Enlightenment From Below. Pirates and radical democracy in Madagascar

Published on: April 9 / 2023

Pirate Enlightenment review by Marcus Rediker for the Nation

Pirate Enlightenment, a new posthumous book that Graeber had been working on before his death in 2020, weaves many of these themes into a great story. But unlike his globetrotting activism and his anthropology from the past, he does so here by situating these themes in a specific location, Madagascar, and over a much shorter time span, roughly between 1690 and 1750. Even within these confines, though, Pirate Enlightenment is an exuberant tale—one about “magic, lies, sea battles, purloined princesses, slave revolts, manhunts, make-believe kingdoms and fraudulent ambassadors, spies, jewel thieves, poisoners, devil worship, and sexual obsession,” as he writes in the book’s preface, all wrapped together in a rich sailor’s yarn about pirates and “the origins of modern freedom.” It is a book about democratic decision-making and the forms of freedom that are created from below. It also asks us to think anew about the idea of the “Enlightenment” and the origins of democracy. Rather than look to Europe, Graeber situates both on an island off the coast of East Africa.

Read the article on the Nation website

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