The Houyhnhnms (the horse civilization) in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels seem like an ideal place in the eyes of the titular Gulliver, as they often seem to be surprised by the problems facing his society. While disregarding the fact that it is a race of horses, Gulliver was venting to his “master” how humans in his civilization “could never have enough” (Gulliver 231) money to spend so they are always in necessity of it because they feel it is the most fundamental basis for life. It is actually kind of Marxist of Gulliver to explain this to his “master,” and it is also kind of Marxist of the talking horse to respond with saying it is a “miserable country which cannot furnish food for its own inhabitants” (232). The Houyhnhnms seem to be the perfect civilization in the eyes of Gulliver, despite having to call one of them “master,” and being subject to the inspection and vetting of them to make sure Gulliver is not a Yahoo.
The Yahoos are a human civilization that the talking horses consider savages, which gives the Houyhnhnms the reason to believe Gulliver is one of them. The Houyhnhnms use their own frame of reference to inspect Gulliver and differentiate him from the Yahoos they have not known to be “teachable,” civil or clean (216). We have to pick up the subtle clues that these horses are not in fact an ideal race, or a city upon a hill, as Winthrop would put it. The reason the horses think of Gulliver as an exceptional Yahoo is because the Yahoos are othered in the eyes of the Houyhnhnms, so they see him as a kind of anomaly and nothing more. In other words, Gulliver is othered as well, because he is still filtered through the original stereotype of the Yahoos. Swift goes as far as to use linguistics to make this race of horses similar to the Eurocentric behavior of the people in England. Gulliver notes how the etymology of the word Houyhnhnm means “perfection of nature” (217) as jab from Swift to the hubris of the elite in his own country. The satire here is that, as readers, we cannot seem to get our mind off the fact that these are literally talking horses. This ridiculous choice from Swift is to play with the subjectivity of the reader.