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Swift was born in Dublin seven months after the death of his father. He was a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic country and a member of the Ascendancy, that is, one of the privileged class who were supported by the English to run their colonial property, Ireland. The oppression of Ireland was at its most intense during theperiod when Swift was there. Swift was always the most political of the 18th-century satirists. As the battles between the Whigs and the Tories (liberals and conservatives) evolved, he fired off pamphlets from a radical Tory position. As the Whigs came into ascendancy, Swift returned to Ireland, to live. From Dublin, he fired off the most powerful of his pamphlets demanding justice for Ireland. The most famousof these pamphlets is A Modest Proposal (1729). The pamphlet is written in the persona of an English economist, who is imbued with the rational principlesof Adam Smith and free enterprise. This social scientist has turned his mind to the perennial problems ofIreland—hunger and overpopulation—and come up with an ingenious solution: state-sponsored cannibalism. Swift’s anger bleeds through in his detailed plan for breeding Irish children and selling one-year-olds asmeat “at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone. …” We are horrified by the proposal,but we also find it funny. Satire was never more powerfully relevant to man’s inhumanity to man. He was not merely anti-imperialist but wanted colonies to be treated well to bring great rewards to their empires.
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