Here’s an article which shows that one should never compliment a book, especially by an unfamiliar author, too highly before one reads all the way through! I offered high praise to George Bernard Shaw in this article. In particular, I feel foolish in thinking that Shaw was using paradox when Jack Tanner said the devil was father of morality. The fool really believed it! But, who would not believe that he was speaking at least facetiously upon first reading this line?
At any rate, I read this play hoping to eliminate some of my prejudices against authors of different positions, but rather had them confirmed! My opinion that Shaw was on the wrong side was bolstered by watching this clip of Shaw defending Hitler and Mass Murder and another of Shaw saying the Constitution should be abolished. I have to thank Joe_Bakunovic for alerting me to Shaw’s dark side.
Yet, if all I could bring against Shaw were his political opinions, that would be insufficient reason not to read his work. In the same way, a chess player should not allow the fact that Alexander Alekhine ended his life as a Nazi or that Bobby Fischer became anti-American to prevent him from studying their games. But, the sort of edification one receives from reading Shaw is similar to that which one obtains by the study of poison.
Shaw writes outside the Western tradition. In the tradition of the West, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are together and what people most want. Shaw divides Truth from Beauty and leaves it to the reader to decide which is more worth seeking. Heaven represents Truth (an odd thing for an Atheist to say) and hell Beauty. In one telling scene, dead souls have the ability to switch between hell and heaven depending on which they prefer. Heaven is the domain of philosophers and conformist bourgeois; hell the domain of the romantics. The truth is that heaven has room both for Plato and Petrarch–for St. Thomas Aquinas, who approached God as a philosopher, and St. Ignatius, who approached Him as a knight errant.
Further, Shaw makes the great error of thinking of people as means rather than ends. (As might be apparent from the two videos above.) Every relationship is one of utility: men use women for pleasure and comfort; women men for children, freedom, and material goods. Love between persons cannot exist where everyone is treated as a means. Saying, “I love you for the pleasure and comfort you provide me” means about the same as “I love pleasure and comfort, which another woman could provide.” This causes the traditional institution of marriage simply not to make sense. Rather than “Till death do us part,” the modern marriage vow would be “Till you no longer provide what I want do us part.” The play is a comedy, and, like traditional comedies, it ends in a marriage; yet, marriage–particularly this marriage–is viewed as a tragedy rather than as something about which to be joyful.
The separation of the Platonic ideals and treating people as means harm the human psyche more than any other error. Shaw ought to have rooted himself in Western tradition. Instead, Shaw’s philosophy leads not only to one separating oneself from the Western tradition but even the human race and happiness itself. As such, I recommend my dear readers avoid Shaw like the plague–as I shall from this point.