Under the Jolly Roger

Published on: April 7 / 2023

The late David Graeber’s search for radical democracy in a pirate kingdom

Pirate Enlightenment review by Biancamaria Fontana for TLS

Once upon a time there was the Enlightenment: a major intellectual movement, not devoid of contradictions, but still identifiable as the source of modern European culture – an object we could describe. Over the past three decades this established image has increasingly turned into a puzzle, so that a title associating pirates and the Enlightenment does not come as a surprise. David Graeber’s Pirate Enlightenment is published two years after its author’s death in 2020. It is the second of his works to appear posthumously; the first was The Dawn of Everything: A new history of humanity (2021), an overambitious critique of the notion of linear historical progress, written with David Wengrow. As Graeber explains in the preface to Pirate Enlightenment, the book grew out of a general reflection on divine-right kingship and is based on research into pirate settlements on the coasts of Madagascar. At some point he decided to abandon the broader question of the legitimacy of kingship (did not all kings start off as robbers and buccaneers?) and focus instead on the pirates’ experience.

Read the article on the TLS website

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