The Ocean is a Wilderness
Atlantic Piracy and the Limits of State Authority, 1688-1856
University of Massachusetts Press 2014
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network September 22, 2014 Siobhan Mukerji
Guy Chet, Associate Professor of early American and military history at the University of North Texas, in his book The Ocean is a Wilderness: Atlantic Piracy and the Limits of State Authority, 1688-1856 (University of Massachusetts Press, 2014) makes a well-crafted argument for the persistence of Atlantic piracy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, after the age of Blackbeard and Captain Kid. He asserts that piracy was not abruptly stamped out by the royal navy but remained normal rather than exceptional for a long time past the 1730s.
The end of piracy is described in the traditional historical narrative as a speedy decline due to the central state’s extension of its authority into the Atlantic frontier and its monopolization of violence. Chet, following methodology established by legal and borderland historians, critiques this assessment pointing out that frontier conditions are sustainable for long periods of time. He fleshes out through each section of his work why the monopoly on violence pronounced in statutory law was not accepted as legitimate or seen in reality in peripheral communities. Despite the central state’s use of army, navy, courts and gallows to extend authority to the frontier, Atlantic piracy waned only slowly in the face of these delegitimizing efforts.