David Graeber Argues that the Enlightenment Was Heavily Influenced by Pirates

Published on: February 8 / 2023

The late anthropologist maintains that the pirate culture of Madagascar was a major influence on thinkers like Hobbes and Locke.

Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia review by Annie Levin, Observer

In David Graeber’s slim posthumous book, Pirate Enlightenment: Or the Real Libertalia, the anthropologist argues that 18th-century pirate society inspired and influenced European Enlightenment thinking. Specifically, he describes how the pirate “kingdoms” of 18th-century Madagascar brought together the proto-democratic self-government of pirate ships with the uniquely inclusive cultural melting pot of the people of Madagascar (the Malagasy). The historical narratives and folktales about these pirate “kings” made their way to Europe in the time of Hobbes, Locke, and Montesquieu, and maintained a purchase on the minds of writers like Daniel Defoe. As a result, pirate philosophy became mixed up in the profusion of ideas that would come to shape European thought for centuries. 

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