Gulliver's Travel's is Jonathan Swift's masterwork of satire. This lengthy story follows Gulliver to a number of strange, unknown countries inhabited by all manner of unexpected people and creatures. Each stop on Gulliver's journey allows Swift to satirize some aspect of English life in the early Enlightenment period.
Early in Gulliver's Travels Gulliver finds himself washed up on the shores of a land called Lilliput. After a while he observes a Lilliputian ritual called the “Rope Dance.” Here, according to Gulliver, is the purpose of the dance:
When a great office is vacant, either by death or disgrace (which often happens) five or six of those candidates petition the emperor to entertain his majesty, and the court, with a dance on the rope, and whoever jumps the highest, without falling, succeeds in the office.
Swift is satirizing the English monarchy. He is saying that governmental positions are filled based not in knowledge and ability, but by some other criteria that really has nothing to do a candidates ability to do the job. Just as the Lilliputians use rope dancing to fill important positions, the English of that time often filled positions based on noble birth, patronage, or political favoritism.
Of course, the English were not the only ones to do this, and the practice is still employed today. Just look at how often campaign supporters are hired by governors and presidents to fill important posts.