Jonathan Swift's response to the challenge of modernity : a reading of Gulliver's Travels.


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In Gulliver’s Travels Swift does obliquely what he does in his sermons and non-satirical writings more directly: he defends a settled social order, which was held together morally by a common Christian religion and led politically by men of property and liberal education, or by gentlemen. Swift defends this order not as perfect but as preferable, despite its imperfections, to the proposed and emerging modern alternatives. In the settled order he sees better prospects for what he calls in one of his sermons “the present happiness of mankind.” By this he means the measure of happiness available to human beings in this world, which he describes in the same sermon as intended by God to be “a place of trial” rather than anything like the “place of rest [that men] would make it.” Modernity is presented in the Travels as an attempt—or as a set of similar and similarly dangerous attempts—to transform the world into a place of rest, and Gulliver is decisively modern in his attraction to each of these attempts.



Swift. Politics. Philosophy. Morality. Modernity.