Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 January 2022
This chapter argues that, even before Swift, Defoe’s satire employed the strategy of identifying admirable traits in the satirized object, which implicates both the thing itself and those who already see themselves as morally superior to the thing under attack. Defoe's deadpan satires work to more slowly build the ironic tension to the point that a new perspective suddenly and disruptively makes its presence felt; that the ironic status of this presence is also sometimes doubtful, indeterminate, or uncertain simply strengthens its effects. Defoe’s most famous satire, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, predicts A Modest Proposal, not just by using extremist rhetoric but also by suggesting that an earnest engagement can be much more subversive than cynical manipulation. Defoe satirizes the practice of occasional conformity by showing that it engages the Church in a purely cynical way. Like Swift later, Defoe seriously engages with the ideology of his target, in this case the Tory bigot, whose hostility to Dissenters also leads him to reveal the key insight of the satire: if Dissenters are willing to conform occasionally, there is no reason not to enforce conformity permanently.