Book Review: The Law Of Piracy

The Law Of Piracy, by Alfred P. Rubin

The law of piracy is a strange thing.  This book makes a case, albeit in a very dry and legalistic way, that piracy itself has had a difficult time being defined in a consistent manner.  This ought not to be surprising, since there are numerous approaches to law and these approaches shape how we look at piracy.  If we come at the law from the point of a natural law view, then piracy tends to be viewed as a common crime against nature and against humanity, with everyone being allowed to squash it to the extent of their power.  Those who have a positivist view of law (not me) tend to view it as something that can only be dealt with in precise legal ways, which has tended in practice to make piracy something that is fought against fiercely by people in the field and then dealt with in a cowardly fashion by trimming lawyers back in the capital.  Most of the time author focuses on English and American law, which is probably for the best, but there is a fair amount of history here and that history is complex as one might expect it to be.

This particular book, including the appendices, is almost 400 pages.  After a foreword and preface, the author begins by talking about the beginnings of piracy in law in the Greco-Roman world and then in the Renaissance as well as the positivist and naturalist approach to piracy in law (1).  After that the author discusses the evolution of the concept of piracy in England and the debate between the two approaches as well as the focus on evidence (2).  After that the author discusses the law of piracy in the United States of America, which not surprisingly was heavily influenced by the English legal tradition (3).  A discussion of British practice regarding piracy in the 19th century then follows, which provides a look at the complexity between behavior on the ground and that of politicians (4).  The author then discusses piracy in the twentieth century, which the author appears not to take very seriously, given his use of scare quotes on multiple occasions (5).  After this are appendices that discuss English statues (i), American statues (ii), and various codifications (iii) that are relevant to the study of piracy in law, as well as abbreviations, a bibliography, index, and an index of relevant cases.

If anything this author fails to account for piracy in all of its complexity in the contemporary world, but given that this work was written in the 1980’s and fails to look at the theft that relates to the world of the internet, since the internet was not even a gleam in the author’s imagination at the time the book was written, that is easy enough to understand.  By putting square quotes around piracy in his discussion of contemporary piracy he also fails to account for the survival of old-fashioned piracy in places like Southeast Asia and the coast of Puntland in Somalia.  Of course, though author thought that hijacking was the only way that piracy would influence the contemporary legal scene and that was definitely not the case.  Sometimes it is hard for us to envision what the future will be and we frequently fail to imagine how things will work out.  If this book is heavy on close legal reasoning, the author could certainly use a bit more understanding of the relevance of piracy to contemporary attitudes towards other people who dwell outside of the state and reflect on the limited way that states have in dealing with such threats.  Without calling pirates and terrorists common enemies of humanity and allowing anyone to fight against them as possible, it is hard to address such matters effectively.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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