Rediker in his masterpiece Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age recounts how pirates of the 18th century strove to free themselves from the ruling class of the leading trading nations of the time. The "golden age of piracy" is a term coined for the period in maritime history when piracy grew explosively between the 1650s to 1726. Rediker specifically addresses the events which happened between 1716-1726. According to Rediker, the pirates were valiant revolutionaries who rose with minds opposed to the exploitation and mistreatment of the sailors at the see. The author sets the pace of the book with an account of one of the infamous pirates executed by the gallows, which is undisturbed and nonchalant of the penalty. In fact, with rebellious and laughable attitude, he reties the knot by which he is going to die to demonstrate that he is not worried by the death sentence.
The pirates as Rediker argues, are justified in organizing the revolutions to their masters. The seafaring life was so harsh and unforgiving, filled with brutality and injustice to the sailors. It is manifest from the novelist's viewpoint that piracy offered an equitable and fair marine life. Piracy also was a channel of revenging the domineering aristocrats. Rediker uses a variety of sources to express his convictions of the Golden Age. The sources include admiralty records, sermons, articles in newspapers, state papers, travel accounts, court documents, and official correspondence. The main themes Rediker addresses which were significant in the 18th century comprise of political grandiloquence, class conflicts, racial skirmishes, and gender debates - the main leitmotif class struggles on power.
The "all nations" concept in the title of the book springs from the nature of piracy operation. Rediker narrates that piracy was "made up of all nations, attacking the commerce world without respect for property or nation" (Rediker, 2004, p.17). In chapter 2 and 3, he describes marine life from the sailors' point of view. The sailors lived destitute lowly lives. They turned into pirates after either rampaging over their own ship's administration or capturing another vessel. The crews working in the subdued ships were part of the lower economic class.
Chapters 4,5, and 6 of the book shed light on the backgrounds of the pirates-nationality, race, economic and social life. Rediker uses the ambiguities of implementing equalitarian and democratic principles using anarchy and uprisings. Rebellion is the only way pirates can establish their system of fairness and justice. It is ironical that the captains of the marine vessels were highly esteemed for oppressing the sailors. The sailors-turned-pirates decidedly spared fair captains and handled the inhumane ones ruthlessly. The conflict of social-economic classes was an onset of socialism, fighting against the capitalistic upper class. In the sixth chapter, Rediker tables the gender issue by unfolding the life of female pirates of the 18th century. Women were at part and parcel of the revolution of liberating the lower economic class from the subjugation of the rich. They equally fought for social and economic freedom as men. Thus, women have always played a role of equal importance as men through human history.
In the last two chapters, Rediker describes in detail how sailor-insurrection was a classical manifestation of anti-capitalism. Capitalism was sprouting in the nations conducting the trans-Atlantic trade. At this time, countries merge to corporately fight the piracy which was gaining ground using grisly executions and legalized military force. Through the use of resounding statistics, the book's author illustrates how piracy was a genuine menace to the trans-Atlantic trade. For this reason, nations joined hands to eradicate the nagging problem of pirates and smuggling of goods. The final chapter 8 illumines the culmination and ultimate termination of the golden age of piracy through the use of unnatural mechanisms. The chapter also narrates about the subjects of life which were intricately intertwined with the oceangoing people of the times. Death, hell, and destruction centered on their daily life discussions.
Rediker questionably romanticizes the role the mysterious pirates played. He enlists 778 pirates using the various sources mentioned before. Rediker goes a step further to conduct a statistical analysis of these pirates to help the reader understand the nature of the piracy of the 18th century. Since the film industry by that time was far from existence, the author employs the pictures of the Liberty Leading the People in his demonstration of manner golden age of piracy worked. What leaves readers pondering, is Rediker's position on the pirates. He seems to be side-lining and endorsing the anarchical approach the pirates used to establish their justice system. Rediker argues that we should memorialize these bandits because they were revolting against despotic conditions.
The significant themes Rediker presents encircling rebellion against the repressive regime of pirates are equated to the resistance countries have had towards imperialists (Mayer, 2016). The US in the 18th century fought ferociously against the British colonialism on the American soil. Liberation wars in this sense may gain sympathy and be blameless in the eyes of the public. The human race, as Rediker advocates, is free and encouraged to rebel against unfair systems using even radical solutions. Through the captive's accounts, the writer feeds the minds of readers with rich cultural enthralment of the naval outlaws. The usefulness of imperialism is always a debatable topic because it has its pros and cons.
The author leaves a lot of issues hanging on the balance. When the 18th-century piracy compared with one of the modern days, it is ludicrous and preposterous to vindicate the actions of pirates (Christopher, 2016). The legal systems of countries are now developed to take everyone into account. Violence is no solution to poor economic conditions. The whole society will crumble into an environment of lawlessness. Rediker's view of pirates as indigent and impoverished is biased and unbalanced. It is true that they were disadvantaged, but the author could have performed better if he impartially covered the issues on racial, gender and class conflicts. The author designed the title Villain of All Nations to be paint an image that pirates were coming from all nations and they target marine vessels of all nations without sparing any country. The stack irony is that all pirates in the book are Anglo. The title, therefore, should carry a broad meaning of the book's content. Another shortcoming in Rediker's book is the claim that the sea business negatively affected the countries involved in the trans-Atlantic trade. He fails to substantiate these claims with real evidence. If the shortcomings captured were addressed, the book would bear a comprehensive view of the Golden Age of piracy.
Christopher, E. (2016). Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail by Marcus Rediker. Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, 13(1), 154-156.
Mayer, J. P. (2016). The People's Pirate: Samuel Bellamy's Role as a Social Bandit in the Golden Age of Piracy.
Rediker, Marcus. (2004). Villains of all nations: Atlantic pirates in the golden age. Boston: Beacon Press,
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