Book Review: A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

What happens when you have time to kill and find yourself between books?  You go to Project Gutenberg and download a classic essay that has withstood the sands of time.  Project Gutenberg, to know it is to love it.

Fully titled “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”, but more popularly known simply as “A Modest Proposal”, it is a short essay in which Swift proposes the eating of Irish babies as a solution to the societal ills of poverty and overcrowding.  The reason this essay has had a place in the human psyche for centuries is because it is as pertinent now as it was then.

Why, then, hasn’t anyone tried to mimic Swift with an updated version satirizing current events?  My guess is that deadpan satire is all but dead.  Our Jon Stewarts and Stephen Colberts only work because they are clearly lampooning politics.  A Swiftian essay on, say Greece for example, is much more likely to be taken as a serious and worthwhile suggestion by those who think the current situation is being handled gracefully.  I’m looking at you Germany.

Some German intellectual really needs to step up and write that essay.  “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the People of Greece From Being a Burden to Themselves and the European Union, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public”.  It really has to be in German.  Wouldn’t have the same impact in English.  Get cracking.

“A Modest Proposal” is worth reading if only to see how far we haven’t come.  It doesn’t take a lot of time to read, but will likely stay with you if you are of the social justice bent.