For about a decade in the early eighteenth century, the “Republic of Pirates” dominated the town of Nassau on New Providence island in the Bahamas. This community was unique in many ways.
In an age of noble privilege and limited popular rights, Benjamin Hornigold, his “Flying Gang,” and other privateers built an inclusive, race- and gender-blind mercantile republic governed by a highly democratic code. Women, pirates of all ranks, and ex-slaves — many of whom the pirates had themselves freed and welcomed into their ranks — had the same voting rights as white captains like Hornigold. The captains, in fact, could be voted out if the majority willed it. (This, in fact, happened to Hornigold.)
To be clear, these were not “good” people.
They stole things, switched allegiances, and were often cruel and periodically murderous. And their republic ultimately failed because it extracted value from others (namely, the Spanish and British Empires) instead of creating its own authentic, value-creating economy.
But these were good pirates, and their code was sound.
It anticipated the cornerstone values of the modern world sixty years before the American Revolution, 150 years before the end of American slavery, and 200 years before women were given the right to vote in the US. The velocity of execution is also incredible. At most, the Republic of Pirates existed for twelve years. The code was developed, approved, activated, and observed almost instantly. For comparison, it took the United States 200 years to achieve the same social inclusion goals (and we’re still working on it). That’s 1,567% longer than the entire lifecycle of the Republic of Pirates.
We can learn quite a bit from this.
The Republic of Pirates may have been short-lived, but it’s worth of attention and respect. Its code is particularly useful since it offers us a lean, intuitive, highly-flexible, easy-to-understand framework for building federated social orders that can be deployed rapidly with minimum friction even among multicultural, multinational, polyglot constituencies.
Modern developers are good pirates. They’re tribal, largely identity blind, prefer horizontal forms of authority, and work best with high degrees of autonomy.
Accepting and encouraging this, and learning from the Republic of Pirates’ code, we’ve organized our developer community around the following rules:
“Farmers build fences and control territory. Pirates tear down fences and cross borders. There are good pirates and bad pirates, good farmers and bad farmers, but there are only pirates and farmers.” ~ Dave Hickey
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