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Abstract

In Captain Singleton (1720), Daniel Defoe rehearses the ethical and discursive justifications of predatory capitalism. Through an examination of Defoe's economic writings, I illustrate how the author confronts readers with the moral ambiguity of legal trade by comparing the "litteral" pirate Singleton with the "allegorical" pirates of London's central economic institutions. Through this comparison, Defoe places legal trade on an uncertain continuum with piracy. By extension, he explores the problematic necessity of reconciling the hero-outlaw Singleton's piracy to conceptions of national identity predicated on economic expansionism. Defoe suggests this reconciliation is best achieved by understanding trade in terms of "infinite advantage." This article contextualizes "infinite advantage" as an imaginative projection onto the world of the conditions necessary to sustain infinite trade, and argues that Singleton appropriates this ideology to palliate fears of Hobbesian scarcity. Thus, the novel examines the conditions of scarcity that precipitate predatory trade practices alongside the fantasy of economic infinitude that would make these practices obsolete.

Contributor's Note

Jeremy Wear is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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