The present essay argues that the notion of politeness spans the distance between two disparate views of the Modest Proposal: one in which Swift is detached from his speaker, and another in which Swift is complicit in his speaker's brutality. Swift's essay can be seen as an attack on politeness in two ways. In the first, Swift attacks presuppositions about politeness of the sort embraced by contemporary Whigs, whose spokesmen were eager to regard it as yoking civility with natural benevolence. While Swift's speaker is superficially modest, his barbaric proposal shows that the putative link between politeness and kindness is spurious. The second way in which the Modest Proposal attacks politeness involves Swift's regard for his own idea of it. While Swift believed that politeness entailed self-command—the suppression of one's asocial impulses—his various writings on politeness suggest that he nonetheless found the rigors of self-command vexing. As an ironic satire, Swift's work attacks self-command in the process of embodying it. A comparison of the Modest Proposal with one of Swift's non-ironic proposals for dealing with the poor reveals clearly the hostility and the impulse to self-aggrandizement that Swift had to suppress in order to write the Modest Proposal.


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pp. 852-874
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