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Jonathan Swift – A Modest Proposal

Swift’s proposal is a seemingly inhumane plan on fighting poverty in a highly inventive, yet horrifying way. The stated purpose of the tract is sound, but the reader cannot shake off the uncomfortable feeling that something is wrong here, even if the argument has consistency and substance. There is little reason to suspect Swift of being serious in his attempt to introduce butchering young children for profit. Rather, he is deriding the social engineering projects popular in his days by showing that even when logic is infallible, the project that does not agree with humanitarian ideals is not viable.

The main stated goal Swift seeks to accomplish is stated in the title: “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to their Parents, or the Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Public.” Thus, the paper deals with the situation in Ireland, the poorer area of the Commonwealth where people have too many children whom they cannot feed and who are thus forced into meagre existence, bordering on starvation. The main purpose is proclaimed as removal of this unfortunate condition. The method Swift suggests, however, is shocking – to feed these ‘extra’ children and then kill them in order to sell their meat in the market to feed the hungry others.

Swift offers a number of arguments to support his position, but the most important is the economic one. He draws on statistical evidence and calculations to substantiate his position. thus, he talks of “one hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born” (Swift 1729).Then he states that, by his projections, an average “child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, increaseth to 28 pounds” (Swift 1729). This is a bona fide budgeting proposal that will allow one to compute the benefits and expected profits of the plan. But of course, the main professed concern, in Swift’s view, is to help the poor – to relieve their families of the burden of unwanted children. Swift points to abortions as evidence that unwanted children are many and justifies those once again from the economic point of view. Economically, the initiative seems to be a win-win plan: “the nation’s stock” increases, and the poor earn extra income while also getting rid of the charge to pay for their children’s upbringing.

Another argument is social. The plan is touted as a way to solve a cobweb of Ireland’s social troubles by removing the stigma of extra and unnecessary burden from undesired children and improving the status of women who now turn into producers of economically valuable commodity. The ‘modest proposal’ is also presented as a viable tool against unemployment. Besides, the initiative, the author suggests, would be “a great inducement to marriage, which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced by laws and penalties” (Swift 1729). Swift mentions that “the care and tenderness of mothers toward their children” is likely to increase if they know that their children’s future is guaranteed from now on (Swift 1729).

The change would be even culturally enriching in some ways. Thus, it would pave the way for advances in culinary art as cooks would get new material to work upon. Taverns can now served new dishes to “all the fine gentlemen, who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating” (Swift 1729). Swift also points out that the demographic situation will be taken care of, since he is only suggesting implementation of his plan in the single province of Ireland, allowing the population in the rest of the Commonwealth to grow at natural rates.

Economic considerations thus form the backbone of substantiation for the proposal that, in Swift’s words, “hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England” (Swift 1729). The logic is correct, and this is what brings the reader to the conclusion that one cannot use only logic when evaluating such situations. By resorting to pure logic, Swift appeals to the hearts of the readers who finally have to feel compassion for the poor kids. A reader cannot but conclude that the destiny of the poor cannot be governed only by economic logic and take action motivated not only by logic, but also be sentiment.

Contributors Bio

Contributor photo Lona Glenn
Los Angeles
Lona graduated from Los Angeles City College. While being a lecturer in several high school institutions Lona founded an online educational project Tutorsclass.Read more
Contributor photo Maria Castle
Davis, CA
I studied education and currently work as a tutor for school-age children. I've worked as a volunteer in many different international social projects and as a camp counselor every summer.Read more

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