Today it's "The Shortest Way With Dissenters,", an essay by Daniel Dafoe (which was censored on this day in 1703) -- a satire so scathing we are told he was pilloried for it.
It's topical -- about the establishment of the Church of England, it would appear. One longs for footnotes. What does this even mean: "that having sworn allegiance to their lawful and rightful King, could not dispense with that Oath, their King being still alive; and swear to your new hodge podge of a Dutch Government?"
Wait a minute. The Dutch? It's hard to shake off years of the Dutch being used as a punchline; what makes it harder is that I have no idea what Dafoe is talking about.
But it becomes clear. Dafoe's modest proposal is that all Dissenters should be executed; the tone gradually becomes rabid:
But, says another hot and cold Objector [to Dafoe's proposal],...This will be cruelty in its nature! And barbarous to all the World!Outside of the wealth! of exclamations! this doesn't seem like satire to me, although it might have before 9/11; what it seems like is a defense of torture and the very latest mouth-foamings about Islam. Yet Dafoe's logic (or "logic") here is hard to fault:
I answer, It is cruelty to kill a snake or a toad in cold blood, but the poison of their nature makes it a charity to our neighbours, to destroy those creatures! not for any personal injury received, but for prevention; not for the evil they have done, but the evil they may do! [C]orrupt our posterity! ensnare our children! destroy the vitals of our happiness, our future felicity! and contaminate the whole mass!
Shall any Law be given to such wild creatures! Some beasts are for sport, and the huntsmen give them the advantages of ground: but some are knocked on the head, by all possible ways of violence and surprise!...
But if we must be frighted from this Justice, under the specious pretences, and odious sense of cruelty; nothing will be effected! It will be more barbarous to our own children and dear posterity, when they shall reproach their fathers,' as we ours, and tell us, "You had an Opportunity to root out this cursed race from the World, under the favour and protection of a True Church of England Queen! and out of your foolish pity, you spared them: because, forsooth, you would not be cruel!"...
I'm surprised they even caught on that it was satire. They wouldn't, these days. Maybe it was the implication that people are being hung for trifles -- doesn't seem law-and-ordery enough.
We hang men for trifles, and banish them for things not worth naming; but that an offence against GOD and the Church, against the welfare of the World, and the dignity of Religion shall be bought off for FIVE SHILLINGS: this is such a shame to a Christian Government, that it is with regret I transmit it to posterity.
If men sin against GOD, affront His ordinances, rebel against His Church, and disobey the precepts of their superiors; let them suffer, as such capital crimes deserve! so will Religion flourish, and this divided nation be once again united.
It's funny -- I'm sure when they put this reading in the DRG it was with a look-how-far-we've-come flourish: the Know-Nothings were far in the rearview mirror; and if they didn't want Jews in their country clubs, they didn't want them hanged either. Maybe that's why the classics stay classics -- the folly is eternal.