often handed out to drug dealers, who the IRA were particularly keen to keep out of their communities, even though they themselves were implicated in all sorts of other forms of organised crimes.

So I think it probably depends on a persons perspective. One person's hero is anothers villain. If an external force is perceived to be of threat to a society, that societies organised criminal organisations would likely exploit the situation to come across as the 'good guys' and thus operate with the full support and impunity of local people.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. You see the same with Gadafi in Libya. The dictator was horrible but remove him and you get chaos. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Apr 20 '16 at 21:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Bellerephon This is not the same. The power vacuum left split the country in the aftermath of his removal. Suppressing freedom isn't the same thing as creating unity. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Apr 20 '16 at 21:23

The scenario you talk about requires organized crime (which is about making money, violence is a means to an end), a strong and far-sighted crime boss, and a weak government.

Imagine that crime boss starts not just to collect protection money, but also to provide genuine protection. Not out of the goodness of his or her heart but in order to protect the "tax base" of the neighbourhood. Sometime after that, the business community starts to insist on predictable taxes and a way to complain to the boss when a henchman gets carried away.

Compare the classic insurgency model where an insurgent force transitions from terrorism to maneuver warfare and government services.


There are a couple of branches of this question, making it harder to answer coherently, but here I go.

If you want to make a league of gentlemen out of the general criminal underworld, you would first make them organized, into a criminal organization. For that, you'd need a charismatic leader, people who will follow that leader, and new recruits who need or gain something by joining this group. For example, a gang starting with a man with leadership skills, organizes his loyal friends (or maybe contacts, I'm not fluent in the social expectations of the criminal underbelly), and then you get people off the streets who need the money or just a job. Freakonomics, a non-fiction book that uses the rules of economics to explain otherwise-unexplainable phenomena has a chapter about a gang based on drug dealing, and it was built much like a corporate organization. Someone was calling the shots (like a CEO), some people had power and important responsibilities, like managing recruiting or drug intake and outflow (the board of directors), important higher-ups like drug-transporters and local recruiters (like department or store managers), and then you had the "bottom feeders", the actual dealers who were paid the least and could be easily replaced, but took the dangerous job for financial purposes (retail-floor workers).

So now you've got an (very) organized group involved in crime. It has strong footholds, loyal members, safety nets, a wide network, spies even, etc. They exist because something, usually a practice or good, wasn't legal (if it were legal, it wouldn't be as appealing or profitable to the originator of the criminal organization, or the alternative is they're a legal organization). Like drug or human trafficking. And even though their actions often are directly harmful to people and/or require violence and murder to enforce their territory, sometimes they were benevolent. Mafia families did actually have a sense of family and loyalty among their own families, and were said to have arranged marriages for alliances just like historic royalties. And both gangs and mafias did follow through on the "protection" they charged for, defending stores that paid the protection fee from criminals or rival gangs. So criminal organizations did actions for revenge, to preserve their own existence, and profit. It doesn't make much sense for a criminal organization to go story-book evil or serial-killer psychotic and harm people for no reason.

But turning them into the good guys is likely very conditional and challenging. Let's talk about Suicide Squad first. It's a special operations task force made from skilled supervillains and supercriminals on a work-release program. Some notables are Bane, Black Adam, and in the movie, Harley Quinn and the Joker. Their motivation is they get to shorten their prison sentences by performing covert tasks for the government. They also probably find it fun, as it can be similar to their crime life and the thrill is just great for supervillains.

Most long-time criminals pick up something while they're in the business. Drug-dealers may learn sales skills, for example. They also may perform their criminal duty in the opposite direction, like hackers working to prevent other hackers from succeeding and Frank Abagnale, whose story was adapted in Catch Me If You Can, used his skills in faking identities to help stop identity theft. The problem with retribution prison that the US has is that criminals often become law-abiding citizens and either lack the skills and education to get a job or it's impossible to get a job, and so they return to crime, as they've learned to be good at it, and it's all they know. Give them a legal job requiring their skills and make it just as or even more profitable than their criminal one, and you've good a good guy.

But if you want to turn a whole criminal organization into a legal league of gentlemen, well then you have to do that on a macro-scale and be sure that the organization can still exist in the legal world. The Prohibition era mafia families fell into disarray because there wasn't any room for a smuggling and distribution operation like them; those facets of the economy were already in place. You would have to make sure that leadership is stable and that the legal side of business is profitable and appealing. For example, Anonymous, a very well-known hacking group, has accomplished hacking feats far superior than both the NSA and FBI and manage to hide their traces better. You could employ them directly into the NSA and FBI or make them an independent branch on their own, or maybe even an exclusive contractor. I'm sure there are other organizations I'm not aware of or are still underground, but they also fit this bill.

Far easier though, is to make this organization a vigilante league of gentlemen. Essentially chaotic good anti-heroes, they can steal from those deemed evil or corrupt and give to those in need. Pretty Boy Floyd was a bank robber who gained appeal and praise from citizens by burning the records of their mortgages and debts. Some gangsters, like Mickey Spillane had the media perception of a "gentlemen", and avoided violence when he could and never allowed drug trade or violent mobs in his territory.

So change their business from selling illicit drugs smuggled in or grown/made locally to stealing from pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies and selling necessary and helpful over-priced prescription at a far lower price or for free. The only people who really suffer are the owners, share-owners, and high-higher-ups in this corporate conglomerate, so nobody good is getting hurt. This is sometimes how revolutionary sides or rebels act, actually, during civil wars. There are stories all over, but I don't want to quote anything because there wasn't a completely benevolent revolutionary side.

So, to recap and summarize. A for-profit organization starts when there is a profitable business or source of income, and it's built when there are different responsibilities that need to be fulfilled in order to maximize profits. If the business is legal, then the organization is legal, and have monopoly through patents, non-compete agreements, oligopolies or "industrial hegemonies", etc. They may also have government regulations. If the business is deemed illegal, then the organization is illegal, and each criminal organization often controls the different facets of production, like imports all the way the distribution, and have no regulations (since the whole practice is illegal).

To make them legal, give them a niche to fit into within the legal world, like the aforementioned hackers becoming anti-hackers or drug-dealers becoming salesman, or if you're not going for realism, trained killers doing government-sanctioned trained-killing. To make them gentlemanly but not legal, make their source of profit harm the guilty or those who won't suffer too much (like uber-rich) and ensure that it doesn't harm the innocent and needy, and make sure their goal is to help those in need.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, my idea is very close to case of Frank Abagnale (or even Moist von Lipwig from Discworld), it means that relatively inoffensive criminals are raised to serve for right thing (even if some people may have different opinion on words right thing). $\endgroup$ – Václav Apr 21 '16 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ For example, also Fancois Vidocq changed side - to send some the worst criminals to prison. $\endgroup$ – Václav Apr 21 '16 at 21:49

Have a look at favelas in Brasil. Rest of the world perceives them as dwellings of drug dealers and violent criminals. That's not the whole truth.

The government does nothing to improve the quality of life in favelas. Community is protected by drug bosses and their gangs from the police (which, like government, is often corrupt and doesn't care about favelados) and rival gangs. Drug dealers want stability in the favela (which has direct impact on their business), therefore they rule, but also govern it. Drug trade is treated here like any other business.

Since poverty is ubiquitous, people are used to help each other. Stealing and other crimes against the community are not accepted and severely punished. Another example: drug boss covers the cost of treatment of a baby with serious illness.

Back to the question, you have to define who the criminal is. If the government doesn't care about one social group, is someone, who acts against the government, but for the community, still a criminal?


Fallout 4 has an organization similar to what you are asking about. The Railway Faction, in game, is an underground organisation that protects and relocates escaped synths - they communicate the dead drops and signs, operate in cells and basically run interference for synths escaping from the Institute.

If you want an actual transition though, from thugs and petty criminals to thugs and criminals with ideals, then there are a number of ways it could be achieved.

The first is to make the change over time, slowly, so that it soon becomes accepted. Rules and regulations are put in place on who can and can't be targeted, and transgressions are dealt with severely. A change of leadership is also commonplace in heading towards a new direction.

Another, is to create a secret society within the secret society, so that a select few (say the upper echelons) are aware of the true purpose and utilize the existing structures to get the end result.


Add oversight. The creepy / dangerous part of vigilantes or underground organizations is they can operate with no bounds. If they wanted to they could kill you for no reason at all.

They become better when they are accountable. A protective group like the one you mention often has a symbiotic relationship with its protecties. They support it supply it and give it bases. The gang is restrained because if they damage their supporters they will lose their base, or be ratted out to the cops.

The protected group becomes a restraining influence on the gang.
In the traditional role a gentleman is a man who answers to a lady.

With many criminal organizations family ties were key. You would trust a guy because he is your cousin, and if he wacked you the family would kick him out. You extend this oversight from immediate family to extended family and neighbors and eventually you start to approach local democracy.


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