List Of Contents | Contents of Man and Superman, by Bernard Shaw
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pestilence and famine. The peasant I tempt to-day eats and drinks
what was eaten and drunk by the peasants of ten thousand years
ago; and the house he lives in has not altered as much in a
thousand centuries as the fashion of a lady's bonnet in a score
of weeks. But when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of
mechanism that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the
hidden molecular energies, and leaves the javelin, the arrow, the
blowpipe of his fathers far behind. In the arts of peace Man is a
bungler. I have seen his cotton factories and the like, with
machinery that a greedy dog could have invented if it had wanted
money instead of food. I know his clumsy typewriters and bungling
locomotives and tedious bicycles: they are toys compared to the
Maxim gun, the submarine torpedo boat. There is nothing in Man's
industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his
weapons. This marvellous force of Life of which you boast is a
force of Death: Man measures his strength by his destructiveness.
What is his religion? An excuse for hating ME. What is his law?
An excuse for hanging YOU. What is his morality? Gentility! an
excuse for consuming without producing. What is his art? An
excuse for gloating over pictures of slaughter. What are his
politics? Either the worship of a despot because a despot can
kill, or parliamentary cockfighting. I spent an evening lately in
a certain celebrated legislature, and heard the pot lecturing the
kettle for its blackness, and ministers answering questions. When
I left I chalked up on the door the old nursery saying--"Ask no
questions and you will be told no lies." I bought a sixpenny
family magazine, and found it full of pictures of young men
shooting and stabbing one another. I saw a man die: he was a
London bricklayer's laborer with seven children. He left
seventeen pounds club money; and his wife spent it all on his
funeral and went into the workhouse with the children next day.
She would not have spent sevenpence on her children's schooling:
the law had to force her to let them be taught gratuitously; but
on death she spent all she had. Their imagination glows, their
energies rise up at the idea of death, these people: they love
it; and the more horrible it is the more they enjoy it. Hell is a
place far above their comprehension: they derive their notion of
it from two of the greatest fools that ever lived, an Italian and
an Englishman. The Italian described it as a place of mud, frost,
filth, fire, and venomous serpents: all torture. This ass, when
he was not lying about me, was maundering about some woman whom
he saw once in the street. The Englishman described me as being
expelled from Heaven by cannons and gunpowder; and to this day
every Briton believes that the whole of his silly story is in the
Bible. What else he says I do not know; for it is all in a long
poem which neither I nor anyone else ever succeeded in wading
through. It is the same in everything. The highest form of
literature is the tragedy, a play in which everybody is murdered
at the end. In the old chronicles you read of earthquakes and
pestilences, and are told that these showed the power and majesty
of God and the littleness of Man. Nowadays the chronicles
describe battles. In a battle two bodies of men shoot at one
another with bullets and explosive shells until one body runs
away, when the others chase the fugitives on horseback and cut
them to pieces as they fly. And this, the chronicle concludes,
shows the greatness and majesty of empires, and the littleness of
the vanquished. Over such battles the people run about the
streets yelling with delight, and egg their Governments on to
spend hundreds of millions of money in the slaughter, whilst the
strongest Ministers dare not spend an extra penny in the pound
against the poverty and pestilence through which they themselves
daily walk. I could give you a thousand instances; but they all
come to the same thing: the power that governs the earth is not
the power of Life but of Death; and the inner need that has
nerved Life to the effort of organizing itself into the human
being is not the need for higher life but for a more efficient
engine of destruction. The plague, the famine, the earthquake,
the tempest were too spasmodic in their action; the tiger and
crocodile were too easily satiated and not cruel enough:
something more constantly, more ruthlessly, more ingeniously
destructive was needed; and that something was Man, the inventor
of the rack, the stake, the gallows, and the electrocutor; of the
sword and gun; above all, of justice, duty, patriotism and all
the other isms by which even those who are clever enough to be
humanely disposed are persuaded to become the most destructive of
all the destroyers.

DON JUAN. Pshaw! all this is old. Your weak side, my diabolic
friend, is that you have always been a gull: you take Man at his
own valuation. Nothing would flatter him more than your opinion
of him. He loves to think of himself as bold and bad. He is
neither one nor the other: he is only a coward. Call him tyrant,
murderer, pirate, bully; and he will adore you, and swagger about
with the consciousness of having the blood of the old sea kings
in his veins. Call him liar and thief; and he will only take an
action against you for libel. But call him coward; and he will go
mad with rage: he will face death to outface that stinging truth.
Man gives every reason for his conduct save one, every excuse for
his crimes save one, every plea for his safety save one; and that
one is his cowardice. Yet all his civilization is founded on his
cowardice, on his abject tameness, which he calls his
respectability. There are limits to what a mule or an ass will
stand; but Man will suffer himself to be degraded until his
vileness becomes so loathsome to his oppressors that they
themselves are forced to reform it.

THE DEVIL. Precisely. And these are the creatures in whom you
discover what you call a Life Force!

DON JUAN. Yes; for now comes the most surprising part of the
whole business.

THE STATUE. What's that?

DON JUAN. Why, that you can make any of these cowards brave by
simply putting an idea into his head.

THE STATUE. Stuff! As an old soldier I admit the cowardice: it's
as universal as sea sickness, and matters just as little. But
that about putting an idea into a man's head is stuff and
nonsense. In a battle all you need to make you fight is a little
hot blood and the knowledge that it's more dangerous to lose than
to win.

DON JUAN. That is perhaps why battles are so useless. But men
never really overcome fear until they imagine they are fighting
to further a universal purpose--fighting for an idea, as they
call it. Why was the Crusader braver than the pirate? Because he
fought, not for himself, but for the Cross. What force was it
that met him with a valor as reckless as his own? The force of
men who fought, not for themselves, but for Islam. They took
Spain from us, though we were fighting for our very hearths and
homes; but when we, too, fought for that mighty idea, a Catholic
Church, we swept them back to Africa.

THE DEVIL. [ironically] What! you a Catholic, Senor Don Juan! A
devotee! My congratulations.

THE STATUE. [seriously] Come come! as a soldier, I can listen to
nothing against the Church.

DON JUAN. Have no fear, Commander: this idea of a Catholic Church
will survive Islam, will survive the Cross, will survive even
that vulgar pageant of incompetent schoolboyish gladiators which
you call the Army.

THE STATUE. Juan: you will force me to call you to account for

DON JUAN. Useless: I cannot fence. Every idea for which Man will
die will be a Catholic idea. When the Spaniard learns at last
that he is no better than the Saracen, and his prophet no better
than Mahomet, he will arise, more Catholic than ever, and die on
a barricade across the filthy slum he starves in, for universal
liberty and equality.


DON JUAN. What you call bosh is the only thing men dare die for.
Later on, Liberty will not be Catholic enough: men will die for
human perfection, to which they will sacrifice all their liberty

THE DEVIL. Ay: they will never be at a loss for an excuse for
killing one another.

DON JUAN. What of that? It is not death that matters, but the
fear of death. It is not killing and dying that degrade us, but
base living, and accepting the wages and profits of degradation.
Better ten dead men than one live slave or his master. Men shall
yet rise up, father against son and brother against brother, and
kill one another for the great Catholic idea of abolishing

THE DEVIL. Yes, when the Liberty and Equality of which you prate
shall have made free white Christians cheaper in the labor market
than by auction at the block.

DON JUAN. Never fear! the white laborer shall have his turn too.
But I am not now defending the illusory forms the great ideas
take. I am giving you examples of the fact that this creature
Man, who in his own selfish affairs is a coward to the backbone,
will fight for an idea like a hero. He may be abject as a
citizen; but he is dangerous as a fanatic. He can only be
enslaved whilst he is spiritually weak enough to listen to
reason. I tell you, gentlemen, if you can show a man a piece of
what he now calls God's work to do, and what he will later on
call by many new names, you can make him entirely reckless of the
consequences to himself personally.

ANA. Yes: he shirks all his responsibilities, and leaves his wife
to grapple with them.

THE STATUE. Well said, daughter. Do not let him talk you out of
your common sense.

THE DEVIL. Alas! Senor Commander, now that we have got on to the
subject of Woman, he will talk more than ever. However, I confess
it is for me the one supremely interesting subject.

DON JUAN. To a woman, Senora, man's duties and responsibilities
begin and end with the task of getting bread for her children. To
her, Man is only a means to the end of getting children and
rearing them.

ANA. Is that your idea of a woman's mind? I call it cynical and
disgusting materialism.

DON JUAN. Pardon me, Ana: I said nothing about a woman's whole
mind. I spoke of her view of Man as a separate sex. It is no more
cynical than her view of herself as above all things a Mother.
Sexually, Woman is Nature's contrivance for perpetuating its
highest achievement. Sexually, Man is Woman's contrivance for
fulfilling Nature's behest in the most economical way. She knows
by instinct that far back in the evolutional process she invented
him, differentiated him, created him in order to produce
something better than the single-sexed process can produce.
Whilst he fulfils the purpose for which she made him, he is
welcome to his dreams, his follies, his ideals, his heroisms,
provided that the keystone of them all is the worship of woman,
of motherhood, of the family, of the hearth. But how rash and
dangerous it was to invent a separate creature whose sole
function was her own impregnation! For mark what has happened.
First, Man has multiplied on her hands until there are as many
men as women; so that she has been unable to employ for her
purposes more than a fraction of the immense energy she has left
at his disposal by saving him the exhausting labor of gestation.
This superfluous energy has gone to his brain and to his muscle.
He has become too strong to be controlled by her bodily, and too
imaginative and mentally vigorous to be content with mere self-
reproduction. He has created civilization without consulting her,
taking her domestic labor for granted as the foundation of it.

ANA. THAT is true, at all events.

THE DEVIL. Yes; and this civilization! what is it, after all?

DON JUAN. After all, an excellent peg to hang your cynical
commonplaces on; but BEFORE all, it is an attempt on Man's part
to make himself something more than the mere instrument of
Woman's purpose. So far, the result of Life's continual effort
not only to maintain itself, but to achieve higher and higher
organization and completer self-consciousness, is only, at best,
a doubtful campaign between its forces and those of Death and
Degeneration. The battles in this campaign are mere blunders,
mostly won, like actual military battles, in spite of the

THE STATUE. That is a dig at me. No matter: go on, go on.

DON JUAN. It is a dig at a much higher power than you, Commander.
Still, you must have noticed in your profession that even a
stupid general can win battles when the enemy's general is a
little stupider.

THE STATUE. [very seriously] Most true, Juan, most true. Some
donkeys have amazing luck.

DON JUAN. Well, the Life Force is stupid; but it is not so stupid
as the forces of Death and Degeneration. Besides, these are in
its pay all the time. And so Life wins, after a fashion. What
mere copiousness of fecundity can supply and mere greed preserve,
we possess. The survival of whatever form of civilization can
produce the best rifle and the best fed riflemen is assured.

THE DEVIL. Exactly! the survival, not of the most effective means
of Life but of the most effective means of Death. You always come
back to my point, in spite of your wrigglings and evasions and
sophistries, not to mention the intolerable length of your

DON JUAN. Oh come! who began making long speeches? However, if I
overtax your intellect, you can leave us and seek the society of
love and beauty and the rest of your favorite boredoms.

THE DEVIL. [much offended] This is not fair, Don Juan, and not
civil. I am also on the intellectual plane. Nobody can appreciate
it more than I do. I am arguing fairly with you, and, I think,
utterly refuting you. Let us go on for another hour if you like.

DON JUAN. Good: let us.

THE STATUE. Not that I see any prospect of your coming to any
point in particular, Juan. Still, since in this place, instead of
merely killing time we have to kill eternity, go ahead by all

DON JUAN. [somewhat impatiently] My point, you marbleheaded old
masterpiece, is only a step ahead of you. Are we agreed that Life
is a force which has made innumerable experiments in organizing
itself; that the mammoth and the man, the mouse and the
megatherium, the flies and the fleas and the Fathers of the
Church, are all more or less successful attempts to build up that
raw force into higher and higher individuals, the ideal
individual being omnipotent, omniscient, infallible, and withal
completely, unilludedly self-conscious: in short, a god?

THE DEVIL. I agree, for the sake of argument.

THE STATUE. I agree, for the sake of avoiding argument.

ANA. I most emphatically disagree as regards the Fathers of the
Church; and I must beg you not to drag them into the argument.

DON JUAN. I did so purely for the sake of alliteration, Ana; and
I shall make no further allusion to them. And now, since we are,
with that exception, agreed so far, will you not agree with me
further that Life has not measured the success of its attempts at
godhead by the beauty or bodily perfection of the result, since
in both these respects the birds, as our friend Aristophanes long

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