Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Democratic governance in pirate ships

...[P]irate ships developed models that in many ways anticipated those of later Western democracies. First, pirates adopted a system of divided and limited power. Captains had total authority during battle, when debate and disagreement were likely to be both inefficient and dangerous. Outside of battle, the quartermaster, not the captain, was in charge—responsible for food rations, discipline, and the allocation of plunder. On most ships, the distribution of booty was set down in writing, and it was relatively equal; pirate captains often received only twice as many shares as crewmen. (Woodward writes that Privateer captains typically received fourteen times as much loot as crewmen.) The most powerful check on captains and quartermasters was that they did not hold their positions by natural right or blood or success in combat; the crew elected them and could depose them. And when questions arose about the rules that governed behavior on board, interpretation was left not to the captain but to a jury of crewmen.

That's from James Surowiecki in the New Yorker.


  1. Ankur said...

    yes very true post... and not to mention that inspite of numberous treasure maps and hunts... there has not been even one instance of the pirate's treasure being found