Socialism and Superior Brains: The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw

Socialism and Superior Brains: The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw

Socialism and Superior Brains: The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw

Socialism and Superior Brains: The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw

Synopsis

Available in paperback for the first time, Gareth Griffith's book provides a comprehensive critical account of the political ideas of one of the most influential commentators of the twentieth century. With close reference to a range of Shaw's texts, from the Fabian tracts to the plays, Gareth Griffith draws out the central theoretical messages of Shaw's engagement with politics. The first part of the book provides an intellectual biography, while at the same time analysing Shaw's key concerns in relation to his Fabianism, arguments for equality of income and ideas on democracy and education. Part Two looks at those areas which Shaw approached as long-standing historical problems or dramas requiring immediate thought or action; sexual equality, the Irish question, war, fascism and sovietism. The book is directed to the general reader as well as to specialists. It will be central reading for anyone seeking to understand Shaw's life, and literary and political writings, or the development of political thinking in this century, or the problems and potential inherent in socialism.

Excerpt

I have four aims in writing this book. First, I wish to offer a comprehensive and critical account of Shaw’s political thought which is of value both to specialists in the field as well as to students and general readers perhaps coming to these ideas for the first time. Central to the work is the understanding that, while Shaw is not a major figure in the history of social and political thought, he was extremely influential in the development and dissemination of socialist and progressive ideas in Britain and beyond for over half a century. He made a difference, albeit of a kind that cannot be expressed in quantitative terms. A critical assessment of his political thought is essential to a complete picture of social and political argument in the modern age. The lack of a comprehensive study of this kind prompted this work and guided its purpose.

Second, my aim is to characterize Shaw’s thought, or, more precisely, to explain the methods he employed, the levels of abstraction at which his thought operated, and the intentions which inspired his work. He assumed many roles as a thinker, inter alia that of artist, pamphleteer, philosopher and clowning prophet. Was he a serious thinker, or a devil’s advocate? Were his ideas intended to transcend the context in which they were formulated? These are among the perennial questions which are asked of Shaw. This study characterizes his thought not in terms of political theory but as a form of political argument, inherently controversial, having regard to context and audience, but not necessarily intended to function purely within the framework of controversy.

My third aim is to present a picture of the development of Shaw’s thought without seeking to offer a standard intellectual biography. I should explain myself. In order to show the interrelations, the continuities and discon-tinuities in Shaw’s work, and in part to suggest why he is a serious if not wholly successful thinker, I have chosen to organize this study along thematic lines. In the light of the sheer variety of Shaw’s interests, interspersing discussion of his views on such issues as the state and sexual equality with consideration of the totality of his concerns in any period of his life would have led, I believe, to a disjointed and unsatisfactory critical account. My aim,

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