How did Swift's satire A Modest Proposal highlight issues with 18th century authority?  

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Modest Proposal is a satirical essay written by Jonathan Swift, in which he advises the use of starving orphans as food to solve both hunger and overpopulation problems.

The essay is directly aimed at the poverty in Ireland at the time and the sort of dispassionate solution proposed by social scientists of the day. While no one -- Swift included -- was seriously suggesting eating children, his use of a strict methodology and the perfect calculation of breeding-to-eating ratios parodied the impossibility of addressing poverty in any way but the humane. Landowners had raised rent and taxes while reducing livable land, rights, and privileges; the Irish could not produce for themselves from their own land, instead living in servitude. Swift's pointed discussion of their extremely poor living conditions clearly shows blame on elite classes and their persecution, but brushes that issue aside in favor of his own silly solution; the result is that we are more aware of the actual causes, and Swift's offhanded dismissal of real solutions at the end of the essay becomes a workable plan of action.

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: ... Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: ...  Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers....
(Modest Proposal, Swift,