The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy

Summary:  Across the gulf of three centuries, Jonathan Swift’s insights provide another perspective on America.  His observations, cloaked in metaphor, deserve attention.  The following is an excerpt from Gulliver’s Travels, A Voyage to Brobdingnag, chapter 6 — Gulliver explains the English government to the King of this great people (source).

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Background on the debate

An excerpt from “Giants and Dwarfs” by Allan Bloom:

Gulliver’s Travels is one of the last explicit statements in the famous quarrel between the Ancients and Moderns, and perhaps the greatest work in that argument. … The moderns believe they have found the true principles of nature, and that by mean of their methods new sources of power could be found in physical nature, politics, and the arts. These new principles represented a fundamental break with classical thought and were incompatible with it.

… It marked a crossroad, one of the very few which mankind has been asked to make a decisive change in direction. The choice once made, we have forgotten that this was the the only road, that there was another once before us, either because we are ignorant of a possible choice or because we are so sure that this is the only road to Larissa.

… Gulliver’s Travels is a discussion of human nature, particularly of political man, in the light of the great split. … Swifts’s device in Lilliput and Brobdingnag is to take moral and intellectual differences and project them in physical dimensions. … Gulliver’s attempts to take the physical beauty of the Lilliputians seriously, or the king of Brobdingnag’s holding Gulliver in his hand while asking him if he is a Whig or Tory, resume hundreds of pages of argument in an instant.

The power of Swift’s vision is seen in this brief look at modern politics. Any resemblance of this to our great Nation is not coincidental.

Excerpt from Gulliver’s Travels

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{The King} fell next upon the Management of our Treasury; and said, he thought my Memory had failed me, because I computed our Taxes at about five or six Millions a Year, and when I came to mention the Issues, he found they sometimes amounted to more than double; for the Notes he had taken were very particular in this Point, because he hoped, as he told me, that the Knowledge of our Conduct might be useful to him, and he could not be deceived in his Calculations.

But, if what I told him were true, he was still at a Loss how a Kingdom could run out of its Estate like a private Person. He asked me, who were our Creditors; and where we should find Money to pay them.

He wondered to hear me talk of such chargeable and extensive Wars; that certainly we must be a quarrelsome People, or live among very bad Neighbours, and that our Generals must needs be richer than our Kings. He asked what Business we had out of our own Islands, unless upon the Score of Trade or Treaty, or to defend the Coasts with our Fleet. Above all, he was amazed to hear me talk of a mercenary standing Army in the midst of Peace, and among a free People. He said, if we were governed by our own Consent in the Persons of our Representatives, he could not imagine of whom we were afraid, or against whom we were to fight …

Let those who can hear his message.

For more information

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

  1. About America – how can we reform it?
  2. About Military, political, and strategic theory

Posts on the FM site about Grand Strategy and National Security:

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy , 31 January 2006
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
  3. The Fate of Israel , 28 July 2006
  4. Why We Lose at 4GW , 4 January 2007
  5. America takes another step towards the “Long War” , 24 July 2007
  6. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
  7. ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy , 21 February 2008
  8. One telling similarity between the the Wehrmacht and the US Military , 10 March 2008
  9. America needs a Foreign Legion , 18 April 2008
  10. Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW  , original September 2005; revised 30 May 2008
  11. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I , 19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008
  12. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II , 14 June 2008
  13. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  14. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
  15. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
  16. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
  17. Justifying the use of force, a key to success in 4GW , 8 July 2008 – chapter 5
  18. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief” , 8 July 2008 — chapter 6
  19. Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering , 9 July 2008 — chapter 7
  20. The world seen through the lens of 4GW (this gives a clearer picture) , (10 July 2008 — chapter 8
  21. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus , 11 August 2008
  22. No coins, no COIN, 6 October 2008

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4 thoughts on “The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy

  1. Okay, so the troubles afflicting England in the time of “Gulliver’s Travels” are similar to our own. Our own Moderns (Keynesian economists, neo-conservative strategists, and others) believed they could repeal debt limits and police the globe.

    So does F-M prefer classical solutions, like the gold standard?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Classical in Swift’s context meant Greece and Rome. They did not have money in our sense, just coinage.

    Swift’s relevance to us lies not in specific policy measures. This focus on those results from the modern belief in praxis, the union of theory and practice, as a tool to reform the world. Swift’s concerns are more fundamental.

    The ancients thought that the human world could not be governed by reason. The result would be a preoccupation with abstractions, divorced from primary human concerns. In practice this would mean attempts to make the world fit our theories (which only capture a small slice of the world’s complexity).
    While this viewpoint is foreign to us, IMO we can learn much by considering it. This is the real multicuturalism, openness to insights from other cultures (including those strange, almost alien, people from whom we descended).

  2. I still enjoy a great jeremiad.

    “Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.” — Cornelius, “Planet of the Apes.”

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