George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 26
Facts for Fabians

The program and policy of the Webbs, for all their conspicuous merits, were flawed by certain glaring weaknesses. Whether under Fascism, Nazism, Socialism, or Communism, the new type of leader, in the clamorous field of action or in the quietude of behind-the-scenes study and research, views humanity in the mass as divided into classes, in contradistinction to the democratic leader who considers the individual as the natural unit of society. Sidney was a statistician, not a statesman; and Beatrice was a pragmatic sociologist who imagined herself to be an economist. Sidney's early Fabian tract, Facts for Socialists, was the most sought-after of all the Fabian tracts. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that his entire written contribution, bulky as it is, might be titled "Facts for Socialists and Communists." Classification was the chief talent of the Webbs as a team; and they made a great parade of the word "efficiency" in referring to the quality of their work. Without any true understanding of the meaning of genuine science as practiced today, Beatrice spoke grandiloquently of the sociological researches conducted or directed by her, as contributions to "the Science of Society." One has only to read the Appendix to her My Apprenticeship to discern her limited conception of science and the elementary content of her proposals.

Winston Churchill somewhere speaks of Shaw's dramatic characters as "ideas walking"; and H. G. Wells, in his astringent satire of the Webbs in The New Machiavelli, says of Altiora Bailey (Beatrice) that "she saw men as samples moving." The drift of these "new civilization" dreamers is away from the humane and noble philosophy of Albert Schweitzer, based upon "the dignity of man" as foundation stone. Marx divided the world into just two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, with their inevitable clash in the class war. The triumph of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie heralds the Communist state. The Webbs divided people into just two classes: the useful and the useless. Enjoying innumerable social contacts with people of all classes ranging from the sweated laborer right up to the Prime Minister, Beatrice found many to be useful who were neither Socialist nor committed to Socialist projects for reform. With his expertise in political techniques, Sidney was able, with shrewd advice and the drafting of bills, to aid many applicants for his advice, from the budding M.P. to the Cabinet minister.

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