Quotable Shaw

Quotable Shaw

Compiled by Theresa MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate, and Fiona Kyle, Artistic Apprentice

George Bernard ShawNobel-Prize winning Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was a leading music and theatre critic before embarking on a literary career as a novelist. He began writing plays in response to his distaste for English theatre. The author of Major Barbara, Saint Joan, and Pygmalion was well-known for his verbal wit, biting humor, and disregard for convention. Much like his American counterpart Mark Twain, Shaw had much to say on a number of subjects, including politics and government – which play pivotal roles in Heartbreak House. What follows are some of his many musings.

The art of government is the organisation of idolatry. The bureaucracy consists of functionaries; the aristocracy, of idols; the democracy, of idolaters. The populace cannot understand the bureaucracy: it can only worship the national idols.

Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.

Old men are dangerous: it doesn’t matter to them what is going to happen to the world.

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.

Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

That is the whole secret of successful fighting. Get your enemy at a disadvantage; and never, on any account, fight him on equal terms.

Men are not governed by justice, but by law or persuasion. When they refuse to be governed by law or persuasion, they have to be governed by force or fraud, or both.

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.

He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

We mustn’t be stiff and stand-off, you know. We must be thoroughly democratic, and patronize everybody without distinction of class.

Whether you think Jesus was God or not, you must admit he was a first-rate political economist.