Shaw And The Play of Ideas
By Robert F Whitman, 1977
Shaw’s hostility to Capitalism as the source of most of civilized man’s economic, social and moral ills, is both well known and persuasive throughout his writing….And war in general he viewed as a Marxist fashion—simply as a mechanism whereby Capitalists expand markets and consume goods for their own economic advantage.
As we shall see, Shaw fought through the whole question of whether God is Dead and come out on the other-side with the conclusion that he is indeed alive and still growing. He treats traditional religion as inflexible and intellectually dishonest in their inability to take into account the complexity and evolution of humankind. (pg 23)
If politics and religion and morality and even reason have proved sterile or corrupt, if they have brought us down the wrong road or if they have simply become the tools of selfish men, the solution is not to throw them on the dust heap, but to make them work for humanity. He speaks to us in tones not of despair or lamentation, but of anger and renewed vigor. A man with an idea and a conviction possesses the strength of ten. Shaw never tires of telling us this. He was never one to be caught short of an idea….The road to boredom is paved with good ideas, left there by sincere men who the power to communicate them. Shaw had the opposite problem. (pg 24)
In Don Juan we see the Shavian paradox. “Heaven is the home of the masters of reality. Hell is the home of honor, duty, justice and the rest of the seven deadly sins.” It is not the self-indulgence that Shaw despises, but the self-delusion.
His God must not be an existing Omnipotent and Omniscient perfections, but as yet only an ideal towards which Creative Evolution is striving with mankind merely its best attempt so far and very unsatisfactory one at that, liable to be replaced at any moment if at any moment Creative Evolution gives it up as hopeless. (pg 44)
He must face the evil in the world, which apparently reduces the goodness of God to absurdity, as but the survival of errors originally well intended. He must treat life as everlasting, but treat his contemporaries as ephemeral mortals having no life beyond the grave to compensate them for any injustices they may suffer here and now.
“I believe that the universe is being driven by a force we might call the life-force,” ~Shaw
Reason as a logical process seemed to him cold and mechanical—the engine, as he put it, rather than the steam. Thought, however, a imagination, as comprehension, as ability to understand ourselves and the world, and our purpose in it, was a creative and ultimately mystical function, the highest activity of which the human animal is capable.
The shelf he would put to the service of the life-force’s mighty purpose was his unique gift, his mind.
Shaw was a pacifist, but he acknowledged that “great social changes, if conscious and intentional, are not made until their advocates are sufficiently in earnest to be prepared to kill those who obstruct them.
Even the modified form of anarchy on which modern civilization is based, that is the abandonment of industry, in the name of individual liberty. The upshot of competition for personal gain between private capitalists is a disastrous failure, and , is by mere necessity of the case, giving way to ordered socialism.
Shaw’s hatred and hatred is probably not too strong a word—of the rich—on the grounds that they represent useless and unproductive parasites on the community as a whole, was no greater than his hatred for the poor—for what would be the same reason. They were a burden that depressed the common welfare. Shaw hated both, but claimed that he was not misanthropic. He wanted to exterminate both the rich and poor—the conditions not the people.
Shaw believed that Totalitarian Governments were institutions that were acting on realistic rather than idealistic grounds. Pragmatists rather than moralists who felt they had to justify their actions.
Shaw tried to cope within the constellation of theories surrounding the principle of the life-force. Socialism and Creative Evolution, as well as other ideas provided the center of Shaw’s thought, are simply different ways of thinking about or coming to terms with some of the central questions about the nature of man.
Socialism or the Fabian Society and beyond. His arrogance and self-publicizing antics, his rudeness and other thing were merely role playing. His personality was truly unknown to everyone except his closest friends.
Argument and dialect, the language of debate and of rhetoric persuasion were adapted in hi dramas. He used his plays as a public forum.
Shaw fought against the institution of the church. He had an irreverence toward it growing up. He had a disregard and contempt for authority. He had little respect for traditional objects of reverence. He had a total skepticism of all religious matters. He had the strong urge to himself to some outside power though. In his 20s, he went about “finding himself.”
Schopenhauer distinction between intellect and will. Will guides the growth of the animal and directs all of its activities. Will resembles the life-force and becomes consciousness itself. It creates intelligence.
Schopenhauer worked through Ibsen or Ibsen was influenced by Schopenhauer. “A world will that worked through man, pushing from him from childhood through youth toward maturity, but not in a straight line. Dialectic process, joy in the senses, spirituality beyond and transcendence. It is the unity of the mind, body and soul.
Hegel and the Shavian Dialectic. Hegel has the hero triumph over God and yet in that event the Godhead fulfills itself in something higher. This process of the Godhead transcending itself, the process of transcendence and forms and moral laws it has established as part of its compromise with the world, is, by definition, immoral within the framework of those laws.
Shaw said, “Life itself as a tireless power, which is continuously driving onward and upward into higher and higher life forms of organization, the strengths and the needs of which are continuously superseding the institutions which were made from our former requirements.” (pg127)
For both Hegel and Shaw the “hero” is simply a metaphor for the man who rises above what man is or as Shaw put it? “The World is waiting for man to redeem it from the lame and ramped government of the Gods.” (pg 128)
Life-Force is not to be associated with the Christian Deity. “The object of the whole evolutionary process is to realize God.”
Hegel and the mind is an organ of self-knowledge and self-realization, which is the realization of the spirit.
Don Juan replies that his is a process of a purpose beyond his own, which is to help the Life-Force to “Know itself and its destination.”
Hegel says the spiritual self wants to attain the light of consciousness and to come into itself or evolve. Shaw says, “The life force is struggling toward its goal of Godhead by incarnating itself in creatures with knowledge and power enough to control nature and circumstances.”
Shaw also wrote, “To me, God does not exist…The current theory that God already exists in perfection involves the belief that God deliberately created something lower than himself. To my mind, unless we conceive of God as engaged in continual struggle to surpass himself, we are conceiving nothing better than an omnipotent snop. (Letters II, 901)
Hegel says God is not an abstract goal. God is self-consciousness. God is not God and cannot be God without creating a world, without knowing himself in the “other.” The absolute becomes conscious only in evolution and above all, man.
Shaw says the Kingdom of God is within us. Heaven and Hell is a parable of a dream episode in Man Vs Superman is based on that idea. Hell is the home of unreality, nothingness and non-being. Heaven is process of becoming—of moving from non-being to being purity and absolute self-consciousness.
Thought was God—Creative Evolution. Shaw “To Know God is to Be God.”
Not much known of Hegel. He is most elusive and opaque of philosophers that is known better through 2nd hand sources.
Evil eases to be a problem with the “life-force.” Evil is necessarily absorbed through the pressure of dialectic or logical reality.
In a world of relative truths, inconsistency can be intellectually honest.
Our morality is impudent hypocrisy our wisdom is administered by inexperience.
Shavian paradoxes in their various form, were not mere topsyturvyism, they had as common element the yoking together of implicitly or explicit contradictions with the purpose of forcing the mind to move, if not ward something as absolute truth—at least toward seeing things more clearly. (pg 168)
Dogma of Toleration. It [the life force] is not omnipotent. “All moral triumphs, like mechanical triumphs are reached by trial and error.”
Dramatic truth and dramatic reality are necessary partial and complete, both because of the nature of the medium and the its limitation, conscious or not, of the artist image of reality. Truth should be more of an “as if.”
The recognition, however, that the same drive or stimulus that at one stage of human evolution advances the life-force at a later stage prove an obstacle or counter force—contributed to another characteristic feature of a Shavian Drama. The conflict and tension of a play are NOT resolved. Or they lead to a new tension or to a resolution that is, at best, tentative.
“It is often the most self-assured characters in the plays who are drifting, with no sense of purpose, no desire to reach for the is no need to reach and nothing to reach for.”
And drifting is death. The uncertain ones seek a way and are at least trying to steer. Shaw wants to be a navigator for his audience.
Marriage is the worlds/life-force will, no our own.
In Don Juan in Hell, Ana and Jack are in the grip of the life-force and its will. The life-force’s will is the only will. The will to create new minds in the abode where it can create a better world—in both men and women.
Love is necessary for the life-force. But when it becomes an end in and of itself, it can be an obstacle for life, for which love is a beginning and not end end. (Man and Superman) (pg 243)
Hegel system, the passion and energy is necessary to move the Spirit from potential reality in history, necessary confront obstacles and opposition—Possibilities Become Fact.
Every end is a new beginning. Death moves us closer to our evolution to God.