David Graeber’s “Pirate Enlightenment”

The true, swashbuckling lives of matriarchs, anarchists, and pirates at the crossroads of the world.

Cory Doctorow


The Farrar, Strauss, Giroux cover for David Graeber’s ‘Pirate Enlightenment, Or the Real Libertalia.’

The untimely death of activist/anthropologist/author David Graeber in 2020 tore a hole in the future, depriving us of not just Graeber’s presence, but of the books he had left to write — incisive, brilliant, hilarious followups to the likes of Debt and Bullshit Jobs:


If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this thread to read or share, here’s a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:


And what books Graeber had left in him! Just weeks prior to his death, Graber finished Dawn Of Everything, his ten-year collaboration with David Wengrow. It’s a nose-to-tail reconsideration of everything we know about the civilizations of prehistory, and what they tell us about the essential nature of humanity:


Today, Farrar, Strauss, Giroux publishes Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, billed as Graeber’s “final posthumous work” (more on this later).


It’s a reworking of Graeber’s anthropology doctoral research, studying the Zana-Malata people of Madagascar, the living descendants of the feminist, anarchist pirates who ruled the island in the early 18th century.

I read a prepublication draft of the book for a blurb, and I was riveted. In the early 18th century, the Zana-Malata people — a new culture created jointly by pirates from around the world and Malagasy — came to dominate the island. They brought with them the democratic practices of pirate ships (where captains were elected and served at the pleasure of their crews) and the matriarchal traditions of some Malagasy, creating a feminist, anarchist “Libertalia.”

Graeber retrieves and orders the history of this Libertalia from oral tradition, primary source documents, and records from…