A Modest Proposal and Other Satires

Population solutions

George Wittkowsky argued that Swift’s main target in A Modest Proposal was not the conditions in Ireland, but rather the can-do spirit of the times that led people to devise a number of illogical schemes that would purportedly solve social and economic ills.[3] Swift was especially insulted by projects that tried to fix population and labour issues with a simple cure-all solution.[4] A memorable example of these sorts of schemes "involved the idea of running the poor through a joint-stock company".[4] In response, Swift's Modest Proposal was "a burlesque of projects concerning the poor"[5] that were in vogue during the early 18th century.

A Modest Proposal also targets the calculating way people perceived the poor in designing their projects. The pamphlet targets reformers who "regard people as commodities".[6] In the piece, Swift adopts the "technique of a political arithmetician"[7] to show the utter ridiculousness of trying to prove any proposal with dispassionate statistics.

Critics differ about Swift's intentions in using this faux-mathematical philosophy. Edmund Wilson argues that statistically "the logic of the 'Modest proposal' can be compared with defense of crime (arrogated to Marx) in which he argues that crime takes care of the superfluous population".[7] Wittkowsky counters that Swift's satiric use of statistical analysis is an effort to enhance his satire that "springs from a spirit of bitter mockery, not from the delight in calculations for their own sake".[8]


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