November 30, 2017

In honor of Jonathan Swift on his birthday

Today (November 30) is the 350th anniversary of the birth of the great Jonathan Swift. As one my favorite bloggers, Librarian Shipwreck, has pointed out, it's entirely appropriate that on this day the Republicans in the United States Congress are rushing to pass a tax “reform” bill that is a modern (completely serious) equivalent of the solution Swift put forward (satirically) in his essay, “A Modest Proposal,” which suggested that the Irish poor could ease their burden by selling their children as food for the rich. 

Wikipedia is correct, I believe, in describing Swift’s primary target in “A Modest Proposal”* (and, I would add, in parts of “Gulliver’s Travels”) as “the growth of rationalistic modes of thinking in modern life at the expense of more traditional human values.”

For this reason Swift stands as one of the first to prominently question whether the scientific and technological revolution in progress during his lifetime might not produce the paradise its multitude of proponents (intoxicated followers of Francis Bacon) confidently expected.

 Swift is also to be honored for his articulation of the holy mission of the social critic:

"When you think of the world, give it one lash the more at my request. The chief end I propose in all my labors is to vex the world rather than divert it."

*Complete title: “A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick.”