Jonathan Swift was the greatest Irish political satirist and certainly one of the greatest satirists that the English language has ever produced. His best-known work is Gulliver’s Travels, a political satire that exposed the problems with contemporary English government and society in the early 18th century. Here is an excerpt from a Swift biography to give you an idea of the political satire for which he became famous:
In 1704, Swift anonymously released A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books. Tub, although widely popular with the masses, was harshly disapproved of by the Church of England. Ostensibly, it criticized religion, but Swift meant it as a parody of pride. Nonetheless, his writings earned him a reputation in London, and when the Tories came into power in 1710, they asked him to become editor of the Examiner, their official paper. After a time, he became fully immersed in the political landscape and began writing some of the most cutting and well-known political pamphlets of the day, including The Conduct of the Allies, an attack on the Whigs.
When he saw that the Tories would soon fall from power, Swift returned to Ireland. In 1713, he took the post of dean at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. While leading his congregation at St. Patrick’s, Swift began to write what would become his best-known work. In 1726, [it was] anonymously published as Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships — also known, more simply, as Gulliver’s Travels. The book was an immediate success and hasn’t been out of print since its first run. Interestingly, much of the storyline points to historical events that Swift had lived through years prior during intense political turmoil.
The purpose of Gulliver’s Travels was to comically describe a fictitious world of political and social stupidity in such as way as to satirize the current English world in which he lived in order to stimulate social and political changes. An excellent analysis of what Swift conveyed and what he intended in writing Gulliver’s Travels is detailed here.
He also wrote an important satirical pamphlet,
… “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to their Parents, or the Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick.” The tract is an ironically conceived attempt to “find out a fair, cheap, and easy Method” for converting the starving children of Ireland into “sound and useful members of the [British] Commonwealth.”
The dictionary definition of satire is this: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” There is no question that people resonate with and remember humorous stories and jokes, especially when that humor attacks serious topics of significance in people’s lives.
An example of modern political satire that should resonate is an updated story of the children’s tale, The Ant and the Grasshopper: [Note: this satire is a lot easier to decipher than the arcane English political environment of the 18th century as satirized in Gulliver’s Travels.]
The ant works hard in the withering heat and the rain all summer long building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while he is cold and starving.
CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing, ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green.’
Occupy the Anthill stages a demonstration in front of the ant’s house where the news stations film the Black Lives Matter group singing ‘We Shall Overcome’. Then Reverend Al Sharpton has the group kneel down to pray for the grasshopper while he damns the ant. He later appears on MSNBC to complain that rich people do not care.
Former President Obama condemns the ant and blames Donald Trump, President Bush 43, President Bush 41, President Reagan, Christopher Columbus, and the Pope for the grasshopper’s plight. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer exclaim in an interview on The View that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.
Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity and Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs, and having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government Green Czar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and given to the grasshopper.
The story ends as we see the grasshopper and his free-loading friends finishing up the last bits of the ant’s food while the government house he is in which, as you recall, just happens to be the ant’s old house, crumbles around them because the grasshopper doesn’t maintain it. The ant has disappeared in the snow never to be seen again. The grasshopper is found dead in a drug-related incident, and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the ramshackle but once prosperous and peaceful neighborhood. The entire Nation collapses, bringing down the rest of the free world with it.
Moral of the story: be careful how you vote in 2020.
Enter the online website, The Babylon Bee, which has clearly taken the satire baton from Jonathan Swift by seemingly making fun of everything under the sun in fake but hilarious news articles. They provide regular laughs – and keen insights! – at babylonbee.com. Here are a few recent headlines from The Bee that are a complete crack-up:
- CNN Reporter Informs Iranian Protesters They’re Supposed To Be Shouting ‘Death To America’
- Staffers Beg Ralph Northam To Reconsider MLK Jr Costume
- Warren: ‘Bernie Once Told Me In Private That ‘The Princess Bride’ Is A Garbage Movie And Those Who Enjoy It Are Human Trash’
- Media Offers Thoughts And Prayers That Someone Would Start Some Violence At Gun Rights Rally
- Archaeologists Discover King David’s ‘Make Israel Great Again’ Hat
In the 21st century, satire is particularly effective against Democrats and other assorted leftists because they just don’t have a sense of humor. They are easy to make fun of and never seem to get the joke – but normal people certainly do. The Ant and Grasshopper satire is a case in point. Can you imagine Bernie or Fauxcahontas laughing while they read it? The Left are even trying to get Facebook to censor The Babylon Bee because they can’t handle the satire. How ironic is it that CNN, perhaps the king of fake news, is going after The Babylon Bee, as reported here?
Clearly, The Babylon Bee is on the cutting edge of modern political satire – cutting pretty close to the liberal bone, that is! Jonathan Swift is looking down on The Babylon Bee and smiling.