List Of Contents | Contents of Man and Superman, by Bernard Shaw
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sometimes tragic. When it is complicated by the genius being a
woman, then the game is one for a king of critics: your George
Sand becomes a mother to gain experience for the novelist and to
develop her, and gobbles up men of genius, Chopins, Mussets and
the like, as mere hors d'oeuvres.

I state the extreme case, of course; but what is true of the
great man who incarnates the philosophic consciousness of Life
and the woman who incarnates its fecundity, is true in some
degree of all geniuses and all women. Hence it is that the
world's books get written, its pictures painted, its statues
modelled, its symphonies composed, by people who are free of the
otherwise universal dominion of the tyranny of sex. Which leads
us to the conclusion, astonishing to the vulgar, that art,
instead of being before all things the expression of the normal
sexual situation, is really the only department in which sex is a
superseded and secondary power, with its consciousness so
confused and its purpose so perverted, that its ideas are mere
fantasy to common men. Whether the artist becomes poet or
philosopher, moralist or founder of a religion, his sexual
doctrine is nothing but a barren special pleading for pleasure,
excitement, and knowledge when he is young, and for contemplative
tranquillity when he is old and satiated. Romance and Asceticism,
Amorism and Puritanism are equally unreal in the great Philistine
world. The world shown us in books, whether the books be
confessed epics or professed gospels, or in codes, or in
political orations, or in philosophic systems, is not the main
world at all: it is only the self-consciousness of certain
abnormal people who have the specific artistic talent and
temperament. A serious matter this for you and me, because the
man whose consciousness does not correspond to that of the
majority is a madman; and the old habit of worshipping madmen is
giving way to the new habit of locking them up. And since what we
call education and culture is for the most part nothing but the
substitution of reading for experience, of literature for life,
of the obsolete fictitious for the contemporary real, education,
as you no doubt observed at Oxford, destroys, by supplantation,
every mind that is not strong enough to see through the imposture
and to use the great Masters of Arts as what they really are and
no more: that is, patentees of highly questionable methods of
thinking, and manufacturers of highly questionable, and for the
majority but half valid representations of life. The schoolboy
who uses his Homer to throw at his fellow's head makes perhaps
the safest and most rational use of him; and I observe with
reassurance that you occasionally do the same, in your prime,
with your Aristotle.

Fortunately for us, whose minds have been so overwhelmingly
sophisticated by literature, what produces all these treatises
and poems and scriptures of one sort or another is the struggle
of Life to become divinely conscious of itself instead of blindly
stumbling hither and thither in the line of least resistance.
Hence there is a driving towards truth in all books on matters
where the writer, though exceptionally gifted is normally
constituted, and has no private axe to grind. Copernicus had no
motive for misleading his fellowmen as to the place of the sun in
the solar system: he looked for it as honestly as a shepherd
seeks his path in a mist. But Copernicus would not have written
love stories scientifically. When it comes to sex relations, the
man of genius does not share the common man's danger of capture,
nor the woman of genius the common woman's overwhelming
specialization. And that is why our scriptures and other art
works, when they deal with love, turn from honest attempts at
science in physics to romantic nonsense, erotic ecstasy, or the
stern asceticism of satiety ("the road of excess leads to the
palace of wisdom" said William Blake; for "you never know what is
enough unless you know what is more than enough").

There is a political aspect of this sex question which is too big
for my comedy, and too momentous to be passed over without
culpable frivolity. It is impossible to demonstrate that the
initiative in sex transactions remains with Woman, and has been
confirmed to her, so far, more and more by the suppression of
rapine and discouragement of importunity, without being driven to
very serious reflections on the fact that this initiative is
politically the most important of all the initiatives, because
our political experiment of democracy, the last refuge of cheap
misgovernment, will ruin us if our citizens are ill bred.

When we two were born, this country was still dominated by a
selected class bred by political marriages. The commercial class
had not then completed the first twenty-five years of its new
share of political power; and it was itself selected by money
qualification, and bred, if not by political marriage, at least
by a pretty rigorous class marriage. Aristocracy and plutocracy
still furnish the figureheads of politics; but they are now
dependent on the votes of the promiscuously bred masses. And
this, if you please, at the very moment when the political
problem, having suddenly ceased to mean a very limited and
occasional interference, mostly by way of jobbing public
appointments, in the mismanagement of a tight but parochial
little island, with occasional meaningless prosecution of
dynastic wars, has become the industrial reorganization of
Britain, the construction of a practically international
Commonwealth, and the partition of the whole of Africa and
perhaps the whole of Asia by the civilized Powers. Can you
believe that the people whose conceptions of society and conduct,
whose power of attention and scope of interest, are measured by
the British theatre as you know it to-day, can either handle this
colossal task themselves, or understand and support the sort of
mind and character that is (at least comparatively) capable of
handling it? For remember: what our voters are in the pit and
gallery they are also in the polling booth. We are all now under
what Burke called "the hoofs of the swinish multitude." Burke's
language gave great offence because the implied exceptions to its
universal application made it a class insult; and it certainly
was not for the pot to call the kettle black. The aristocracy he
defended, in spite of the political marriages by which it tried
to secure breeding for itself, had its mind undertrained by silly
schoolmasters and governesses, its character corrupted by
gratuitous luxury, its self-respect adulterated to complete
spuriousness by flattery and flunkeyism. It is no better to-day
and never will be any better: our very peasants have something
morally hardier in them that culminates occasionally in a Bunyan,
a Burns, or a Carlyle. But observe, this aristocracy, which was
overpowered from 1832 to 1885 by the middle class, has come back
to power by the votes of "the swinish multitude." Tom Paine has
triumphed over Edmund Burke; and the swine are now courted
electors. How many of their own class have these electors sent to
parliament? Hardly a dozen out of 670, and these only under the
persuasion of conspicuous personal qualifications and popular
eloquence. The multitude thus pronounces judgment on its own
units: it admits itself unfit to govern, and will vote only for a
man morphologically and generically transfigured by palatial
residence and equipage, by transcendent tailoring, by the glamor
of aristocratic kinship. Well, we two know these transfigured
persons, these college passmen, these well groomed monocular
Algys and Bobbies, these cricketers to whom age brings golf
instead of wisdom, these plutocratic products of "the nail and
sarspan business as he got his money by." Do you know whether to
laugh or cry at the notion that they, poor devils! will drive a
team of continents as they drive a four-in-hand; turn a jostling
anarchy of casual trade and speculation into an ordered
productivity; and federate our colonies into a world-Power of the
first magnitude? Give these people the most perfect political
constitution and the soundest political program that benevolent
omniscience can devise for them, and they will interpret it into
mere fashionable folly or canting charity as infallibly as a
savage converts the philosophical theology of a Scotch missionary
into crude African idolatry.

I do not know whether you have any illusions left on the subject
of education, progress, and so forth. I have none. Any
pamphleteer can show the way to better things; but when there is
no will there is no way. My nurse was fond of remarking that you
cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and the more I see
of the efforts of our churches and universities and literary
sages to raise the mass above its own level, the more convinced I
am that my nurse was right. Progress can do nothing but make the
most of us all as we are, and that most would clearly not be
enough even if those who are already raised out of the lowest
abysses would allow the others a chance. The bubble of Heredity
has been pricked: the certainty that acquirements are negligible
as elements in practical heredity has demolished the hopes of the
educationists as well as the terrors of the degeneracy mongers;
and we know now that there is no hereditary "governing class" any
more than a hereditary hooliganism. We must either breed
political capacity or be ruined by Democracy, which was forced on
us by the failure of the older alternatives. Yet if Despotism
failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance
has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable
voters: that is, of political critics who, if they cannot govern
in person for lack of spare energy or specific talent for
administration, can at least recognize and appreciate capacity
and benevolence in others, and so govern through capably
benevolent representatives? Where are such voters to be found
to-day? Nowhere. Promiscuous breeding has produced a weakness of
character that is too timid to face the full stringency of a
thoroughly competitive struggle for existence and too lazy and
petty to organize the commonwealth co-operatively. Being cowards,
we defeat natural selection under cover of philanthropy: being
sluggards, we neglect artificial selection under cover of
delicacy and morality.

Yet we must get an electorate of capable critics or collapse as
Rome and Egypt collapsed. At this moment the Roman decadent phase
of panem et circenses is being inaugurated under our eyes. Our
newspapers and melodramas are blustering about our imperial
destiny; but our eyes and hearts turn eagerly to the American
millionaire. As his hand goes down to his pocket, our fingers go
up to the brims of our hats by instinct. Our ideal prosperity is
not the prosperity of the industrial north, but the prosperity of
the Isle of Wight, of Folkestone and Ramsgate, of Nice and Monte
Carlo. That is the only prosperity you see on the stage, where
the workers are all footmen, parlourmaids, comic lodging-letters
and fashionable professional men, whilst the heroes and heroines
are miraculously provided with unlimited dividends, and eat
gratuitously, like the knights in Don Quixote's books of

The city papers prate of the competition of Bombay with
Manchester and the like. The real competition is the competition
of Regent Street with the Rue de Rivoli, of Brighton and the
south coast with the Riviera, for the spending money of the
American Trusts. What is all this growing love of pageantry, this
effusive loyalty, this officious rising and uncovering at a wave
from a flag or a blast from a brass band? Imperialism: Not a bit
of it. Obsequiousness, servility, cupidity roused by the
prevailing smell of money. When Mr Carnegie rattled his millions
in his pockets all England became one rapacious cringe. Only,
when Rhodes (who had probably been reading my Socialism for
Millionaires) left word that no idler was to inherit his estate,
the bent backs straightened mistrustfully for a moment. Could it
be that the Diamond King was no gentleman after all? However, it
was easy to ignore a rich man's solecism. The ungentlemanly
clause was not mentioned again; and the backs soon bowed
themselves back into their natural shape.

But I hear you asking me in alarm whether I have actually put all
this tub thumping into a Don Juan comedy. I have not. I have only
made my Don Juan a political pamphleteer, and given you his
pamphlet in full by way of appendix. You will find it at the end
of the book. I am sorry to say that it is a common practice with
romancers to announce their hero as a man of extraordinary
genius, and to leave his works entirely to the reader's
imagination; so that at the end of the book you whisper to
yourself ruefully that but for the author's solemn preliminary
assurance you should hardly have given the gentleman credit for
ordinary good sense. You cannot accuse me of this pitiable
barrenness, this feeble evasion. I not only tell you that my hero
wrote a revolutionists' handbook: I give you the handbook at full
length for your edification if you care to read it. And in that
handbook you will find the politics of the sex question as I
conceive Don Juan's descendant to understand them. Not that I
disclaim the fullest responsibility for his opinions and for
those of all my characters, pleasant and unpleasant. They are all
right from their several points of view; and their points of view
are, for the dramatic moment, mine also. This may puzzle the
people who believe that there is such a thing as an absolutely
right point of view, usually their own. It may seem to them that
nobody who doubts this can be in a state of grace. However that
may be, it is certainly true that nobody who agrees with them can
possibly be a dramatist, or indeed anything else that turns upon
a knowledge of mankind. Hence it has been pointed out that
Shakespear had no conscience. Neither have I, in that sense.

You may, however, remind me that this digression of mine into
politics was preceded by a very convincing demonstration that the
artist never catches the point of view of the common man on the
question of sex, because he is not in the same predicament. I
first prove that anything I write on the relation of the sexes is
sure to be misleading; and then I proceed to write a Don Juan
play. Well, if you insist on asking me why I behave in this
absurd way, I can only reply that you asked me to, and that in
any case my treatment of the subject may be valid for the artist,
amusing to the amateur, and at least intelligible and therefore
possibly suggestive to the Philistine. Every man who records his
illusions is providing data for the genuinely scientific
psychology which the world still waits for. I plank down my view
of the existing relations of men to women in the most highly
civilized society for what it is worth. It is a view like any
other view and no more, neither true nor false, but, I hope, a
way of looking at the subject which throws into the familiar
order of cause and effect a sufficient body of fact and

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