Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia

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by David Graeber

Farrar, Straus, Giroux

1/24/2023, hardcover

SKU: 9780374610197


The final posthumous work by the coauthor of the major New York Times bestseller The Dawn of Everything.

Pirates have long lived in the realm of romance and fantasy, symbolizing risk, lawlessness, and radical visions of freedom. But at the root of this mythology is a rich history of pirate societies--vibrant, imaginative experiments in self-governance and alternative social formations at the edges of the European empire.

In graduate school, David Graeber conducted ethnographic field research in Madagascar for his doctoral thesis on the island's politics and history of slavery and magic. During this time, he encountered the Zana-Malata, an ethnic group of mixed descendants of the many pirates who settled on the island at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, Graeber's final posthumous book, is the outgrowth of this early research and the culmination of ideas that he developed in his classic, bestselling works Debt and The Dawn of Everything (written with the archaeologist David Wengrow). In this lively, incisive exploration, Graeber considers how the protodemocratic, even libertarian practices of the Zana-Malata came to shape the Enlightenment project defined for too long as distinctly European. He illuminates the non-European origins of what we consider to be "Western" thought and endeavors to recover forgotten forms of social and political order that gesture toward new, hopeful possibilities for the future.


"Radical, magical and enchanting: a true history of a people's Enlightenment, led by Malagasy women and egalitarian pirates at a crossroads of the world, a land of battle, foment, booty, whose inhabitants liked nothing better than pranking outsiders to spread outlandish tales of their lives." -- Cory Doctorow, author of Walkaway and Little Brother

"Very illuminating... [Pirate Enlightenment] undercuts a lot of conventional thinking... A tremendous contribution." -- Noam Chomsky, author of many works including: The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Social Change, Optimism Over Despair, and Who Rules the World?

"Daring, carefully speculative, and intellectually ambitious: all qualities that we had
come to expect of the late David Graeber. Pirate Enlightenment is a splendid example of Graeber's transformative and convincing case that the Enlightenment was a cosmopolitan and plebian concoction, fabricated far from the European centers of Enlightenment thought." -- James C. Scott, author of The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

"In The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber urged historically minded scholars to consider the ways that human beings have continually pursued three basic freedoms, including the freedom to create new forms of social relations. In this book, he provides a fascinating example of the transformative potential of this proposition. Showing how rumored 18th century 'pirate kingdoms' established in Madagascar can be understood from the perspective of the local Malagasy population, Graeber gives us a glimpse of people, men and women, taking control of the society in which they lived, making new forms of sociality. He links this historical exploration to a second theme of the previous work, the fact that European political philosophers in the 17th and 18th century were responding to ideas coming from outside Europe, providing them inspiration to image freedoms they had not previously experienced. Pirate Enlightenment is, as the author writes, a provocation--but also an inspiration; and a great piece of story-telling." -- Rosemary A. Joyce, Interim Director of Global, International, and Area Studies, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

About the Author:

David Graeber was a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. He was the author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, among many others books. He coauthored, with David Wengrow, the New York Times bestseller The Dawn of Everything. He was an iconic thinker and a renowned activist, and his early efforts in Zuccotti Park made Occupy Wall Street an era-defining movement. He died on September 2, 2020.