Monthly Archives: September 2019

Swift, Locke & Slavery

by Prof. Ian McBride (Hertford College, Oxford) Many critics regard Swift’s A Modest Proposal (1729) as the most brilliant piece of satirical writing in the English language. It is certainly the most notorious. Twice as many people search for it on Wikipedia as for Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1689) or Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). It has shaped the fiction of Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells and Evelyn Waugh. Both Hunter S. Thompson (‘Fear and Loathing in America’) and Philip Roth (‘On Our Gang’) recalled Swift’s tract when they condemned American military action in Vietnam. Margaret Atwood framed The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) with an epigraph from it. The title of the pamphlet and the shock tactics it employs are repeatedly invoked by denouncers of the global inequalities that underpin our prosperity in the West. Even for those with twenty-first century sensibilities, A Modest Proposal makes very uncomfortable reading. Its genius is not simply the perverse simplicity of its central message, that the only way for the indigent Irish to escape poverty is by fattening up their babies and selling them to the butcher. What really keeps us queasy is the sustained […]

Before Sweden Was Social-Democratic an Interview with Erik Bengtsson

by the Past & Present editorial team We were pleased to see that Jacobin magazine has run an extensive interview with Erik Bengtsson (Lund University). The interview focuses upon the ideas about the emergence of social democracy in Sweden, and Swedish social democracy’s essentially political character; that Bengtsson explores in “The Swedish Sonderweg in Question: Democratization and Inequality in Comparative Perspective, c.1750–1920” which was published in Past & Present #244 (open access).