Published online by Cambridge University Press: 19 January 2022
This chapter argues that Swiftian irony functions in a way similar to the Whiggish model of political revolution: both function “to preserve and to reform,” and both create new commitments based on challenging, revising, and criticizing existing institutions. Swift’s satire functions first and foremost, of course, to highlight weaknesses, defects, and corruptions in its objects; but, in a gesture reminiscent of Burkean conservatism and Rorty’s irony, his parody also serves as a means of preserving while reforming the satirized object, coopting its genuinely admirable qualities and opening up new spaces for indulgence and play. Burke makes explicit a model of ironic politics implicit in Swift’s Tale: political institutions are contestable primarily because they are an ongoing, unfinished project. Each generation must recognize this limitation and adapt institutions to their own needs.