Jonathan Swift's Real Argument. A Close Reading Of "A Modest Proposal"

1170 words - 5 pages

God only knows from whence came Freud's theory of penis envy, but one of his more tame theories, that of 'reverse psychology', may have its roots in the satire of the late Jonathan Swift. I do not mean to assert that Swift employed or was at all familiar with that style of persuasion, but his style is certainly comparable. Reverse psychology (as I chose to define it for this paper) means taking arguments that affirm an issue to such a degree that they seem absurd, and thus oppose the issue. Swift, in 'An Argument [Against] The Abolishing Of Christianity In England' stands up for Christianity, and based on the absurdity of his defense, he inadvertently desecrates it. He sets up a fictitious society in which Christianity is disregarded and disdained, but nominal Christianity remains. The author writes to defend this nominal Christianity from abolition. The arguments that the author uses, which are common knowledge in his time, if applied to Christianity in Swift's time would be quite dangerous allegations. Indeed, the reasons that Swift gives for the preservation of the fictitious Christianity are exactly what he sees wrong with the Christianity practiced in his time. By applying Swift's satirical argument for the preservation of this fictitious religion to that which was currently practiced, Swift asserts that their Christianity served ulterior motives, both for the government and for the people.If we are to prove that the government was using religion for selfish purposes, we must be sure that it was not serving its intended purpose, the assurance of the moral sanctity of its policies. This is quite evident in the author's comment that if real Christianity was revived, it would be, 'destroy at one blow all the wit and half the learning of the kingdom; to break the entire frame and constitution of things[.]' This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christianity has no influence on the government's current policies. It even seems as if the government established Church isn't completely rooted in Christianity, as the author weakly suggests that, '[A]bolishing Christianity may perhaps bring the church into danger.'The ways that the government actually uses Christianity are completely selfish. One such purpose is the consolation of allies, 'among whom, for we ought to know, it may be the custom of the country to believe a God.' He later goes on to suggest the abolition of Christianity in peace-time in order to avoid the loss of allies. It also seems as if the government uses Christianity to pacify the commoners. Although Swift sarcastically interjects, 'Not that I [agree] with those who hold religion to have been the intervention of politicians to keep the lower part of the world in awe,' he also says that religion is, '[O]f singular use for the common people.'In other instances, the government does not use, but certainly benefits from Christianity. In several ways Christianity is a buffer from dissension, in that it takes a blow that might have...

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