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Jonathan Swift ("A Modest Proposal")

Jonathan Swift ("A Modest Proposal"), Michel de Montaigne ("Of Cannibals"), and Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) offer comparable views on the darker side of human nature. Their views reflect patterns of the world in which we live as that world slips into an increasingly self-centered, frightened, materialistic and God-less reality.

Swift satirically presents a terrifying solution to the problem of overpopulation, specifically, from the British perspective, the overpopulation of poor Irish who were seen to be having too many children and who would inevitably require British aid to care for those children. Swift suggests a solution: the children should be eaten:

I have been assured by a very knowing American . . . that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout (Swift 2096).

Swift's satire was aimed at a particular problem taking place at a particular place and a particular time. It is not meant to actually argue for eating children, but was meant to show the anti-Irish British just how their bigotry would sound if it was taken to its logical extreme.

Swift reflects modern sensibility, or lack thereof, in terms of this era's gross self-centeredness, as well as its tendency to

minimize consciousness of others' suffering in order to achieve some positive-seeming goal. One thinks of the American military leader's Vietnam War-era claim that it was necessary to destroy a village in order to save it. Swift satirically suggests eating babies in order to reduce the population. The bureaucratic attitude of the writer also reflects the modern era's tendency to deal with problems in an abstract way, so that the horrible suffering which would accompany Swift's "modest proposal" is not taken into serious consideration. Man's inhumanity to man, then and now, is ...

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Jonathan Swift ("A Modest Proposal"). (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:04, July 01, 2022, from