Pirates are getting a bad rep. Every month we hear more news of the Somali pirates' depredations, most recently involving an attack on an American crew. To be sure, these pirates deserve our condemnation. They're thugs and the world would be better without them.This value is?
But we shouldn't let our condemnation of modern pirates spill over, unchecked, onto their more colorful, and socially contributory, early 18th-century forefathers. These Caribbean pirates, men like Blackbeard, "Black Bart" Roberts, and "Calico" Jack Rackam, were also watery thieves. But unlike their Somali successors, they didn't only take something out of the world. They gave the world something of value, too.
Historical pirates were harbingers of some of contemporary civilization's most cherished values, such as liberty, democracy and social safety. At a time when the legitimate world's favored system of government was unconstrained monarchy, Caribbean pirates were practicing constitutional democracy. Before setting sail each would-be pirate crew drew up and agreed to a set of written rules that governed them. These rules regulated gambling, smoking, drinking, the adjudication of conflicts and, in some cases, even prohibited harassing members of the fairer sex.Pirates understood that the most important check on leaders' use of power is society's ability to select them. Pirates recognized this, and implemented it. Lesson goes on to write
Pirate constitutions established democratic governance for their roguish commonwealths. Crewmembers elected their captains by popular vote and democratically removed captains who dared to misuse their power. Because of this surprising system, far from tyrannical, the average 18th-century pirate captain was a dutiful, elected executor of his constituents' will.
Pirates created an early system of social insurance and enshrined this in their law. Sea dogs injured on the job received workers' compensation from the crew's common purse — five pieces of eight for the loss of an arm, 10 pieces of eight for the loss of a leg, and so on. A maimed pirate didn't have to worry about a work-sustained injury leaving him without a bottle of rum to spit in.Notice that pirates did all of this without the use of a government enforced legal system.They were, after all, outside the formal legal system by definition, so another point Lesson could have made is that pirates show that law without the state is possible.
Pirates also embraced racial tolerance well before their legitimate counterparts. Centuries before the civil rights movement, the ACLU, or the Equal Opportunity Act, some pirates already had adopted a policy of hiring black sailors in their crews. England didn't abolish slavery until 1772. In the United States slavery persisted until 1865, and blacks didn't enjoy equal rights as citizens, politically or in the workplace, until even later than this. Some pirates, however, extended suffrage to their black crewmembers and subscribed to the practice of "equal pay for equal work," or rather, "equal pay for equal prey," in the early 1700s.