Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Swift’

Correct Like Me

February 17, 2015

Etiquette preserves our nation
Manners keep our culture strong
Rules defend our civilization
From hordes of folk who don’t belong

Select utensils one by one
Outside-in from plates and dishes
Don’t scandalize your lovely Mum
With a salad fork to eat your fishes

A striped tie with a checkered shirt
Constitutes a fashion crime
When you dress wrong my eyeballs hurt
No white pants in the wintertime

Don’t wash hands in the kitchen sink
Don’t serve steak with Chardonnay
Match your meals with your drinks
And you’ll make partner some sweet day

Don’t peel your eggs from big end down
Always start with the end that tapers
Don’t eat food that’s hit the ground
Don’t blow your nose with toilet paper

Mind your manners
Follow the rules
Pick the right friends
And pick the right schools
You won’t feel happy
You won’t be free
But you will be
Correct like me

by Richard W. Bray

Not Only by Private Fraud but by Public Law: Thomas More’s Utopia and the Imperfectability of Human Nature

May 5, 2012

A perplexing aspect of the second book of Thomas More’s Utopia is the obvious moral superiority of the Utopian pagans in comparison to their ostensibly Christian European counterparts as depicted in Book One.  Why is it, many have asked, that one so pious as More would present such a virtuous community of pagans.  The obvious answer to this riddle is that More intended to offer the Utopians as an ironic foil to the vice-ridden Englishmen of Book One.  Is there a better way for More to demonstrate how unchristian his countrymen are than to compare them unfavorably with heathens?  This reading of the dialogue is best defended by examining its construction:  Thomas More catalogs various forms of European depravity in Book One in order to remedy them in Book Two.  This is a nice, neat thesis.  However, it is inconceivable that More, a man who died in  defense of religious and political principles, would seriously propose that the ideal society was an odd form of pagan totalitarianism.

So what the devil was More up to?  Many critics who have rightly rejected the notion that More was seriously suggesting that Utopia represented an ideal society have proposed that, in addition to satirizing the sorry state of European civilization in Book One, he was also lampooning all efforts to improve society in Book Two.  In this vein Richard Marius suggests that, “More meant his readers to rebuke Raphael rather than praise him.”  Perhaps; however, we should do both.  Raphael should be praised for recognizing that Tudor England was in need of reform but rebuked for proposing solutions which disregard the folly of human perfectibility.

The vigorous nature of the attacks on the rampant injustice in English society which More makes in Book One repudiate anyone who would argue that More’s singular objective in writing Utopia was to lampoon those who would try to create a perfect society.  It is true that the Utopians are in many ways like “a doctor who cures diseases by creating another,” but the extreme nature of the diseases illustrate  the high level of repugnance he feels for the ills which plague his society.  More is offering serious medicine to combat serious ills.  As with Swift’s  A Modest Proposal, the drastic nature of the remedies proffered in Book Two of Utopia is a cogent reminder of how hideously unchristian English society was. By proposing such ridiculously severe solutions, More highlights the prevalence of greed and corruption in sixteenth century England.

Considered as a whole, the two books of Utopia compose a convincing repudiation of Tudor society.  In Book One More paints an unsightly portrait of the manner in which the nation was ruled; in the second book he creates a pagan society which is morally superior to it in many was.  More is not suggesting that paganism is preferable to Christianity; rather, he is asserting that the Europeans are so unchristian that they are put to shame by comparison to a prechristian society.

More’s most strident criticism is directed at the harsh economic disparities in England and the political corruption which fostered a system which was grossly unfair to those at the bottom.  The first evidence of the excessively unjust nature of this system is the debate on public hanging, a practice which “goes beyond justice and beyond the public good.”  As is pointed out later in the discussion, capital punishment for petty crimes is an extreme measure, far more severe than the penalties prescribed for thievery in the Old Testament.

Thomas More’s England was a kingdom with two distinct sets of rules for rich and poor; the latter group was viewed as little more than subhuman chattel by the former.  It was common for kings to pursue policies designed to insure a surplus of paupers who would “devote all their energies to starving” for the contingency that they might be required to defend the realm in wartime:  “[y]ou might well say that for the sake of war we foster thieves.”  The existence of a class of thieving peasants who were kept to be slaughtered protecting the king’s interests in war was the result of  systematic efforts to remove them from their land in order that the wealthy might increase their profits by raising sheep, which would ultimately “devour human beings themselves and devastate and depopulate fields, houses and towns.”  This endemic system of inequality which existed in More’s time is admonished by Raphael in his pithy observation that “to have a single person enjoy a life of pleasure and self-indulgence amid the groans and lamentations of all around us is to be the keeper, not of a kingdom, but of a jail.”

The inhumanity of the policies which wring additional profits for the wealthy by destroying the peasantry is articulately characterized by Raphael’s assertion that England’s better days are behind her: “The unscrupulous greed of the few is ruining the very thing by which your island was once counted on as fortunate in the extreme.”   When Raphael laments how this vicious cycle of peasant extirpation will ultimately feed the gallows, it is obvious that More’s Catholicism cannot be reconciled with a set of social arrangements whereby “alongside this wretched need and poverty you find wanton luxury.”

Although Book Two of Utopia is clearly no “model for reform” it has two functions:  It simultaneously mocks those who would insult God in their attempts to create a heaven on Earth while it emphasizes the religious hypocrisy of More’s age.  If More’s solutions would often throw out the baby with the bathwater, they nevertheless emphasize how putrid that water has become.  Of course it is silly to make golden chamber pots.  But this silliness emphasizes how the love of gold caused wealthy Englishmen to replace peasants with sheep.  Many of the solutions to England’s ills proffered in Book Two are absurd, and it is this very absurdity which accents what a corrupt society More’s England was.  Such is the power of satire.

Because Thomas More proposes perfectly reasonable political reforms alongside such ridiculous occurrences as golden chamber pots, we must concede that he had more than one objective in mind when writing Utopia.  Many of the policies pursued by the Utopians are common sense practices which might have benefited More’s England.  For example, it would have been good public policy to simplify the legal code in England because “it is most unfair that any group of men should be bound by laws which are either too numerous to be read through or too obscure to be understood by anyone.”  Like the Utopian “custom of debating nothing on the same day on which it is first proposed,” it is a practical suggestion submitted in the interests of good government.

Portions of Utopia represent perfectly reasonable models of reform, yet they are the products of a society of happy heathens who instantly accept Christianity when given the chance.  Thus the reader should pause and ponder what it is that More is trying to tell us about how society can and should be ordered.  A clue to More’s feelings in this regard can be deduced from the ironic observation in Book One that “well and wisely trained citizens are not everywhere to be found.”  It is simply inconceivable that a devout Christian like More would seriously propose that postlapsarian humanity was capable of creating Utopia on in this realm.  As gratifying as it might be to imagine Utopia, a place where “nowhere is there any license to waste time, nowhere any pretext to evade work–no wine shop, no alehouse, no brothel anywhere, no opportunity for corruption,” it is inimical to More’s Catholic cosmology to suggest that such a society is a serious earthly possibility.

The temptation of political corruption is endemic to human nature.  The spectacle of monied interests attempting to circumvent the legitimate workings of government should not surprise anyone living in the United States of America today.  As More demonstrates, these were also serious concerns in sixteenth century England.  In Utopia, Raphael repeats the recommendations of a councilor who suggests that all ministers should debate their affairs only in the king’s presence to dissuade those who might attempt “to curry favor, [or] find some loophole whereby the law can be perverted.”   Thomas More was disgusted by the manner in which the wealthy used their political clout to rob and abuse the neediest members of society.  Indeed, Raphael denounces royal complicity in this scheme whereby “the rich every day exhort a part of their daily allowance from the poor not only by private fraud but by public law.”

Thanks to Thomas More, the word Utopian has come signify anyone who would propose impractical visionary schemes.  But this does not permit us to forget the fact that Utopia is a serious book which demonstrates not only the ubiquity of vice in any human community but also the impossibility that mere mortals could ever create a perfect world.  However, this does not mean that it is futile to attempt to improve society.  More was a thoughtful statesmen who worked to improve his country when he wasn’t busy burning Protestants.  And hidden within the satire of Utopia are some serious proposals regarding how to build a better–though not ideal–world.

by Richard W. Bray

VIRTUE IS “A PERPETUAL CLOG TO PUBLICK BUSINESS” (Part 2)

September 18, 2009

VIRTUE IS “A PERPETUAL CLOG TO PUBLICK BUSINESS”

Swift knew from his reading of history that “the same vices and the same follies” were a ubiquitous feature of human institutions and efforts to create any kind of utopia were destined to fail. As an avid reader of antiquarian texts, he “had a sense of belonging to a civilization with a tradition of inherited political wisdom that stretched back to fifth-century Athens” (Lock, 33). Therefore, he “did not look at the problems of his age as new or unique” (Lock, 34). As he did in The Battel of the Books, Swift employs actual historical figures in “A Voyage to Laputa” to illustrate the timelessness of human folly.

It was Swift’s religious background which instilled in him the sense of innate human fallibility which was only reinforced by his personal experiences. Jonathan Swift was an Anglican clergyman who devoted his life to the promotion of the precepts of Christianity as he understood them. This perspective predisposed Swift to view humanity as both unworthy and incapable of achieving anything remotely approaching worldly perfection:

A fundamental element of Swift’s pessimism was his religious conviction that political corruption and disorder were, in man’s fallen state, more natural than their opposites (Lock, 4).

Of course, there is no single valid biblical interpretation of human nature. Ironically, in many ways, Swift’s low regard for humanity was closer to Hobbes’ deistic “doctrine of humankind’s essential power hunger and egotism” than it was to his fellow theologian, the Third Earl of Shaftsbury, who portrayed humankind as altruistic and benevolent in his Characteristics (Knowles, 25). Though Swift was repulsed by Hobbes’ theology, Gulliver’s Travels presents a very Hobbesian portrait of humanity.

The pervasive picture of human depravity depicted in Gulliver’s Travels is aided by the satirical technique of reversing the reader’s perspective of Gulliver’s physical stature. By transforming Gulliver via his travels from behemoth to dwarf, Swift assaults his reader’s expectations and perceptions of the story’s protagonist. In Lilliput, Gulliver towers over his captors not only in physical stature, but also in his moral character. In refusing his Emperor’s order to destroy the Blefuscudian forces, Gulliver is displaying his superior ethics. When Gulliver travels to Brobdingnag, however, his situation is completely reversed. Not only has his physical stature suddenly diminished, but his moral standards vis-a-vis his new hosts are likewise reduced. As a result of this reversal Gulliver “becomes the object of satire, whereas on Lilliput he had largely been the vehicle for satire on what he observed” (Knowles, 82-3).

Gulliver’s moral stature, and, by inference, the ethical standing of the human race, shrinks along with Gulliver’s body because the residents of Brobdingnag have much higher standards than human beings. This becomes clear through Gulliver’s interactions with the King of Brobdingnag. Swift employs some of his most brilliant satire as all of Gulliver’s efforts to impress the King with examples of the achievements of European civilization simply confirm his suspicions about innate human depravity. After the King has meticulously questioned Gulliver on European culture, he offers this assessment of Western civilization:

He was perfectly astonished with the historical Account I gave him of our Affairs during the last Century; protesting it was only an Heap of Conspiracies, Murders, Massacres, Revolutions, Banishments; the very worst Effects that Avarice, Faction, Hypocrisy, Perfidiousness, Cruelty, Rage, Madness, Hatred, Envy, Lust, Malice, and Ambition could produce (Gulliver, 107).

The King’s estimation of English political institutions is equally harsh. When Gulliver explains to him the qualities required to succeed in court, he observes wryly: “You have clearly proved that Ignorance, Idleness and Vice are the proper Ingredients for qualifying a Legislator” (Gulliver, 108). It cannot be denied that such pithy commentary by the King of Brobdingnag reflect Swift’s own political experiences. But the King’s final appraisal of human nature goes much farther than simply criticizing the excesses of a particular monarchy or the vulgarities of royal intrigue. The King is appalled when Gulliver, in an effort to gain his favor, offers to reveal the secret to the destructive power of gunpowder. He is “amazed how so impotent and groveling little Insect as I (these were his Expressions) could entertain such inhuman Ideas” (Gulliver, 110). The King eloquently articulates the deep-seated misanthropy which permeates much of Swift’s writing when he offers this harsh indictment of human nature:

But by what I have gathered from your own Relation, and the Answers I have with much Pains wringed and extorted from you: I cannot but conclude that the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of odious little Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth (Gulliver, 108).

While conversing with the ghosts of the ancients in Laputa Gulliver continues to be confronted with the specter of inborn human degeneracy. It is here that Swift is asserting most cogently that human depravity is universal and timeless, and, therefore, not simply a product of a particular age or a single political institution. After speaking with an assortment of philosophers and kings, Gulliver is overwhelmed by the ubiquity of political corruption. Swift makes the amusing observation that personal integrity, rather than being the stuff of great leaders, is actually anathema to the machinery of government:

Three Kings protested to me, that in their whole Reigns they did never once prefer any Person of Merit, unless by Mistake or Treachery of some Minister in whom they confided: Neither would they do it if they were to live again; and they shewed with great Strength of Reason, that the Royal Throne could not be supported without Corruption; because, that positive, confident, restive Temper, which Virtue infused into Man, was a perpetual Clog to publick Business (Gulliver, 171).

This is a vituperative assault upon the humanistic view of human nature. Yet things continue to go from bad to worse as Swift saves his most potent salvos against humanity for Gulliver’s final journey, the “Voyage to the Huoyhnhnms.” Just as Swift, a great lover of hoaxes, must have enjoyed shrinking Gulliver in order to demonstrates humanity’s minuscule moral stature, he surely delighted in creating a breed of humanity subservient to its favorite beast of burden–the horse: “As Gulliver experienced a huge reversal from giant to pygmy, now the world is turned upside down as he recounts the relationship between human and horse in England” (Knowles, 121). This forces the reader to reevaluate many of his/her basic assumptions about human nature.

By creating a world where humanity is represented by the Yahoos, Swift personifies humanity’s most wretched feral tendencies. By forcing the reader to observe the Yahoos from the perspective of a wholly rational creature the novel demonstrates how indistinguishable Western man is from his animal nature. Gulliver is driven mad by the realization that an animal which appears to be a common horse is his moral superior in every way. Swift catalogues various vices and shortcomings in order to demonstrate how a race of truly rational beings might compare to humanity.

In the land of the Houyhnhnms there were no Gibers, Censurers, Backbiters, Pick-pockets, Highwaymen, House-breakers, Attorneys, Bawds, Buffoons, Gamesters, Politicians, Wits, Splenetics, tedious Talkers, Controvertists, Ravishers, Murderers, Robbers, Virtuosos; no Leaders or Followers of Party and Faction; No Encouragers to Vice, by Seducements or Examples (Gulliver, 242).

Even more damning of humanity than its status and ethically inferior to the Houyhnhnms is the inability of Gulliver’s Houyhnhnm Master to distinguish him from the Yahoos. He is never willing to concede that Gulliver represents a race which might differ significantly from the Yahoos in moral stature despite the fact that Gulliver speaks, reasons and wears clothes. Gulliver’s descriptions of human exploits confirm his master’s worst suspicions about humanity, just as Gulliver’s braggadocio had appalled the King of Brobdingnag. The master actually comes to regard Gulliver as representative of a life form even lower than the detested Yahoos who have no excuse for their lewd behavior. Humans, on the other hand, have intellectual gifts which logically should prevent them from committing the type of atrocities Gulliver has described to his master who concludes that

although he hated the Yahoos of this country he no more blamed them for their odious qualities, than he did a Gnnayh (a Bird of Prey) for its Cruelty, or a sharp Stone for cutting his Hoof. But, when a Creature pretending to Reason, could be capable of such Enormities, he dreaded lest the corruption of that Faculty might be worse than brutality itself (Gulliver, 215).

When Gulliver finally accepts his master’s appraisal that all the people he has ever known are, in essence, “Yahoos in Shape and disposition, perhaps a little more civilized”, he is echoing Swift’s gloomy assessment of human nature (Gulliver, 243). As the reader follows Gulliver through his descent into madness, it is difficult to remain optimistic about human nature. Gulliver begins his journeys as a proud man who is happy to brag about human exploits; he ends up revolted by the mere presence of people, preferring the company of horses.

This leaves us with the question of why Swift would write a book which paints such a dismal portrait of human nature. Is Gulliver’s Travels, as has been suggested, simply the misanthropic ravings of bitter, frustrated man who was himself headed into the throes of insanity? Or did Swift write, as he insisted, for the “Universal Improvement of Mankind”? It is notable, however, that Swift never proposes any strategy for such a daunting task. When one considers that Swift’s theological predisposition was based upon the innate corruption of humanity such protestations ring hollow. It seems likely that this was simply another one of Swift’s jokes.

by Richard W. Bray

REFERENCES
Case, Arthur E. Four Essays on Gulliver’s Travels. Gloucester: Princeton UP, 1958
Knowles, Ronald. Gulliver’s Travels: The Politics of Satire. London: Prentice Hall, 1996
Lock, F.P. The Politics of Gulliver’s Travels. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990
Swift, Jonathan. The Writings of Jonathan Swift. New York:Norton, 1973
Varey, Simon “Exemplary History and the Political Satire of Gulliver’s Travels,” The Genres of Gulliver’s Travels. Ed. Frederik N. Smith. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1990 (39-54)

VIRTUE IS “A PERPETUAL CLOG TO PUBLICK BUSINESS”: THE UBIQUITY OF CORRUPTION IN HUMAN INSTITUTIONS IN JONATHAN SWIFT’S GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (Part 1)

September 17, 2009

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VIRTUE IS “A PERPETUAL CLOG TO PUBLICK BUSINESS”:
THE UBIQUITY OF CORRUPTION IN HUMAN INSTITUTIONS
IN JONATHAN SWIFT’S GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (Part 1)

Winter 1998

Gulliver’s Travels is a testament to the ubiquity of corruption in human institutions. In all of Gulliver’s adventures the reader is confronted by examples of greed and vice which render humankind and its political institutions degenerate. This is not surprising when one considers that Swift was an Anglican clergyman who sincerely believed that postlapsarian humanity was inherently depraved. Yet Swift was also a diligent political operative and erstwhile pamphleteer with a considerable appetite for the adversity and acrimony of party politics. Swift’s political activity remained consistent with his Christianity–he fought for the establishment of peace, justice and political stability within the framework of his conception of the ideal political arrangement, a benevolent monarchy balanced by a diligent nobility. Despite some notable victories, Swift and his Tory allies were effectively exiled from the halls of power after the Death of Queen Anne and the ascension of the Whigs under King William I. This left Swift dispirited, and his natural tendency to cynicism was heightened by the aftermath of this brief period of political triumph:

his brilliant pamphleteering in 1711-13 on behalf of the Tory government’s peace policy was successful in its immediate aims. But the death of Queen Anne and the triumph of the Whigs blasted Swift’s hopes that the peace would inaugurate a new era of prosperity and stability under tory auspices (Lock, 1).

In many ways Gulliver’s Travels was an attempt to vindicate the reputations of Swift and his Tory compatriots, particularly, Oxford and Bolingbroke. Swift was proud of the role Tory ministers had played in the negotiation of the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended hostilities with France in 1713. Swift believed that the charges of appeasement and even treason leveled against the Tories were motivated by Whig blood lust and war profiteering. As a condemnation of such horrific human behavior, Gulliver’s Travels is far more effective than Swift’s nonfiction account of his involvement in party politics, History of the Last Four Years of the Queen.

Gulliver’s Travels abounds with allusions to the type of political machinations which led to his retirement from politics and his eventual self-imposed exile back to Ireland. This has led many critics to assume that the book, particularly the first two sections, is an allegory for Swift’s personal trials and travails in service of Queen Anne. Throughout the past two and a half centuries, numerous reviewers have tried to find historical counterparts in even the most minute occurrences from Gulliver’s Travels in their efforts to prove the book was really intended merely to lampoon Swift’s particular political rivals. This absurd reading of Gulliver’s Travels is, thankfully, no longer as prevalent as it once was.

Those who would argue that the scope of the intended meaning of Gulliver’s Travels is limited to a parody of contemporary English politics ignore not only Swift’s protestations to the contrary, but common sense as well. Swift’s personal experiences had a profound affect on his satire, as did his cynical reading of history and his basic theological predisposition. Swift “believed in the general conformity of human nature” and this nature was inherently corrupt (Lock, 33).

The central theme of Gulliver’s Travels is the imperfectabilityofhumanity and the universality of political corruption. Although the book contains many allusions to specific people and events from the period of the queen’s last ministry and other periods, it is not a political allegory in which every character, action, and motive contributes to a portrait of a single period (Varey, 41).

Once we accept the universality of Swift’s basic message it is possible to separate particular references to his personal history without falling into the trap of looking for a grand design of allegory in Gulliver’s Travels because “if there is no allegory, there still may be covert allusions to actual persons and events (Lock, 111). Such allusions are most prevalent in Gulliver’s “Voyage to Lilliput.” Arthur E. Case, an advocate of a highly allegorical reading of Gulliver’s Travels, does expose some interesting parallels between the book and Swift’s personal political history. He is convincing, for example, when he points out, as others have, that the “High Heels” and “Low-Heels” of Lilliput are clearly references to the Whigs and Tories, just as Big-Endians and Small-Endians represent the absurdity of the theological dispute between contemporary Catholics and Protestants (Case, 73). Moreover, Swift is obviously recounting the difficulty the Tories faced in negotiating the “Treaty of Utrecht” when the Emperor of Lilliput warns him that “we labor under two mighty Evils; a violent Faction at home, and the Danger of an Invasion by a most potent enemy abroad” (Gulliver, 29-30). But this is surely a timeless phenomenon which, for example, afflicted both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The shabby, ungrateful treatment Gulliver receives from the Emperor and his backbiting ministers in Lilliput after he has saved their kingdom in wartime and helped negotiate a just peace is analogous to the way Swift and his Tory compatriots were dealt with by the Whigs who replaced them. Upon defeating the Blefuscudian navy, Gulliver refuses on moral grounds the Lilliputian King’s request that Gulliver should obliterate “the Big-Endian Exiles, and compelling that people break the smaller End of their Egg; by which he would remain the sole Monarch of the whole World” (Gulliver, 34). Gulliver quite properly maintains that he is unwilling to follow the King’s demand because he “would never be an Instrument of bringing a free and brave People into Slavery” (Gulliver, 35). Here there is an obvious parallel between the Lilliputians and the “Whig desire for a crushing defeat of France (which) is pictured as a malicious and despotic wish of the Emperor to humiliate and tyrannize” a vanquished foe (Case, 75).

Case makes a cogent case that Gulliver’s experiences in Lilliput serve as an allegory for the diplomatic exploits of the Tory ministers Oxford and Bolingbroke during the last four years of Anne’s reign. Gulliver appears to relive this decisive period in Swift’s life. According to Case, the strongest arguments in favor of this interpretation of the “Voyage to Lilliput” are “its consistency and the exactness with which it follows the chronology of the events which it symbolizes” (Case, 79). Unfortunately, just three lines after making this assertion Case is forced to concede that “there are, of course, a few cases in which Swift takes slight and unimportant liberties with chronology for the sake of simplicity” (Case, 79). However, Case bolsters his argument by demonstrating how the four charges made against Gulliver are similar to the actual charges brought against Oxford and Bolingbroke (Case, 77-8). And there can be little doubt that the accusations of the treason faced by Gulliver for his role in negotiating a humane peace treaty with the Blefuscudians echo Whig declarations “that the Tories were robbing England of the fruits of victory by granting the enemy (France) easy terms” in the Treaty of Utrecht (Case, 75). The official charges against Gulliver, that he “did, like a false Traitor, aid, abet, comfort, and divert the said Ambassadors” mirror the attempts by Whigs to prosecute Oxford and Bolingbroke for their loyal diplomatic service to the crown (Gulliver, 49). It was horrific for Swift to see his personal heroes betrayed and humiliated as the result of fratricidal political intrigue which certainly exacerbated his natural proclivity for political pessimism. Gulliver is obviously referring to Oxford and Bolingbroke when he observes, in a rare moment of intellectual clarity that: “Of so little Weight are the greatest Services to Princes, when put into the Balance with a refusal to gratify their passions” (Gulliver,35).

If Swift merely intended to vindicate his allies and attack his adversaries when writing Gulliver’s Travels, the work would not have survived the scrutiny of time. Rather than simply exposing the moral depravity of those who had done him wrong, Swift was writing for the ages. His goal, then, was “to attack not particular Whigs or Whig policy, nor even Whiggism, but the perennial political disease of which Whiggery wash only a contemporary manifestation” (Lock, 2). Gulliver’s Travels is much more than the embodiment of Swift’s personal political frustrations; it is an attempt to chronicle the universality of political degeneracy and the frailty of humanity and its institutions. Swift himself articulates this fact in his angry reaction to a French translator of Gulliver’s Travels who has the temerity to suggest the book “was not written for France, but for England, and that what it contains of direct and particular satire does not touch us” (Knowles, 30). Swift’s response to this is direct and explicit:

If then, the works of Mr. Gulliver are calculated only for the British Isles, that traveller must pass for a very wretched writer. The same vices and the same follies reign everywhere, at least in the civilised countries of Europe, and the author who writes only for a town, a province, a Kingdom, or even a country, so far from being deserving to be translated, does not even deserve to be read (Knowles, 30-1).

by Richard W. Bray