In a letter to his friend, the poet Alexander Pope, Swift famously wrote, “I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals: for instance, I hate the tribe of lawyers, but I love Counsellor Such-a-one, and Judge Such-a-one: so with physicians—I will not speak of my own trade—soldiers, English, Scotch, French, and the rest. But principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth.”
Swift is perhaps the most famous misanthrope in the history of English literature. As mentioned previously “A Modest Proposal” most obviously lampoons the colonial powers in Ireland. But less obvious—and perhaps less comfortable for us as readers—are the ways in which the essay also satirizes the poor. As becomes clear in Swift’s backhanded disclosure of his actual suggestions for dealing with the crisis in Ireland, he tends to think of the Irish population as depraved, self-loathing, and unable to organize on their own behalf. He is disgusted by the way Irish husbands treat their wives, and he really does hate Catholics (though he isn’t about to kill any of them). In this sense, he spares neither the English nor the Irish from his biting satire.
With this in mind, one could argue that the absurdity of the proposed cannibalism illustrates not just the evils of English colonial rule, nor just the basic hopelessness of the Irish situation, but in fact the depravity of humanity in general. For Swift, the world is utterly and irreversibly fallen, and even on their best days humans are little more than beasts. Therefore, even as he proposes it in total irony, Swift seems also to be genuinely asking: why doesn’t humanity, given all of its terrible faults, deserve cannibalism?
Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) ThemeTracker
Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) Quotes in A Modest Proposal
Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our absentees at 5s. a pound: of using neither clothes nor household furniture except what is of our own growth and manufacture: of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence, and temperance: of learning to love our country, in the want of which we differ even from Laplanders and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: of being a little cautious not to sell our country and conscience for nothing: of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy toward their tenants: lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shopkeepers…