The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism


by Bernard Shaw. New York: Brentano’s. 1928. 8vo. xlvi+495 pp. $3.00.
IF Mr. Bernard Shaw, with his power of derision and his glancing wit, has been hitherto ranked among the cynics of the world, this reproach must be forever withdrawn. In his Guide to Socialism, which is addressed to women on the same principle that the apple was proffered to Eve, he proves himself to be a true believer in that most difficult of all creeds, the perfectibility of the human species. He says (and his whole system depends upon his being right in this one matter) that men and women will strive their utmost without the spur of individual ambition, without that, normal desire for self-advancement which stands responsible for the progress of the world, ’No external incentive is needed to make first-rate workers do the best work they can.'
If this be true, if men of power stand ready to make what concessions are required by a process of scientific leveling, and if men of weakness can be ‘jacked up’ to take their share of a common burden, then the apparently insuperable obstacles to socialism come to nothing more than a change of government, which is simple as compared with a change in the human spirit Mr. Shaw sees with clear eyes the fear that, broods forever over a poverty-stricken world, the demoralization that follows all subsidies and doles, the sinister power of money that can clog the wheels of justice, shield the wrongdoer, and dominate polities and industry. Submission to wealth, he insists, is not submission to authority; it is submission to a threat. ‘ Even the mountains,’ says a Turkish proverb, ‘fear a rich man.’
It must be confessed that Mr. Shaw’s arguments against the happiness conferred by wealth on its possessor are unconvincing, and reminiscent of similar arguments in the virtuous storybooks of my childhood. His views on religion have the peculiar thinness that comes of trying to divine the force of a current by standing on its brink. His views on peace and war are save for a petulant word now and then like the ‘insane spite of the Allies — of the robustly standardized order familiar to us all. His views on Prohibition have the touching simplicity of one who loves it ’from afar.’ But these are side issues. The main argument is presented with vigor and lucidity. The book is eminently readable, in spite of its merciless length and occasional repetitions, because of its incisive imagery, and because it is written in a style as appealingly plain as Defoe’s. Above all, it is assured. Mr. Shaw is able to survey a vast and complicated civilization without seeing a single cross vista. His belief in the possibility of indoctrinated and collective virtue stands the strain of observation and experience. His appeal to England, which be knows, is stronger than his appeal to the United States, which he doesn’t. Santayana says: ‘It will take some hammering to drive a coddling socialism into America.’ Leading strings we have in plenty; but the race for wealth is open to all, go as you please, and the Devil take the hindmost.