Swift against Empire

The Inaugural Lecture of Professor Ian McBride

Gulliver’s Travels (1726) culminates in a bitter denunciation of European imperialism, quite remarkable for its time.  A Modest Proposal (1729), often regarded as the most brilliant satire in the English language, contains a devastating critique of colonial exploitation.  To mark the 350th anniversary of his birth, this lecture will examine Jonathan Swift’s attitudes to empire.  It will explore the controversies surrounding Ireland’s politics and trade in the early decades of the eighteenth century, and their connection with emerging conceptions of the British empire.  It will also show how A Modest Proposal reflects the moral collapse of Protestant Ascendancy, and the social disorders of the divided kingdom where Swift was born – as he insisted – by ‘a perfect accident’.