Courtesy Reuters

Shaw, War and Peace 1894 to 1919

"YOU may demand moral courage from me to any extent," wrote George Bernard Shaw many years ago," but when you start shooting and knocking one another about, I claim the coward's privilege and hide under the bed. My life is too valuable to be machine-gunned." If Shaw ever pursued this policy, he must have dived under the bed oftener and remained there longer than he expected to as a young Socialist. In any case, he has done an extraordinary amount of very dangerous talking about war from a position of doubtful safety. What he said becomes doubly important with the world making another international settlement and Great Britain under the government of a party whose policy has been largely formed by Shaw and other Fabian leaders.

Most people lose the real Shaw in the wit and the white whiskers. They are incredulous when it is said that the striking feature of his earlier politics -- international as well as domestic -- is their cautious realism. The truth is that he is an Irishman chiefly from the wit outward. His politics are inveterately English. In the axiomata media which Walter Bagehot called the peculiar ground of politics Shaw is hard-headed, shrewd and generally consistent, as in fundamentals he is jaunty, somewhat frivolous and effervescently logical. On the nature of God he is quite unreliable. On the future of the British Empire, he is surprisingly sound. Altogether, he is a strange combination of Voltaire and Sir Robert Peel.

Shaw's conception of political motive tends steadily to be Benthamite or Marxist with aristocratic qualifications. The economically powerful follow their own economic self-interest -- and usually attain it. The masses are ruled sometimes by self-interest but much more frequently by illusion, through which they are victimized and manipulated. But Shaw's discussion continually implies the efficacy of other motives -- intellectual, religious, national and psychological. Wars, for example, are brought about not only by capitalistic imperialism, but by human pugnacity -- in other words, by aggressive

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