Famous Essay Values

A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick,[1] commonly referred to as A Modest Proposal, is a Juvenalian satirical essay written and published anonymously by Jonathan Swift in 1729. Swift suggested that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. His work encouraged positive development for those that suffered from famishment and financial maladies, and urged the aristocratic landlords to lower their taxes, so as to not further starve the country of its food and coin. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general. The primary target of Swift's satire was the rationalism of modern economics, and the growth of rationalistic modes of thinking in modern life at the expense of more traditional human values.

In English writing, the phrase "a modest proposal" is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire.


Swift goes to great lengths to support his argument, including a list of possible preparation styles for the children, and calculations showing the financial benefits of his suggestion. He uses methods of argument throughout his essay which lampoon the then-influential William Petty and the social engineering popular among followers of Francis Bacon. These lampoons include appealing to the authority of "a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London" and "the famous Psalmanazar, a native of the island Formosa" (who had already confessed to not being from Formosa in 1706).

This essay is widely held to be one of the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of the English language. Much of its shock value derives from the fact that the first portion of the essay describes the plight of starving beggars in Ireland, so that the reader is unprepared for the surprise of Swift's solution when he states: "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout."[1]

In the tradition of Roman satire, Swift introduces the reforms he is actually suggesting by paralipsis:

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither clothes, nor household furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

Literary Techniques[edit]

To ensure the success of his work, Swift employed several literary techniques that would prove extremely effective to his audience. The following techniques were used in his satire: understatement, hyperbole, juxtaposition, among several others.

To name his satire a "modest" proposal can be considered outrageous, as the subject content was purposely written with grotesque wordage. Perhaps the most obvious of literary techniques, it intrigued and baffled his readers.

Hyperbole is often used to evoke humor, but in this instance, it was used to make a point with strong language. Erasing the humanity of infants and referring to them as "carcasses, flesh, and meat" instead of "innocence" or "youth" efficiently defeated their significance to future generations.

Juxtaposition - a technique used to bring together two elements at odds with another - was implemented in Swift's subject matter when he combined the dire situation in Ireland with his outlandish solution.

Population solutions[edit]

George Wittkowsky argued that Swift’s main target in A Modest Proposal was not the conditions in Ireland, but rather the can-do spirit of the times that led people to devise a number of illogical schemes that would purportedly solve social and economic ills.[2] Swift was especially insulted by projects that tried to fix population and labour issues with a simple cure-all solution.[3] A memorable example of these sorts of schemes "involved the idea of running the poor through a joint-stock company".[3] In response, Swift's Modest Proposal was "a burlesque of projects concerning the poor"[4] that were in vogue during the early 18th century.

A Modest Proposal also targets the calculating way people perceived the poor in designing their projects. The pamphlet targets reformers who "regard people as commodities".[5] In the piece, Swift adopts the "technique of a political arithmetician"[6] to show the utter ridiculousness of trying to prove any proposal with dispassionate statistics.

Critics differ about Swift's intentions in using this faux-mathematical philosophy. Edmund Wilson argues that statistically "the logic of the 'Modest proposal' can be compared with defense of crime (arrogated to Marx) in which he argues that crime takes care of the superfluous population".[6] Wittkowsky counters that Swift's satiric use of statistical analysis is an effort to enhance his satire that "springs from a spirit of bitter mockery, not from the delight in calculations for their own sake".[7]


Charles K. Smith argues that Swift's rhetorical style persuades the reader to detest the speaker and pity the Irish. Swift's specific strategy is twofold, using a "trap"[8] to create sympathy for the Irish and a dislike of the narrator who, in the span of one sentence, "details vividly and with rhetorical emphasis the grinding poverty" but feels emotion solely for members of his own class.[9] Swift's use of gripping details of poverty and his narrator's cool approach towards them create "two opposing points of view" that "alienate the reader, perhaps unconsciously, from a narrator who can view with 'melancholy' detachment a subject that Swift has directed us, rhetorically, to see in a much less detached way."[9]

Swift has his proposer further degrade the Irish by using language ordinarily reserved for animals. Lewis argues that the speaker uses "the vocabulary of animal husbandry"[10] to describe the Irish. Once the children have been commodified, Swift's rhetoric can easily turn "people into animals, then meat, and from meat, logically, into tonnage worth a price per pound".[10]

Swift uses the proposer's serious tone to highlight the absurdity of his proposal. In making his argument, the speaker uses the conventional, textbook-approved order of argument from Swift's time (which was derived from the Latin rhetorician Quintilian).[11] The contrast between the "careful control against the almost inconceivable perversion of his scheme" and "the ridiculousness of the proposal" create a situation in which the reader has "to consider just what perverted values and assumptions would allow such a diligent, thoughtful, and conventional man to propose so perverse a plan".[11]


Scholars have speculated about which earlier works Swift may have had in mind when he wrote A Modest Proposal.

Tertullian's Apology[edit]

James Johnson argued that A Modest Proposal was largely influenced and inspired by Tertullian's Apology: a satirical attack against early Roman persecution of Christianity. James William Johnson believes that Swift saw major similarities between the two situations.[12] Johnson notes Swift's obvious affinity for Tertullian and the bold stylistic and structural similarities between the works A Modest Proposal and Apology.[13] In structure, Johnson points out the same central theme, that of cannibalism and the eating of babies as well as the same final argument, that "human depravity is such that men will attempt to justify their own cruelty by accusing their victims of being lower than human."[12] Stylistically, Swift and Tertullian share the same command of sarcasm and language.[12] In agreement with Johnson, Donald C. Baker points out the similarity between both authors' tones and use of irony. Baker notes the uncanny way that both authors imply an ironic "justification by ownership" over the subject of sacrificing children—Tertullian while attacking pagan parents, and Swift while attacking the English mistreatment of the Irish poor.[14]

Defoe's The Generous Projector[edit]

It has also been argued that A Modest Proposal was, at least in part, a response to the 1728 essay The Generous Projector or, A Friendly Proposal to Prevent Murder and Other Enormous Abuses, By Erecting an Hospital for Foundlings and Bastard Children by Swift's rival Daniel Defoe.[15]

Mandeville's Modest Defence of Publick Stews[edit]

Bernard Mandeville's Modest Defence of Publick Stews asked to introduce public and state controlled bordellos. The 1726 paper acknowledges women's interests and – while not being a complete satirical text – has been discussed as well as an inspiration for Jonathan Swift's title.[16][17] Mandeville had become famous with the Fable of The Bees and deliberations on private vices and public benefits in 1705 already.

John Locke's First Treatise of Government[edit]

"Be it then as Sir Robert says, that Anciently, it was usual for Men to sell and Castrate their Children. Let it be, that they exposed them; Add to it, if you please, for this is still greater Power, that they begat them for their Tables to fat and eat them: If this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same Argument, justifie Adultery, Incest and Sodomy, for there are examples of these too, both Ancient and Modern; Sins, which I suppose, have the Principle Aggravation from this, that they cross the main intention of Nature, which willeth the increase of Mankind, and the continuation of the Species in the highest perfection, and the distinction of Families, with the Security of the Marriage Bed, as necessary thereunto" (First Treatise, sec. 59).

Economic themes[edit]

Robert Phiddian's article "Have you eaten yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal" focuses on two aspects of A Modest Proposal: the voice of Swift and the voice of the Proposer. Phiddian stresses that a reader of the pamphlet must learn to distinguish between the satiric voice of Jonathan Swift and the apparent economic projections of the Proposer. He reminds readers that "there is a gap between the narrator's meaning and the text's, and that a moral-political argument is being carried out by means of parody".[18]

While Swift's proposal is obviously not a serious economic proposal, George Wittkowsky, author of "Swift's Modest Proposal: The Biography of an Early Georgian Pamphlet", argues that to understand the piece fully, it is important to understand the economics of Swift’s time. Wittowsky argues that not enough critics have taken the time to focus directly on the mercantilism and theories of labour in 18th century England. "[I]f one regards the Modest Proposal simply as a criticism of condition, about all one can say is that conditions were bad and that Swift's irony brilliantly underscored this fact".[19]

"People are the riches of a nation"[edit]

At the start of a new industrial age in the 18th century, it was believed that "people are the riches of the nation", and there was a general faith in an economy that paid its workers low wages because high wages meant workers would work less.[20] Furthermore, "in the mercantilist view no child was too young to go into industry". In those times, the "somewhat more humane attitudes of an earlier day had all but disappeared and the laborer had come to be regarded as a commodity".[18]

Landa composed a conducive analysis when he noted that it would have been healthier for the Irish economy to more appropriately utilize their human assets by giving the people an opportunity to “become a source of wealth to the nation” or else they “must turn to begging and thievery” [21]. This opportunity may have included giving the farmers more coin to work for, diversifying their professions, or even consider enslaving their people to lower coin usage and build up financial stock in Ireland. Landa wrote that, "Swift is maintaining that the maxim—people are the riches of a nation—applies to Ireland only if Ireland is permitted slavery or cannibalism" [22]

Louis A. Landa presents Swift's A Modest Proposal as a critique of the popular and unjustified maxim of mercantilism in the 18th century that "people are the riches of a nation".[21] Swift presents the dire state of Ireland and shows that mere population itself, in Ireland's case, did not always mean greater wealth and economy.[22] The uncontrolled maxim fails to take into account that a person who does not produce in an economic or political way makes a country poorer, not richer.[22] Swift also recognises the implications of such a fact in making mercantilist philosophy a paradox: the wealth of a country is based on the poverty of the majority of its citizens.[22] Swift however, Landa argues, is not merely criticising economic maxims but also addressing the fact that England was denying Irish citizens their natural rights and dehumanising them by viewing them as a mere commodity.[22]

The Public's Reaction[edit]

Swift's writings created a backlash within the community after its publication. The work was aimed at the aristocracy, and they responded in turn. Several members of society wrote to Swift about their feelings regarding the work. In a "private" reaction letter from Lord Bathurst (Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl of Bathurst) to Jonathan Swift, Bathurst intimated that he certainly understood the message, and interpreted it as a work of comedy.

February 12, 1729-30:

"I did immediately propose it to Lady Bathurst, as your advice, particularly for her last boy, which was born the plumpest, finest thing, that could be seen; but she fell in a passion, and bid me send you word, that she would not follow your direction, but that she would breed him up to be a parson, and he should live upon the fat of the land; or a lawyer, and then, instead of being eat himself, he should devour others. You know women in passion never mind what they say; but, as she is a very reasonable woman, I have almost brought her over now to your opinion; and having convinced her, that as matters stood, we could not possibly maintain all the nine, she does begin to think it reasonable the youngest should raise fortunes for the eldest: and upon that foot a man may perforin family duty with more courage and zeal; for, if he should happen to get twins, the selling of one might provide for the other. Or if, by any accident, while his wife lies in with one child, he should get a second upon the body of another woman, he might dispose of the fattest of the two, and that would help to breed up the other.

The more I think upon this scheme, the more reasonable it appears to me; and it ought by no means to be confined to Ireland; for, in all probability, we shall, in a very little time, be altogether as poor here as you are there. I believe, indeed, we shall carry it farther, and not confine our luxury only to the eating of children; for I happened to peep the other day into a large assembly [Parliament] not far from Westminster-hall, and I found them roasting a great fat fellow, [Walpole again] For my own part, I had not the least inclination to a slice of him; but, if I guessed right, four or five of the company had a devilish mind to be at him. Well, adieu, you begin now to wish I had ended, when I might have done it so conveniently."[23]

Modern usage[edit]

A Modest Proposal is included in many literature programs as an example of early modern western satire. It also serves as an exceptional introduction to the concept and use of argumentative language, lending itself well to secondary and post-secondary essay courses. Outside of the realm of English studies, A Modest Proposal is a relevant piece included in many comparative and global literature and history courses, as well as those of numerous other disciplines in the arts, humanities, and even the social sciences.

The essay has been emulated many times. In his book A Modest Proposal (1984), evangelical author Frank Schaeffer emulated Swift's work in social conservative polemic against abortion and euthanasia in a future dystopia that advocated recycling of aborted embryos and fetuses, as well as some disabled infants with compound intellectual, physical and physiological difficulties. (Such Baby Doe Rules cases were then a major concern of the pro-life movement of the early 1980s, which viewed selective treatment of those infants as disability discrimination.) In his book A Modest Proposal for America (2013), statistician Howard Friedman opens with a satirical reflection of the extreme drive to fiscal stability by ultra-conservatives.

In the 1998 edition of "A Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood there is a quote from "A Modest Proposal" before the introduction.[24]

A Modest Video Game Proposal is the title of an open letter sent by activist/former attorney Jack Thompson on 10 October 2005. He proposed that, if someone could "create, manufacture, distribute, and sell a video game in 2006" that allows players to play the scenario he has written, in which the character kills video game developers.[1]

Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, which contains hundreds of private letters written by Thompson over the years, contains a letter in which he uses A Modest Proposal's satire technique against the Vietnam War. Thompson writes a letter to a local Aspen newspaper informing them that, on Christmas Eve, he was going to use napalm to burn a number of dogs and hopefully any humans they find. This letter protests against the burning of Vietnamese people occurring overseas.[citation needed]

The 2012 film Butcher Boys, written by Kim Henkel, is said to be loosely based on Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal. The film's opening scene takes place in a restaurant named "J. Swift's."

On November 30, 2017, Jonathan Swift's 350th birthday, The Washington Post published a column entitled "Why Alabamians should consider eating Democrats’ babies", by humor columnist Alexandra Petri.[25]



  • Baker, Donald C (1957), "Tertullian and Swift's A Modest Proposal", The Classical Journal, 52: 219–220 
  • Johnson, James William (1958), "Tertullian and A Modest Proposal", Modern Language and Notes, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 73 (8): 561–563, doi:10.2307/3043246, JSTOR 3043246  (subscription needed)
  • Landa, Louis A (1942), "A Modest Proposal and Populousness", Modern Philology, 40 (2): 161–170, doi:10.1086/388567 
  • Phiddian, Robert (1996), "Have You Eaten Yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal", Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Rice University, 36 (3): 603–621, doi:10.2307/450801, hdl:2328/746, JSTOR 450801 
  • Smith, Charles Kay (1968), "Toward a Participatory Rhetoric: Teaching Swift's Modest Proposal", College English, National Council of Teachers of English, 30 (2): 135–149, doi:10.2307/374449, JSTOR 374449 
  • Wittkowsky, George (1943), "Swift's Modest Proposal: The Biography of an Early Georgian Pamphlet", Journal of the History of Ideas, University of Pennsylvania Press, 4 (1): 75–104, doi:10.2307/2707237, JSTOR 2707237 

External links[edit]

  1. ^ ab"A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift". Project Gutenberg. 27 July 2008. Retrieved 10 January 2012. 
  2. ^Wittkowsky, Swift’s Modest Proposal, p76
  3. ^ abWittkowsky, Swift’s Modest Proposal, p85
  4. ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p88
  5. ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p101
  6. ^ abWittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p95
  7. ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p98
  8. ^Smith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 135
  9. ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 136
  10. ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 138
  11. ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 139
  12. ^ abcJohnson, Tertullian and A Modest Proposal, p563
  13. ^Johnson, Tertullian and A Modest Proposal, p562
  14. ^Baker, Tertullian and Swift's A Modest Proposal, p219
  15. ^Waters, Juliet (19 February 2009). "A modest but failed proposal". Montreal Mirror. Retrieved 10 January 2012. 
  16. ^Eine Streitschrift…, Essay von Ursula Pia Jauch. Carl Hanser Verlag, München 2001.
  17. ^Primer, I. (15 March 2006). Bernard Mandeville's "A Modest Defence of Publick Stews": Prostitution and Its Discontents in Early Georgian England. Springer. ISBN 9781403984609. 
  18. ^ abPhiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p6
  19. ^Phiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p3
  20. ^Phiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p4
  21. ^ abLanda, A Modest Proposal and Populousness, p161
  22. ^ abcdeLanda, A Modest Proposal and Populousness, p165
  23. ^Swift, Jonathan; Scott, Sir Walter (1814). The Works of Jonathan Swift: Containing Additional Letters, Tracts, and Poems Not Hitherto Published; with Notes and a Life of the Author. A. Constable. 
  24. ^"The Handmaid's Tale". www.goodreads.com. 
  25. ^Petri, Alexandra (November 30, 2017). "Why Alabamians should consider eating Democrats' babies". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2017. 

There are few virtues more important than independence. Independence is a requirement for leading your own life. How can you make decisions if every action you take has to be filtered through other people first? Without independence, you can’t be the captain of your life. You must be satisfied scrubbing the decks while someone else sets the direction you’re to follow.

Independence doesn’t mean you never need other people. Most people wouldn’t last a year stranded on an island with no other people to provide support. Independence means that you add at least as much value back as you take from every transaction. You don’t leave a permanent debt between you and another person.

Debt is Dependency

When you build a debt with another person, you lose your independence. If you require another person to support you, that person has power over you. They can withdraw their funding based on your actions, effectively controlling your life. Even if they are benevolent, they may unconsciously use their power to influence your decisions.

If your transactions are fair, you retain your independence. I’m not dependent on a grocery store because, if they decide not to feed me, I can take my money elsewhere. Since it is an equal trade, there is no imbalance of power.

Independence is More Than Just Money

The debt that dependency creates doesn’t just have to be in finances. You can be completely financially independent, but entirely socially and intellectually dependent on other people.

Financial independence is important. Requiring money from other people to live isn’t ideal. Even if you are dependent on a spouse, family member or the government for an income, it shouldn’t become a permanent situation.

If everyone became financially dependent on another person, the economy would collapse. Independence isn’t just a personal virtue, it’s a moral virtue. Avoiding debts with other people makes you in control over your own life. Independence also makes you a creator instead of a user. By putting back at least as much as they are taking, independent people ensure the world stays in balance.

Financial independence, and the consequences of financial dependence are easy to understand. It doesn’t take a leap of thinking to realize that if everyone drains more money than they create, the world will collapse.

Social and intellectual independence are harder to see. But, I believe that they are even more important than financial independence. If you are financially dependent, another person has control over your body. They can decide whether you eat or starve. If you are socially or intellectually dependent, another person has control over your mind and soul.

Social Independence

Money isn’t the only currency people use. Sure, it’s the only kind you carry around in your wallet, but it is only one form of transactions. Social currency is another method of transactions. It is the currency of relationships, friendships, loyalty and service to other people.

Just as you can be financially dependent, you can be socially dependent. This means you are emotionally dependent on the opinions of the people around you. You care what other people think of you. Worse, you use their whims and biases as a foundation for making decisions on how to live your life.

Someone who is socially dependent can never be authentic. Instead they must constantly ask themselves whether what they are doing is popular or fashionable. I’m sure we both know people who fit this model. They are the people who care more about being liked than being themselves.

Independence here means the same thing it does with finances. It doesn’t mean you don’t need people and are happy living alone. It simply means that the relationship value you contribute outwards at least equals the value you take away. You aren’t dependent on the opinions of other people because you can just as easily make new friends.

A person who has complete social independence feels free to leave friends and relationships that demand too high a price. Just as a financially independent woman wouldn’t keep shopping at a store where the prices weren’t worth the goods sold, a socially independent man wouldn’t stick with friends who demanded that he become a fake in order to have their friendship.

Intellectual Independence

Intellectual independence is the most important form of independence. While it might not be easy, you can move from a position of social and financial dependence to one of independence. As long as you can make decisions for yourself, you can move closer towards complete independence.

Intellectual dependency is so damaging because, if you are dependent, it is incredibly difficult to break those chains. Intellectual dependency is the equivalent of selling your soul. While you can become a slave in body and in relationships, if you are a slave in the mind, you cease being a consciously deciding human being.

Intellectual dependence happens when you stop thinking for yourself. Instead of filtering ideas through your own powers of reasoning, you accept them blindly. You get caught onto dogma and superstition instead of what is true for you.

I make it no secret that I’m an atheist. But, that isn’t because I follow some secret “Atheist’s Handbook” (if there were such a thing). It’s because after reviewing my personal experiences and my knowledge about the world, that is the best conclusion I can come to. It is the most fulfilling and reasonable answer I can arrive at.

I have far more respect for an ardent religious believer who thought through beliefs for herself, than for another atheist that simply swallowed what he had been told. I might disagree with the content of her beliefs, but I strongly support the method that arrived at them.

Intellectual independence means you are willing to experiment, explore and leave no stone unturned in the search for understanding. You don’t avoid ideas that don’t fit neatly into your worldview, you embrace them. You think through ideas yourself instead of blindly accepting pre-digested facts from other people.

Like all forms of independence, intellectual independence is both a personal and a moral question. Being intellectually dependent is unethical since you are borrowing more thinking power than you are creating. You are using the thoughts of others instead of contributing ideas back to the world.

Independence Through Poverty

Independence is a virtue that takes work. Even if you believe it is important, that doesn’t automatically free you from the chains of debt. Independence is a hard virtue to attain. I strive for it with conviction, but it can be hard to completely avoid dependency. But just because perfection is impossible, that doesn’t mean we should give up.

The way to financial independence is through poverty. Imagine you are currently receiving $20,000 per year in transactions that put you into debt. Now imagine that you also earn another $20,000 in fair transactions that you have earned. You are half-dependent, half-independent with your finances.

The key to financial independence would be to adapt yourself to live on the $20,000. By lowering your poverty threshold, you could survive while being completely independent. Temporary poverty is a key to independence.

I say temporary because while halving your income may be uncomfortable, it gives you power. Now that you are no longer chained to other people, you have increased power to expand your income. You may need to go through a rough patch, but it could easily be a first step to even greater wealth.

I remember reading that Sylvester Stallone, refused money when trying to sell his movie script. He believed that if he started accepting money from a job or the government, it would make him comfortable. Instead of following his dream, he would lose his hunger and settle into a lower quality of life.

The movie script he was trying to sell was Rocky, which went on to make him into a millionaire and famous movie star. By temporarily accepting financial poverty for financial independence, he regained the personal resources to achieve success.

Just as a small clarification, by “debt”, I mean debts you don’t or can’t pay back fully. If you wanted to start a business, that might require taking out a loan or getting investor financing. That doesn’t make you dependent, since you are paying the interest price for funding.

Building Social and Intellectual Independence Through Poverty

The road to social independence is also through poverty. Except in this case, social independence means solitude and loneliness. Few people enjoy complete isolation on a permanent basis. But temporarily sacrificing your social life gives you the power to build new relationships.

I took this step when I was in high school. I distanced myself for most of that time and didn’t form strong connections. I was too dependent on other people’s opinions. Close bonds would have made me follow the crowd instead of my convictions. Temporarily stepping into poverty wasn’t fun, but it was necessary.

Now I’ve completely rebuilt my social circle. I have many friends in different areas and I’m perfectly willing to abandon one group if I need to. I wouldn’t say I have complete social independence, but I’m far closer to that ideal than I was several years ago.

Intellectual independence requires a similar trip through poverty. Instead of giving up finances or friends, you give up knowledge. Intellectual independence means temporarily putting yourself in a position of doubt. You become agnostic about almost everything as you re-evaluate your beliefs.

Although this form of poverty doesn’t seem as extreme as the last two, it is often the hardest to face. It takes a lot of courage to go from a feeling of certainty to one of complete doubt. Most people can’t fully take this step, so they slowly shift from dependence to independence with their ideas.

Independence is a Personal Virtue, Not a Political One

If these ideas sound similar, they should be. Ayn Rand wrote about them (although she wasn’t the first) in The Fountainhead. The book promoted the absolute virtues of independence both in finances, friendships and ideas. The main character, Howard Roark, embodies complete independence, even when it forces him into extreme financial and social poverty.

However, while I agree with Rand’s personal philosophy, I disagree with her political ideals. Independence is important to maintain as a person. But that doesn’t mean we should punish or abandon the people who have difficulty holding this virtue. Being independent doesn’t mean you should abandon the poor, socially weak or intellectually cowardly.

The ultimate ideal is to be independent and use that independence to help other people. Not helping people by making them dependent on you. Helping people by freeing them from their dependencies. Don’t give men fish to eat, teach them how to fish.

Helping someone become independent is much more difficult than just helping them. It’s far easier just to write a check or give compliments. It is much harder to make that person grow. Giving aid without encouraging independence is often worse than not helping at all. When you foster dependency, you are limiting people from their potential.

The value of independence is that it makes you a human being. Dependency requires lowering yourself to a lesser animal, becoming a slave to the people around you. When you have independence, I believe the next step is to encourage the independence of others. Think your own thoughts, live your own life, and help others to do the same.

Filed Under: Finances, Life PhilosophyTagged With: philosophy

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