Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia

Farrar. Jan. 2023. 208p. ISBN 9780374610197. $27. POL SCI
While conducting field research in Madagascar, Graeber (The Dawn of Everything) learned that Caribbean pirates settled on the island in the early 18th century and that their descendants were Zana-Malata people. Intrigued, he began to collect information about pirate societies in Madagascar, which eventually led to this thought-provoking work. Graeber acknowledges that the sources are scarce and often sensationalistic, but some general facts are accepted. For example, despite their fearsome reputation, pirates were egalitarian aboard their ships: crew members elected their captains, and they settled their problems via conversation, deliberation, and debate. Moreover, Caribbean pirates were drawn to the great riches of the Indian Ocean, and Madagascar made an excellent base from which to conduct raids. Pirates were influenced by the locals in Madagascar, particularly the women, known for their mercantile success and conversational skills. Many married pirates, and they formed communities that combined pirate governance and the egalitarian aspects of Malagasy society. Graeber speculates that these pirate communities influenced the Enlightenment and notes that European intellectuals found inspiration from the proto-Enlightenment ideas of these pirate communities.
VERDICT This work will appeal to those interested in pirates or unorthodox views of the Enlightenment.
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