In Praise of Pirates
National Public Radio -- 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.
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 understood what James Madison pointed out in the Federalist Papers: that the most important check on leaders' use of power is society's ability to select them. Pirates recognized this, and implemented it, more than half a century before Madison put pen to paper.
~Peter Leeson, economics professor at George Mason Univ. and author of "The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates"