Dean Swift and 18thC Economic Thought

October 16-17 2010 in St Patrick's Deanery, Dublin

Jonathan Swift and the Irish School of development economics

Salim Rashid

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Author's Note: I am grateful to Dean MacCarthy and Robert Mahoney for the honour of presenting my thoughts on the Irish economists of the early eighteenth century. Robert Mahoney has been very helpful on both general and particular issues, especially in bringing me up to date on recent scholarship and providing general guidance. I am especially grateful to Roy Johnston for his unceasing efforts over many years on behalf of the Irish economists--- what I cannot understand is why he keeps describing it as an offshoot of his work on IT!

Abstract: Ireland is the birthplace of development economics. Almost all the concepts and solutions used today were anticipated by the Irish, whether it be the definition of underdevelopment or the means to tackle the problem, and these points will take up the majority of this talk. However, the intellectual history being elaborated here has a further significance. The most effective proponent of the need to improve Irish poverty, Jonathan Swift, and the most profound theorist of the problems facing underdevelopment, George Berkeley, were both in holy orders, as ministers of the Anglican Church. Many of those who are important figures in this Irish achievement were either in holy orders, such as Archbishop King and Samuel Madden, or devout Christians, such as Thomas Prior, and Arthur Dobbs. The wider importance of Christianity, in motivating the study of development, and in providing an effective form of civil disobedience to achieve their goals, is a point that has long been lost.

Ireland is the birthplace of development economics. This observation should cause no surprise since the best economic ideas are those inspired by actual economic problems. The surprise rather is that the economics profession has succeeded in ignoring the pioneering Irish contributions for so long. Not that some, most notably the late Senator Joseph Johnston, did not try. Almost all the concepts and solutions used today were anticipated by the Irish, whether it be the definition of underdevelopment or the means to tackle the problem, and these points will take up the majority of this talk. However, the intellectual history being elaborated here has a further significance. The most effective proponent of the need to improve Irish poverty, Jonathan Swift, and the most profound theorist of the problems facing underdevelopment, George Berkeley, were both in holy orders, as ministers of the Anglican Church. Many of those who are important figures in this Irish achievement were either in holy orders, such as Archbishop King and Samuel Madden, or devout Christians, such as Thomas Prior, and Arthur Dobbs. The wider importance of Christianity, in motivating the study of development, and in providing an effective form of civil disobedience to achieve their goals, is a point that has long been lost . Such neglect may have been justified once, when religion was supposed to die a slow and silent death, but such an excuse has long since evaporated(1).

There are at least six specific points about economic growth which the Irish made with some force; First, that meaningful economic development means that which caters to the welfare of the poor ; secondly, that economic development is closely linked with human development; thirdly, using the example of the absentees, that the distribution of wealth affects both the economics and sociology of growth; fourthly, that private efforts can do much to stimulate growth, even with a minimally responsive government; fifthly, that microfinance is an effective method of poverty alleviation; and sixthly, that monetary systems, interpreted to include systems of debt financing, are vital to harness the energy for development.

My framework will give primacy to politics over economics----thus going against a trend in Irish studies over the last fifty years. Politics is the disposition of force and economics is the distribution of resources---roughly speaking. Power will always trump trade. I am sometimes surprised by the faith in markets expressed by economic historians as depicted in their use of the phrase, 'the invisible hand' of the market. If someone in the 18th century were told of an 'invisible hand' guiding society, whose hand do you think it would be? The God of Christianity of course. Facts obvious to the 18th century have become hidden and mislabeled simply through the neglect of economists(2).

Without going back to the facts presented by George O'Brien, my conclusions will follow most easily from his framework. I am aware that much has been done to modify the wider view of Irish economic history propagated by O'Brien, most effectively so by Louis Cullen, but for the time period in question and for the individuals I discuss, little is modified(3). The facts of Irish dependence are well known, but it is well to repeat the compact formulation provided by T M Devine, in the course of an article comparing and contrasting Irish and Scottish economic growth in the 18th century, and is especially relevant since this contrast is one dear to Swift's heart.

Ireland had a separate parliament for the whole of the eighteenth century until it was finally dissolved by a fully incorporating union with Westminster in 1801. But despite this the country was in a much more dependent relationship with England than Scotland had ever been, even after the apparent loss of independence in 1707. Ireland had been annexed to England by conquest and its military subordination to London was reinforced by the Williamite victories of the 1690s, the presence of an army of occupation of around 12,000 regular soldiers, the appointment of Englishmen to high political and ecclesiastical office, and the control of Irish legislative decisions through Poynings's Law of 1495 (not repealed until 1782) and the Declaratory Act of 1720. England regarded Ireland as a colony, a country whose native governing class had been destroyed by massive land confiscation in the seventeenth century and where the Catholic and dissenting population were constrained by the Penal Laws. (Refiguring Ireland: Essays in honor of L M Cullen)

A further difference comes from current interpretations comes from the different approach we take, with my views being formed as a student of economic development. Consider the concept 'Comparative Advantage'. Economists prove that even if Europe is more efficient than China in producing every good, yet trade is beneficial. Such a theorem can be proved. But the question of interest is "Why is Europe so much better than China?". Are they better human beings or are they better governed? Perhaps the wider discussion can be carried on elsewhere.


What is development? Is it simply the accumulation of riches within a country? But then what are riches? According to a mythical view propagated effectively by Adam Smith, people considered gold and silver to be the only true wealth at this period. For a nation that had no mines of these metals, this meant exclusive emphasis had to be given to the balance of trade. George Berkeley did not give such a view any space in dismissing the identification of wealth with the precious metals. He directly asked:

'Whether a people can be called poor, where the common sort are well fed, clothed and lodged?

Suppose the bulk of our inhabitants had shoes to their feet, clothes to their backs, and beef in their bellies, might not such a state be eligible for the public, even though the squires were condemned to drink ale and cider?'

By going straight to the root problem of underdevelopment, the poverty of the poor, Berkeley took a giant step forward. Adam Smith read Berkeley, praised highly Berkeley's other writings, but quite ignored the beacon provided in the Querist. Later, in a query often repeated, Berkeley drove a stake into the view that foreign trade---, the means by which the balance of trade was determined---, was of primary importance for an economy; he asked why Ireland could not be rich even if it were surrounded by a wall of brass.

Since Ireland was a society divided along religious lines it is important to note that Berkeley , who initially had several queries on the conversion of the Catholics to Protestantism in the Querist, omitted such queries in his revised edition and added some that were inclusive of Catholics. The call to the Catholics was appreciated by at least some Catholics. 1Berkeley's advice to Catholics(4) in A Word to the Wise was so well-taken that the Catholic clergy of Dublin replied by recommending "in the most earnest manner the perusal and zealous execution" of the thoughts in the pamphlet and even spoke of reducing the number of holy-days so as to leave more time for work (Berkeley, 1953, p.248).

Dobbs and Madden were also partial to a more generous treatment of the Catholics, but Swift's silence on this point has long troubled his admirers. In the speech Swift gave on receieving the freedom of Dublin, Swift noted how he had set up a fund for the industrious poor which gave help regardless of party or religion; Swift also spoke less harshly about the Catholics than he did about the Dissenters, but that is about as far as one can go on the basis of direct references to the 'Papists'(5.6) There is however a little noted sentence in dealing with the causes of Irish poverty where Swift takes a stand for the ordinary, as opposed to the political, Irish Catholics. Swift scoffs at the thought that the Irish were incorrigible and that they could not be entrusted with schemes for enriching themselves:

'The common objections against all this, drawn from the laziness, the perverseness, or thievish disposition of the poor native Irish, might be easily answered, by shewing the true reasons for such accusations, and how easily those people may be brought to a less savage manner of life.'


Berkeley made another, and potentially deeper, conceptual innovation by focusing upon human capabilities as the primary source of economic growth. At the very beginning of the Querist he had already noted the factors of production that are now standard in the literature.

'Whether the four elements, and man's labour therein, be not the true source of wealth?'

With Alfred Marshall and the Victorians this became the trinity that defined growth; land, labor and capital. But capital consists of things like spades and lathes---'produced means of production' as the Marxists appropriately put it. But if capital is produced, then capital cannot be an original source of wealth. So we are left with land and labor. But land is a shorthand for natural resources, so we have to ask, 'how will we know a resource when we see it?'. When a bedouin came across a pool of dark liquid in the desert, did he shout 'Oil!'? does this not prove that a resource is not something that exists 'out there' but rather is the way we perceive something ? So a resource is primarily defined by human knowledge. By this reduction we see that the primary source of all wealth must be human labor and ingenuity. By the time Berkeley came to revise the Querist and publish a second edition, Berkeley had clearly worked his way to this most significant conclusion:

'Whether faculties are not enlarged and improved by exercise?

Whether the sum of the faculties put into act, or in other words, the united action of a whole people doth not constitute the momentum of a State?"

Whether such momentum be not the real stock of a State?

Whether in every wise State the faculties of the mind are not most considered?

Whether the momentum of a State doth not imply the whole exertion of its faculties, intellectual and corporeal; and whether the latter without the former could act in concert?'

Swift's views on the causes of economic growth are quite in line with those of his contemporaries, with the proviso that Swift often argued how inapplicable these maxims were to the case of Ireland. Presumably, this was Swift's way of pointing out the importance of political factors in Irish poverty. Berkeley took a much wider and deeper view of the human potential. In order to develop these human capabilities, Berkeley urged both rich and poor to change themselves from within. The rich had to prefer Irish goods, Irish houses and Irish art; the poor had to appreciate comforts like cleanliness and meat, and be prepared to work hard to acquire these commodities(7). It is the directed focus of Berkeley that makes his argument of great value; almost anyone can give us a list of factors which contribute to economic growth---Richard Lawrence and Sir William Petty did so in the mid-seventeenth century, Swift did so in several essays on Irish povertyand various speakers in the Irish Parliament did the same in debates---but it took the genius of Berkeley to put the factors into a coherent and directed framework.

The modern view that economic growth is fundamentally a question of human capital was fully anticipated by Berkeley and the Irish. In pointing to moral factors as the basic cause of fluctuations, the pre-modern emphasis upon motive and character has more to commend it than the modern view. According to modern economists, the economy can be characterized, grosso modo, by three basic factors 1 greedy agents 2 technology and 3 institutions. Why is such an economy subject to cycles of boom and bust? What can change in a matter of months to let prosperity turn to depression? Technology does not appear to be subject to such cyclical change and institutions, whether public or private, are guided by rules and bureaucrats, neither of whom are liable to such cycles. So we are left with the volatility of the human agent,--- the intensity or the wisdom or the calculation with which they pursue their self-interest---as the basic cause of economic cycles; to steady the economy then comes down to that old-fashioned virtue, steadiness of character.


If we accept economic development as the label for the process by which a country reaches its economic potential, then the Irish were clearly concerned with economic development. When Adam Smith theorised about this question, he answered at one point that if a country were tolerably well-governed, then 'peace and easy taxes' would suffice to take any country to its maximal economic potential. It is the 'if' that is most important in this claim; consider the following economic sequence----growth occurs because people save and invest, investment take place when people expect to keep their profits, which in turn means that property rights are well defined. So the first step is a legal, or rather political, one. In a country like Ireland, land was the primary source of property, and the uncertainty over land rights was etched in every memory at this time. So there can be no doubt that politics lay as a background disturbance for all economic plans at this time. To this general argument, the Irish added more particular and pointed criticisms, which can be exposited by going to a framework exposited in the Wealth of Nations.

If we gather together the premises of Smith's case (Mitchell, 1967), they state:

1. Individuals wish to maximize wealth.
2. Individuals know better than governments how to maximize their wealth.
3. National wealth is the sum of individual wealth.

Points 1 and 2 serve to establish that individuals are most wealthy when left alone, while point 3 serves to transfer this conclusion to the nation. While Smith states these assumptions in dogmatic form in several places, he is also careful to qualify them in others. For example, he admits that all individuals need not wish to maximize wealth, but so long as most of them wish to do so his conclusions hold (Smith, 1937, pp. 324-325).

If we write down the exceptions granted by the more careful version of Smith's thesis, they would read:

1. Some individuals do not wish to maximize wealth.
2. Some individuals do not know better than governments now to maximize their wealth.

What if the few exceptional individuals referred to above hold most of the wealth of the country? How then would the Smithian mechanism work? This shows how the Wealth of Nations essentially ignores the thorny issue of distribution, which is precisely the least dispensable assumption in the case of Ireland. The Irish absentee landlords were living proof that wealth may come to be concentrated in entirely the wrong hands and thereby stifle the free-market engine of growth. While the absentees were the most visible embodiment of the lack of social responsibility and concern of the Irish upper classes, Berkeley clearly noted that one could live in Ireland and yet be an "absentee" (Berkeley, 1953, pp. 104, 144). In these and related queries the modern concept of "dependent development" is clearly described and criticized.

The problems caused by the excessive concentration of landholdings were of course obvious to observers in earlier centuruies—all the more so since land was the overwhelming source of wealth. In analyzing the reasons for the backward nature of Ireland in 1612 Sir John Davies squarely laid the blame on the maldistribution of Irish lands and the excessive power of the Irish lords.

And besides, our great English lords could not endure that any kings should reign in Ireland but themselves; any, they could hardly endure that the Crown of England itself should have any jurisdiction or power over them. For many of these lords to whom our kings had granted these petty kingdoms did by virtue and color of these grants claim and exercise jura regalia within their territories, insomuch as there were no less than eight counties palatines in Ireland at one time. (Davies, 147)

The Irish did not make the case for land reform--- after all the Protestants were the principal beneficiaries of the changes in land titles; no doubt Catholics would have spoken differently. But the economic case made by the Irish--- that those who own the bulk of the property can misdirect economic growth---is only the first half of their argument.

The root of the second problem can be seen by taking a wider view and lies in the fact that ownership of land brought many social, administrative and judicial privileges. Hence lords paid careful attention to all forms of social minutiae.

In many respects, Henri's obsession with seigneurial privileges, no matter how minor, reflects the political and cultural meaning with which such rights were invested by nobles and their peasant tenants. Beyond their obvious economic value, seigneurial monopolies (or charges for their use) on mills, winepresses, and ovens, seigneurial ownership of certain pastures, streams, and woodlands, the seigneurial right to collect dues (lods et ventes) when property changed hands, and finally the right to administer justice, all demonstrated in the most pervasive fashion the seigneur's control of the most basic necessities and activities of daily life. Given such conditions, no rent or seigneurial due was too small to be collected. (Amanda Evrish, 7)

The second component of the Irish complaint is sociological. They recognize, correctly, that in societies like theirs it is the landlords who set the tone of the economy. To succeed, an economy has to be embedded in society. Since such a conclusion is implicitly denied by those who accept Adam smith's assumptions, it is worth spelling out the argument briefly. Individuals are said to be wealth maximisers, meaning thereby that they maximize lifetime wealth. To succeed in such a goal, individuals need to have foresight, so that they can forsee future possibilities; they need calculation, so that the alternative future possibilities can be evaluated; they need self-discipline, so that they will hold themselves to the wealth maximizing paths they have chosen. Do foresight, calculation and self-discipline arise naturally, or are they induced by society?

The more social component arises when individuals have to cooperate to create wealth, a problem popularized by the Prisoner's Dilemma. It is precisely the careful study of unregulated self-interest that has forced us to look for constraints. The pioneering studies of Axelrod have shown how the propensity to sink into the inferior equilibria are countered.Perhaps by absorbing the lessons of Axelrod's The Evolution of Cooperation we will appreciate the importance of socialisation.

The analysis of the data from these tournaments reveals four properties which tend to make a decision rule successful: avoidance of unnecessary conflict by cooperating as long as the other player does, provocability in the face of an uncalled for defection by the other, forgiveness after responding to a provocation, and clarity of behavior so that the other player can adapt to your pattern of action. [Axelrod (1984), 20]

Consider the four qualities-- cooperation, provocability, forgiveness and clarity-- will they arise naturally?

The Irish complained repeatedly and bitterly about the damage being done to both Irish economy and society by the absentees. Swift was so focused upon the absentees that after 1730 he refuses to look at any measures which might help the Irish unless the elite became both resident and frugal. Thomas Prior, in particular, wrote what was perhaps the most reprinted pamphlet of the 18th century on this issue. Without the theoretical framework of modern economics, they nonetheless accurately analysed most of the principal causes of Irish poverty.


Swift gives the impression that nothing can be done without political reform. Perhaps his fruitless meeting with Walpole in 1726 initially decided such a pessimistic view. As the economy worsened in 1727 and 1728 Swift felt compelled to write about economic problems, culminating of course with the Modest Proposal. Unless questions about the Church are involved, after 1730 his economic thinking continually repeats the older themes---without resolve upon the part of the Irsh nothing will ensue, absentees must return and the Irish refuse foreign luxuries(8) But others thought differently about political equality as a sine qua non for economic progress. As Berkeley said:

'Whether it would not be more prudent to strike out and exert ourselves in permitted branches of trade than to fold our hands and repine that we are not allowed the woolen.' (Berkeley, 1953, p.73).

Such pragmatic thoughts moved one of the most significant attempts to bypass what was seen as a thoughtless and corrupt administration---the Dublin Society(9). By setting up experimental farms, giving premiums, encouraging industry, and invigorating the economy the Dublin society showed that private efforts can do much even in difficult circumstances(10). In 1729 Prior was even hopeful that a Professorship for 'agriculture,trade and the useful arts' would be set up at Dublin, but this never came about. In the mid-twentieth century, similar skepticism about the effectiveness of Governement led to the rise of the NGO's or Non-Governmental organizations. The Dublin Society was the first NGO(11). Arthur Dobbs and Thomas Prior are lesser known figures than Swift or Berkeley, but it should be noted that they too possessed large philosophical views.

Trade and commerce unites in interest and affection the distant nations. As the soul, animating he natural body, makes all ... so trade, in the body politick, makes the several parts of it contribute to the well-being of the whole...(Dobbs )(12)

Even when they were not writing about economics directly, members of the Dublin Society encouraged the habits that led to economic growth, as may be seen from the Charges given by Sir Richard Cox to Grand Juries(13). The views of the members were not identical, with Prior emphasizing absentees and the balance of trade while Dobbs emphasized employment. However, it is important to take these differences as differing reflections of important common goals. Prior was a close friend of Berkeley and it is unthinkable that Prior could have held to the caricature of Mercantilist views. The pamphleteers of this period were pragmatists, they saw problem and suggested solutions, always knowing that the readers they were aiming at would fill in the context.

It is a puzzle that neither Berkeley nor swift were members of the Dublin Society, and Swift's absence in particular has led to speculation.

It is noteworthy that Dean Swift, who was so deeply interested in everything that concerned the prosperity and advancement of Ireland, did not become a member of the Society, though many of its prominent members were well known to him, some of them indeed being intimate personal friends. Dr. Elrington Ball, an unrivaled authority where anything concerning Swift is concerned, points out that the Dean held Anthony Sheppard, jun., the treasurer, and his father, in contempt; and from Swift's well-known habit of mind, especially at a period when he had begun to fail, he may possibly have contracted dislikes also to others connected with the Society. (Berry, pp. 30-31).

As Lord Lieutenant, Chesterfield gave tribute to the Dublin Society in a letter to Walpole:

'The Dublin Society is really a very useful establishment. It consists of many considerable people, and has been kept up hitherto by voluntary subscriptions. They give premiums for the improvement of lands, for plantations, for manufactures. They furnish many materials for those improvements in the poorer and less cultivated parts of this kingdom, and have certainly done a great deal of good. The bounty they apply for to His Majesty is five hundred pounds a year, which in my humble opinion, would be properly bestowed.' (Berry, p47)

Chesterfield said the same directly to Prior, with a perceptive comment on the reason for the effectiveness of the Society:

'They have done more good to Ireland, with regard to arts and industry, than all the laws that could have been formed; for, unfortunately, there is a perverseness in our natures which prompts us to resist authority, though otherwise inclined enough to do the thing, if left to our choice. Invitation, example, and fashion, with some premiums attending them, are, I am convinced, the only methods of bringing people in Ireland to do what they ought do; and that is the plan of your Society.' (Berry, p48).

The historian of the Society could not help noting how well the clergy were represented in this movement for economic growth. Jonathan Swift also made use of this attribute of the clergy in arguing against reducing the tithe(14):

'The great End of this Bill is, by proper Encouragement, to extend the Linen Manufacture into those Counties where it hath hitherto been little cultivated: But this Encouragement of lessening the Tyth of Flax and Hemp is one of such a Kind as, it is to be feared, will have a directly contrary Effect. Because, if I am rightly informed, no set of Men hath, for their Number and Fortunes, been more industrious and successful than the Clergy, in introducing that Manufacture into Places which were unacquainted with it; by persuading their People to sow Flax and Hemp; by procuring Seed for them and by having them instructed in the Management thereof; and this they did not without reasonable Hopes of increasing the Value of their Parishes after some time, as well as of promoting the Benefit of the Publick. But if this Modus should take Place, the Clergy will be so far from gaining that they will become Losers by any extraordinary Care, by having their best arable Lands turned to Flax and Hemp, which are reckoned great Impoverishers of Land. They cannot therefore be blamed, if they should shew as much Zeal to prevent its being introduced or improved in their Parishes, as they hitherto have shewed in the introducing and improving it.'


The recognition of finance as a crucial component of prosperity--- both at the micro and macro levels--- is a distinctive aspect of the Irish school. The loan fund of Jonathan Swift had to be re-presented to the moderns in the 20th century after Microfinance became the most talked about method of poverty alleviation; it was then seen as a pioneering and successful attempt to mitigate the inequities of capitalist growth. Modern microfinance solves the problems of adverse selection and moral hazard by using group responsibility; Swift instead used a character reference to the same effect(15). If a poor industrious man could provide someone reliable to vouch for his character, he would be eligible for a loan. Swift was proud of his fund and referred to it while accepting the freedom of Dublin.The loan fund became a success and continued for over a hundred years. It is odd that Swift's monetary thinking was quite advanced in the Intelligencer, where Swift favors both paper money and the provision of small change but appears to back off all these sensible ideas and to contradict every measure unless the Irish were provided with their own Mint.

The primacy given to a stable monetary system by George Berkeley is perhaps an even more radical innovation. Berkeley begins by noting that money was valuable only insofar as it performed an economic function:

'Whether money be not only so far useful, as it stirreth up industry, enabling men mutually to participate the fruits of each other's labour?'

Since the Irish monetary system was failing to perform these essential functions, Berkeley wanted to introduce a national bank16). Berkeley was so taken with the need for a national bank that queries relating to the bank formed the majority of the first edition of the Querist and Berkeley spent much of the 1737 parliamentary session in Dublin in a fruitless effort to convince Parliament of the benefits of such an institution. Using references to various well-known failed banks, including the example of John Law, Berkeley showed how the bank that he was advocating would avoid all known traps that led to banking insolvency. It is remarkable to see how Berkeley summarized the principal features of the best known banks and pinpointed out the causes of their failure---giving most space to the failure of Law's system. He summarized the main practical policy issues in short letter of sober prose and spent a session lobbying the Irish Parliament to adopt his scheme. Failing to persuade the politicians in this elementary but critical measure for improving the lives of the ordinary Irish, Berkeley eventually showed his human side by a short, but sarcastic and cynical, set of queries on policymaking in Ireland(17).

Berkeley not only espoused a national bank, he also had the prescience to see that a National debt can serve to stabilize the entire monetary system:

233 'Whether the credit of the public funds be not a mine of gold to England? And whether any step that should lessen this credit ought not to be dreaded?'

234 'Whether such credit be not the principal advantage that England hath over France? I may add, over every other country in Europe?'

Since the monetization of the National Debt was perhaps England's most significant financial innovation in the 18th century, historians have to give more credit to Berkeley on this score.


Finally, I turn to an Anglican tradition that was initiated by Archbishop Sancroft in a political/religious context but transferred to economic situations by the Irish. How is one to uphold a just cause in the face of overwhelming force? James II provided the Anglican hierarchy with such a dilemma; Sancroft responded by refusing to compromise his oath. Many agreed with him and left their positions in the Anglican church. Swift greatly admired the Anglican example of non-violent resistance set by Sancroft and devoted a poem to Sancroft.(Ode to Dr William Sancroft verse III).

If all that our weak knowledge titles virtue, be
(High Truth) the best resemblance of exalted Thee,
If a mind fix'd to combat fate
With those two powerful swords, submission and humility,
Sounds truly good, or truly great;
Ill may I live, if the good Sancroft, in his holy rest,
In the divinity of retreat,
Be not the brightest pattern earth can show
Of heaven-born Truth below;

The crucial thoughts are those in the lines 3 and 4, where Swift admires the determination to combat fate with submission and humility, and the critical word is the decision to 'combat' fate, not to accept it.When Swift returned---or rather was banished---to Ireland, he felt the Irish were being oppressed andneeded a medium to express his outrage. Is it surprising that he chose the mode of protest shown by Sancroft? To qualify as non-violent resistance, one's actions have to exhibit two features a) passionate dedication and b) courage to face one's oppressor directly. Swift published anontmously, and took care not to be traced, so while he spoke truth to power, he did not quite live contrary to power. Nonetheless, there can be little doubt of Swift's passionate conviction about English misdeeds. In his exhortation to boycott English goods, to refuse unconstitutional banks and especially in the Drapier's carefully crafted protest against Woods Halfpence Swift showed the power of non-violent resistance. Of course the 20th century thinks of Gandhi and M L King when we talk about the potential of non-violent protest---but is it far fetched to see the method already successfully applied by the Anglican church from the 1680's onwards?

The mention of Gandhi and M L King allows us to consider Swift in the light of a politician and allows the introduction of somewhat different standards than those set by the saintly Sancroft(18). When Swift reviewed his Irish career he wrote that "What I did for this Country was from perfect Hatred of Tyranny and Oppression…." This does make Swift somewhat of an anti-colonial. One wants to know if Swift inspired others .Of this there can be little doubt. The common folk of Dublin demonstrated this repeatedly, with Swift even being called the successor to St Patrick.

When he walked through the streets of Dublin, he received "a thousand hats and blessings." Once when he was ill for a period of two weeks, "many sorrowful Countenances were seen all over [the] City"; and on hearing a rumor that he had died, "several Gentlemen, Tradesmen, and others sent a Porter from a Tavern, to knot the Truth." The report that Swift was alive "so much pleased the Company, that instead of putting the Messenger off with two Pence for his Trouble, they every one generously contributed, and gave him several Shillings to drink that worthy Patriots Health." (Ferguson, pp 184-185)

In 1726 Swift went on his last trip to England. He was offered a bishopric, but refused it; he was too much at home and honoured in Ireland. He tried to give gifts of Irish poplin at court, to Princess Caroline, with the shrewd hope that patronage by the court would lead to greater sales of Irish clothing. But the most significant act he did was to swallow his pride and go to see Walpole with the hope that English policy towards Ireland could be softened, but to no avail. Such efforts must have been known for his return is well-described by Ehrenpries:

'When Swift's ship came into the Bay of Dublin toward the end of August, an unprecedented welcome met him. Several heads of municipal corporations and other principal citizens went out from Dublin to greet Swift in wherries adorned with colours, streamers, and emblematic devices. A crowd of admirers accompanied him to his house. Churchbells rang and bonfires blazed to honour the homecoming Drapier. Three months later, the affectionate Dubliners marked Swift's birthday with fresh flames and reverberations.' (p. 34) Jonathan Swift 1667-1967: A Dublin Tercentenary Tribute.

So it is not farfetched to consider Jonathan Swift as carrying on a campaign of non-violent resistance against the colonial policies of the English. Swift was wildly popular, but his actions were limited by his arrogance, his determinantion to put politics first---without an Irish Mint and without resolve on the part of the Irish elite Swift saw no hope. Swift was well aware of the persistence of what economists refer to as coordination problemsamong the Irish, he even made a perceptive suggestion about quality control for increasing the sale of Irish cloth, but he nonetheless persisted in looking upon coordinated political action as the basis for any solution. By setting up such a sine qua non Swift, perhaps needlessly, limited his influence upon Irish economic development.

There are definite contradictions in arguing for Swift as representing Ireland as a whole, so let us consider the proposition that he spoke for his people---the Irish Anglicans-- and examine his position. It is easier to establish what he was against, which was the proposition that Ireland should be treated as a colony. It was this negative that united Swift with Archbishop King, despite their considerable political differences. As a Scot, King can be expected to have fully sympathized with Swift's arguments in The Injured Lady---why should Ireland be treated differently than Scotland? Both King and Swift were united in protesting the filling of Irish church posts by Englishmen, and the absentees were harshly condemned by both King and Swift in similar language well before the pamphlet literature on this question arose. So it is plausible that they would both agree on granting civil, but not political, equality to the catholics; the Anglicans were to monopolise political power, but this strength was illegitimate if used to persecute peaceful catholics. Such a position is clear from King's correspondence and scattered hints suggest the same for Swift. If we remember that for Swift the 'Irish' meant primarily the Anglican Irish, and only secondarily the Catholics and the Dissenters, there is good reason to see Swift as a skilful, determined and effective spokesman for his people.

Even this qualified understanding, which retains the rhetorical overtones of an earlier era, is challenged by some recent work, such as that of S J Connolly, which thus requires some attention. In his effort to locate Swift in context, Connoly takes a cue from Swift's treatment of the Puritans in Swift's account of the English Civil War, which shows 'single-minded partisanship' on the part of Swift. Connoly admits that 'Swift's depiction of a kingdom oppressed by a powerful neighbour had an undoubted basis in fact'; however, despite the validity of this depiction, Connoly goes on to suggest that Swift made indefensible political and economic claims. Shifting to Molyneux as a cogent representative of Swift's political premises, Connoly conludes that Molyneux 'dressed up' arguments claiming what were really new aspirations as traditional rights. Europe was in the process of setting up 'composite monarchies, where one King ruled over several distinct territories and the English were in the process of feeling out this new political animal.

This is a good historical framework but it does not meet Swift's charge. Did Swift not claim in the Injured Lady that Ireland had as good a claim to Union as Scotland? If there were to be composite monarchies, why was this not one form of composition? On Swift's claim that he would fight for George I, Connoly comments, "yet the rigid distinction thus asserted between loyalty to George I and subordination to England, was, in the aftermath of 1688, wholly untenable' p39. Swift might retort 'You mean untenable in practice due to Whig claims of exclusive power--is this not my point?'. Connoly notes that while England had sweeping powers, these were rarely used. The limits of such power were shown in public appointments where England had to compromise with the Irish undertakers. To which Swift might retort "were the sweeping powers rarely used because of English moderation or English skill?" Take the specific case of church appointments, used by Connoly to suggest a counterpoint to Swift's allegations. Connolly notes that the Irish appointments in the Irish church remained stable over the eighteenth century(19)[ 37-8]. Swift clearly argues about the value and Irishness of each post:

'It must be confessed, that, considering how few employments of any consequence fall to the share of those English who are born in this kingdom, and those few very dearly purchased, at the expence of conscience, liberty, and all regard for the public good, they are not worth contending for: And, if nothing but profit were in the case, it would hardly cost me one sigh when I should see those few scraps thrown among every species of Fanaticks, to scuffle for among themselves.'

By presenting data from a period longer than that relating to Swift's complaint, by looking at numbers instead of value and by ignoring the commitment to 'Ireland' ,the issue with Swift has not been joined.

These political arguments are buttressed by criticism of Swift's claim that political subordination was a significant cause of her poverty. 'Swift's grim description of economic conditions was fully justified...Over the past three decades,however, a range of new work has comprehensively undermined the assumption that the main cause of these appalling conditions is to be found in restrictive British legislation.' Relying on the recent research of L M Cullen and Patrick Kelly, Connolly states that it was not the prohibitions on wool or cattle, but rather that "The real source of Ireland's economic difficulties …was that it was attempting to sell agricultural produce in a predominantly rural Europe."

In considering these claims, let us limit ourselves to the 1720's when Swift was active and connected to the controversy(20). In an age when some 80 per cent of the budget of the poor would have been spent on agricultural products, especially food, why did the Irish not live well? Were Irish agricultural products cheaper than those of England and Europe? Could they have been made cheaper by judicious policy? If there was a redirection of Irish economic energy after 1700 to lower value items do we know the magnitudes involved? If not ,since Ireland was pushed to a higher value product by English restrictions, does this not show a failure of Irish policy(21)? The English policies may have arisen out of "individual surrenders on the part of government to British vested interests" but this attitude was probably what hurt Swift most---the Irish were as ciphers in the English calculations.

There are some conceptual difficulties with the intellectual enterprise of trying to get perspective on the Irish economy by looking at Ireland in the 1720's sans Swift. Who can tell how much callousness English policy might have shown if Swift had not inflamed the Irish?(22) In the 1720's Swift was central to defining Irish opinion; any piecemeal analysis of the decade is hobbled. On the whole, I conclude that Swift had a coherent view of both politics and economics--England was determined to quash Irish political aspirations and was indifferent to Irish prosperity, provided of course there was calm and the rents could be collected. Swift stood up for his people, the Anglican Irish, and deserves to be considered a worthy follower of Sancroft in the Anglican tradition of non-violent protest.


1. The relationship between Swift and Berkeley has been supposed to be a cordial one, except for a troubling note next to Berkeley saying 'u' for 'ungrateful.' As there are two other Berkeley's who are possible candidates for the 'u',(see the index of Ehrenpries) I will accept the current consensus that, given their affinity on politics, religion and economics, Swift and Berkeley were, at least, on friendly terms. I am grateful to Christopher Fauske for finding me the source of Swift's 'u'.

2. Given my differences with the literature it is as well to show my prejudices. The emphasis upon the importance of Christianity is my own; the role of Anglican rationalism in general is well expressed by Gerard Reedy; the importance of religion in the eighteenth century is best described in several books of J C D Clark; the interpretive framework for viewing Swift is clearly indicated by Christopher Fauske in the Introduction to his book on Swift, while that for Berkeley is provided by Gavin Ardley. Thomas Bartlett's The Fall and Rise of the Irish Nation (Gill & MacMillan 1992) has been very helpful for its overview. Reading several of the essays in Interpreting Irish history : the debate on historical revisionism, 1938-1994 / edited by Ciaran Brady. has made me keenly aware of the deep controversies pervading Irish history. Nonetheless, it serves no one to have me use many words and 'say nothing'. By stating directly what seems to be clear to me, I also leave myself open to correction.

3. If one removes the scaffolding erected by Cullen and look directly at the facts he provides, we are actually in considerable agreement. Briefly, here are some indicative points; 1)1720's depressed & relative wealth increase of landlords. 2) 1740's show public spirit. 3) absentees decrease in 1740's and 50's---why? 4) linen was finer in rural Ireland.

4. A point emphasized by Ellen Leyburn in 1938, but since the paper is hard to get, her arguments are not widely known. I am grateful to Roy Johnston for providing me a copy of the Leyburn paper.

5. One could add Swift's interest in Gaelic, (according to Sheridan).

6. I have not come across any pamphlet from this period which deduces the consequences of the Penal laws upon agriculture, particularly in making grazing more profitable than tillage, the very effect many pamphleteers were deploring. This is most surprising in the case of Lord Molesworth, who had little reason to support the Anglican Church. The books of Crotty and O'Donovan were valuable in this regard; Crotty, himself a landowner in Kilkenny, has a compact formulation, while O'Donovan provides many contemporary quotes.

7. That success in enriching the poor can require changing preferences has been realized by many effective microfinance organizations, such as the Grameen Bank.

8. Of course, he did not see how inconsistent it was to argue against raising the tax on foreign wine. I feel unsure when it comes to interpreting Gulliver, so I have quite ignored this source. For the references to economics in Gulliver, see, for example, Jill Bradbury.

9. Actually, the Society was founded while Berkeley was out of Ireland, but since he was in close contact with the principal mover, Prior, I have taken some liberty in describing the Dublin Society.

10. For a very different, but not necessarily contradictory, perspective on the Dublin Society, see James Livesey, Civil Society and Empire (Yale 2009) ch 2. I am grateful to Eoin MaGennis for the reference.

11. There were earlier societies focused upon economic improvement, particularly upon agriculture, but in terms of its effectiveness, and especially as a response to an uncaring administration, the Dublin Society was the first.

12. Later, as Governor of North Carolina, Dobbs urged dealing and trading with the native Indians in friendship.

13. I have only read those for 1740 and 1748, but even these two are quite revealing.

14. Unless Swift contributed in some way to Bolingbroke's proposal to engage in a new commercial treaty with France, it seems to me that Swift started thinking about economics seriously only around 1719. He continued to worry about economic problems till about 1730, and then he reverted to purely political considerations. The one exception involved the Church, whose interests always seemed to arouse Swift.

15. For more details see the unpublished dissertation of Eoin McLaughlin, 'Microfinance institutions in nineteenth century Ireland' Department of History, NUI Maynooth, Oct. 2009. and Edward McPhail and Salim Rashid "Swift and Berkeley on economic development"

16. Prior and the Dublin Society take for granted what is now called the 'cash in advance' model.

17. Details are spelled out in Rashid and McPhail "Berkeley on banks; theoretical success and practical failure".

18. Ehrenpries seems to have changed his mind about JS the time he wrote the Introduction to volume 2 and the essay he contributed to the 1967 volume , when he thought of Swift's time as a political adviser to be his most significant period , when the Hibernian Patriot was the most important aspect of Swift.

19. I have not had access to the original source Connolly uses for the church appointments. Connolly also reports that Irish judges had relatively more appointments under George II than under George I. This is a more promising line of attack and if the difference shows up between 1715 and 1735 it would be an effective critique.

20. After 1730, Swift rarely left Dublin and contradicted himself on economic issues ; Swift became bolder and more open, but no wiser. Swift's ability to work out the political implications of self interest always remained sharp, as in his preference for a multitude of sects because they would cancel each other. Adam Smith drew very much the same conclusion. "I confess, that, in my private Judgment, an unlimited Permission of all Sects whatsoever (except Papists) to enjoy Employments, would be less pernicious to the Publick, than a fair Struggle between two Contenders; because, in the former Case, such a Jumble of Principles, might possibly have the Effect of contrary Poysons mingled together; which a strong Constitution might perhaps be able for some Time to survive."

21. Restrictions on Wool seem to have hurt, while those on cattle seemed to have helped. Wool was probably of greater impact, but I have not seen any quantitative studies of either impact. It is a pity if the question has not been addressed, since the orders of magnitude of such calculations can be obtained.

22. The letters of Archbishop Boulter are a sufficient testimony on this score.

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