by George Bernard Shaw
Complete explanation for the non-fiction ‘Freedom’ included in the CBSE Class 12 English book ‘Kaleidoscope’.
[Para by para explanation]
Freedom, both as a term and as a trait has often been used perfunctorily by scholars and the general people alike. It is all the more important to know its meaning and its spirit and then esteem it as such.
Reproduced below is the text of a broadcast address by G. B. Shaw that he gave on 17 June 1935. Here he has challenged the old order, the present order, and that which is still to come. The address, one of a series on the subject, is typically Shavian. It raised the storm of argument and controversy which invariably followed Shaw’s utterances. The essay is sure to provide material to the students for hard thinking.
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish-born writer, is regarded as the most significant British dramatist since Shakespeare. In addition to being a prolific playwright (he wrote 50 stage plays) and novelist, he was also the most trenchant pamphleteer since Jonathan Swift and the most readable music critic and the best theatre critic of his generation. He was also one of literature’s great letter writers.
My introduction …. Like Rabindranath Tagore and Leonardo da Vinci, George Bernard Shaw was gifted with a very broad, incisive and creative mind. He excelled in literature, political thoughts, sociology, philosophy and science. As a novelist and playwright, he stands shoulder to shoulder with Shakespeare. In analyzing philosophical issues, his acumen was par excellence. Even when dealing with mundane matters, he could profess deeply insightful ideas that earned him admiration from all corners of the world. He was a compassionate socialist, and a very compulsive debater. His radio talks dealing with philosophical and social issues often kicked up furious debates among listeners, some showering praise on him and others dismissing his ideas as outlandish. But, few ever despised him. He was the darling of the ‘reading and thinking masses.
From music to political science to economics to journalism, G.B. Shaw’s contribution to Britain’s intellectual life was immense. Even today, his essays espousing radically different views, so divorced from conventional wisdom, enthrall readers. He co-founded the iconic London School of Economics and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. For a great part of his life span of 94 years, he worked from his study to breathe new life to intellectual discourse of the day. This essay, Freedom, is one of those controversial essays that upends the conventional understanding of the word ‘Freedom’.
Now remember, ladies and gentlemen, I have no time to talk the usual old nonsense about freedom, tonight. Let us come to business. What is perfectly free person? Evidently a person who can do what he likes, when he likes and where he likes, or do nothing at all if he prefers it. Well there is no such person; and there never can be any such person. Whether we like it or not, we must all sleep for one-third of our lifetime; wash and dress and undress; we must spend a couple of hours eating and drinking; we must spend nearly as much in getting about from place to place. For half the day we are slaves to necessities which we cannot shirk, whether we are monarchs with a thousand servant or humble labourers with no servants but their wives. And the wives must undertake the additional heavy slavery of child-bearing if the world is still to be peopled.
These natural jobs cannot be shirked. But they involve other jobs which can. As we must eat we must first provide food; as we must sleep we must have beds and bedding in houses with fireplaces and coals; as we must walk through the streets we must have clothes to cover our nakedness. Now, food and houses and clothes can be produced by human labour. But when they are produced they can be stolen. It you like honey you can let the bees produce it by their labour, and then steel it from them. If you are too lazy to get about from place to place on your own legs you can make a slave of a horse. And what you do to a horse or a bee you can also do to a man or woman or a child if you can get the upper hand of them by force or fraud or trickery of any sort, or even by teaching them that it is their religious duty to sacrifice their freedom to yours.
My explanation …. George Bernard Shaw is quite dismissive about the way the humans perceive freedom. He debunks the lofty perception about ‘freedom’ held by those who think they enjoy it. Shaw shreds this conventional wisdom into pieces through some powerful arguments. He states how, a human being, in order to stay alive, must eat, drink, sleep, wash, and do other bodily functions. Even if he goes into voluntary hibernation, he can’t avoid doing these functions. Nearly half of his day goes for these mundane inescapable functions. So, Shaw argues, Nature and the Creator rob the humans of half of their freedom. After this is done, a human has to work for a living. Those, who are too wealthy, need not work, but they must walk, do certain minimal works at home. Even these obligations can be got done through servants, animals like horses etc. But, still freedom eludes them. They have to produce food, clothing, and a host of other goods and commodities to cater to their needs for a comfortable living. Thus, he can not quite shake off the shackles of enslavement. Women suffer more as they have to bear children, apart from doing household chores to keep the tradition of family going. So, even for a very rich woman, slavery is un-avoidable. Such a social order in which slavery is a necessary component seems to be ordained by Heaven.
So beware! If you allow any person, or class of persons, to get the upper hand of you, they will shift all that part of their slavery to Nature that can be shifted on to your shoulders; and you will find yourself working from eight to fourteen hours a day when, if you had only yourself and your family to provide for, you could do it quite comforably in half the time or less. The object of all honest Governments should be to prevent your being imposed on in this way. But the object of most actual Governments, I regret to say, is exactly the opposite. They enforce your slavery and call it freedom. But they also regulate your slavery, keeping the greed of your masters within certain bounds. When chattel slavery of the negro sort costs more than wage slavery, they abolish chattel slavery and make you free to choose between one employment, or one master, and another; and this they call a glorious triumph for freedom, though for you it is merely the key of the street. When you complain, they promise that in future you shall govern the country for yourself. They redeem this promise by giving you a vote, and having a general election every five years or so. At the election, two of their rich friends ask for your vote; and you are free to choose which of them you will vote for to spite the other—a choice which leaves you no freer than you were before, as it does not reduce your hours of labour by a single minute. But the newspapers assure you that your vote has decided the election, and that this constitutes you a free citizen in a democratic country. The amazing thing about it is that you are fool enough to believe them.
My explanation … Nature, by giving us the feeling of an empty stomach, has mandated that we feed ourselves at regular intervals to stave off hunger. To keep food on our table, we need to grow it in the fields. This obligation steals some of our freedom, but the problem gets worse when we are made to toil in someone else’s farm for long grueling hours to grow enormous amount of food for him. The person, who works in a chattel, is paid a pittance, with the lion’s share of the produce going to the owner’s granary. To feed one’s own family by growing food in one’s own land might need just a few hours of work a day, whereas working as a paid farm hand means dawn to dusk toil.
This is where, the government’s role is crucial. It must intervene to stop such senseless exploitation that perpetuates slavery. But, the government does the opposite. Instead of banning employment of farm hands, it regulates their working through various laws, thus draping it with the legal clothing. This is chicanery.
Similarly, we are told that the once-in-five-years elections give us our freedom to choose our government. But, this exercise is nothing but deception in a grand scale. In the election, we are asked to choose a candidate from among a few contestants, almost all of them belonging to the affluent class. Our choice is, therefore, limited. The elected ones form the government that continues the practices of its predecessor. What we are told is, the new government has abolished the system of ‘bonded labour’ and all farm hands and factory workers can choose their employers at will. This is ‘freedom’, the government claims. But, in effect, it is nothing but perpetuation of slavery through the legal and constitutional route. And we believe this as fools.
Now mark another big difference between the natural slavery of man to Nature and the unnatural slavery of man to man. Nature is kind to her slaves. If she forces you to eat and drink, she makes eating and drinking so pleasant that when we can afford it we eat and drink too much. We must sleep or go mad: but then sleep is so pleasant that we have great difficulty in getting up in the morning. And firesides and families seem so pleasant to the young that they get married and join building societies to realize their dreams. Thus, instead of resenting our natural wants as slavery, we take the greatest pleasure in their satisfaction. We write sentimental songs in praise of them. A tramp can earn his supper by singing “Home, Sweet Home.”
My explanation …. Man is enslaved by both Nature and his fellow human beings. But, Nature is benign enough to ensure that the acts, which it forces us to do, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, cohabiting and raising a family, are all very pleasant functions. One never detests eating, sleeping or living in a home. So, humans have little to complain against the slavery enforced by Nature. It makes our life so joyous.
The slavery of man to man is the very opposite of this. It is hateful to the body and to the spirit. Our poets do not praise it: they proclaim that no man is good enough to be another man’s master. The latest of the great Jewish prophets, a gentleman named Marx, spent his life in proving that there is no extremity of selfish cruelty at which the slavery of man to man will stop if it be not stopped by law. You can see for yourself that it produces a state of continual civil war—called the class war—between the slaves and their masters, organized as trade unions on one side and employers’ federations on the other. Saint Thomas More, who has just been canonized, held that we shall never have a peaceful and stable society until this struggle is ended by the abolition of slavery altogether and the compulsion of every one to do his share of the world’s work with his own hands and brains, and not to attempt to put it on anyone else.
My explanation …. While the slave-like services humans offer to Nature invariably leads to joyous and rewarding results, slavery under fellow powerful humans can prove be quite oppressive, exploitative and, often, degrading. The pain and humiliation the rich and the powerful inflict on their downtrodden brethrens can touch hideous levels unless the slave-like disadvantaged humans are provided legal shield to keep their tormentors at bay. Karl Marx saw this very clearly. Thomas More, the great Christian soul, who was later canonized declared that ‘the chasm between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ can be narrowed to bearable levels only when every human being works with his own hands to produce what he needs for his consumption. Thomas More sang the praise of manual labour as a panacea for the disharmony and friction in society.
Naturally the master class, through its Parliaments, schools and newspapers, makes the most desperate efforts to prevent us from realizing our slavery. From our earliest years we are taught that our country is the land of the free, and that our freedom was won for us forever by our forefathers when they made King John sign Magna Charta—when they defeated the Spanish Armada—when they cut off King Charles’s head—when they made King William accept the Bill of Rights—when they issued and made good the American Declaration of Independence—when they won the battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar on the playing fields of Eton—and when, only the other day, they quite unintentionally changed the German, Austrian, Russian and Ottoman empires into republics. When we grumble, we are told that all our miseries are our own doing because we have the vote. When we say: “What good is the vote?” we are told that we have the Factory Acts, and the Wages Board, and free education, and the New Deal, and the dole; and what more could any reasonable man ask for? We are reminded that the rich are taxed a quarter, a third, or even a half and more, of their incomes; but the poor are never reminded that they have to pay that much of their wages as rent in addition to having to work twice as long every day as they would need if they were free.
Whenever famous writers protest against this imposture—say, Voltaire and Rousseau and Tom Paine in the eighteenth century, or Cobbett and Shelley, Karl Marx and Lasselle in the nineteenth, or atheists and libertines, murderers and scoundrels; and often it is made a criminal offence to buy or sell their books. If their disciples make a revolution, England immediately makes war on them and lends money to the other Powers to join her in forcing the revolutionists to restore the slave order. When this combination was successful at Waterloo, the victory was advertised as another triumph for British freedom; and the British wage slaves, instead of going into mourning like Lord Byron, believed it all and cheered enthusiastically. When the revolution wins, as it did in Russia in 1922, the fighting stops; but the abuse, the calumnies, the lies, continue until the revolutionized State grows into a first-rate military Power. Then our diplomatists, after having for years denounced the revolutionary leaders as the most abominable villains and tyrants, have to do a right turn and invite them to dinner.
My explanation …. Shaw felt that the institutions like the Parliament, schools and the newspapers are used by the exploiting ‘master class’ to brainwash the general public, especially, the poor and the powerless to believe that everything is fair in the society, and everyone enjoys the optimal degree of freedom. Our school history books are designed to create an impression in the minds of pupils, the future citizens, that the chain of historical events starting from the signing of the Magna Charta by King John to the decimation of the Spanish Armada to the cutting off of King Charles’s head to making King William accept the Bill of Rights to the American Declaration of Independence to the victory in the battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar on the playing fields of Eton, and finally, to the forced conversion of German, Austrian, Russian and Ottoman empires into republics.
For the dissenter and the un-convinced, who refuses to accept that he is indeed free, the pro-establishment protagonists have a set reply. They point to the power of ‘vote’ granted to the citizens that empowers them to vote or vote out governments. If one remains skeptical still, the guardians of the society, thus, the perpetuators of slavery, draw our attention to the Factory Act, Wages Bore, the un-employment dole, free education and the New Deal to reinforce their argument that the society has the requisite welfare measures and safety net to ensure a just and benign framework. The poor and the toiling classes are told that the government takes away some 25% to 50% of their incomes as taxes, cleverly concealing the fact that poor are working almost twice hard under the ‘just’ society as they would work if they were free.
Many radical thinkers have protested against this oppressive parasitic structure for centuries. Among these leading lights are Voltaire and Rousseau and Tom Paine in the eighteenth century, Cobbett and Shelley, Karl Marx and Lasselle in the nineteenth, or countless number of free-thinkers. Sadly, these free thinkers are silenced by the coercive powers of the state. Their writings are banned and their thoughts banished from the public domain.
Most shamefully, England sides with the tyrannical kings and emperors who thrive on slavery, and wages war against the revolutionaries, who, fired with the revolutionary ideals, stand up to the state. The joining of hands between a oppressive empire and the government of Britain culminated in the victory at Waterloo. The government grabbed this opportunity to plead that British Freedom had triumphed. The gullible poor, swayed by the propaganda, cheered the government. Swayed by the deceptive propaganda, even the iconic poet and intellectual, Lord Byron lauded the victory.
The Russian Revolution in 1922 was derided and belittled drawing the ire of the British aristocratic class. Their tirade fell silent only after the freed people of Russia built their country as a powerful political, economic and military power. The Russians forced their way to the high table of western nations who had no option but to receive the new member with dignity.
Now though this prodigious mass of humbug is meant to delude the enslaved class only, it ends in deluding the master class much more completely. A gentleman whose mind has been formed at a preparatory school for the sons of gentlemen, followed by a public school and university course, is much more thoroughly taken in by the falsified history and dishonest political economy and snobbery taught in these places than any worker can possibly be, because the gentleman’s education teaches him that he is a very fine fellow, superior to the common run of men whose duty it is to brush his clothes, carry his parcels, and earn his income for him; and as he thoroughly agrees with this view of himself, he honestly believes that the system which has placed him in such an agreeable situation and done such justice to his merits is the best of all possible systems and that he should shed his blood, and yours, to the last drop in its defence. But the great mass of our rack-rented, underpaid, treated-as-inferiors, cast-off-on-the-dole workers cannot feel so sure about it as the gentleman. The facts are too harshly against it. In hard times, such as we are now passing through, their disgust and despair sometimes lead them to kick over the traces, upset everything, and have to be rescued from mere gangsterism by some Napoleonic genius who has a fancy for being an emperor, and who has the courage and brains and energy to jump at the chance. But the slaves who give three cheers for the emperor might just as well have made a cross on a British or American ballot paper as far as their freedom is concerned.
Explanation …. That the society is fair, just and equitable is nothing but propaganda with no truth in it. The social system based on an elected government, the courts and a fearsome law-enforcing apparatus succeed in perpetuating a deeply unjust, unequal and oppressive society divided by class and access to privilege. Through a process of aggressive and clever brain-washing, it convinces the have-nots that they are being fairly treated. This, according to G. B. Shaw, hoodwinks and deludes the have-nots to the point of submission. However, this huge propaganda exercise of delusion affects the poor in no smaller measure than it affects the affluent and the privileged class.
The son of an affluent family goes to the elite schools, colleges and universities, gets the best of what the society can offer towards his upbringing and emerges to qualify for the coveted jobs in government, industry, businesses and in public life. Without his discerning it, his mind gets conditioned to believe that he deserved the high status in society as much as he deserved the highly privileged upbringing in his early years. That, in giving him the access to the best of education and comforts, the society denied scores of under-privileged the access to equivalent good life escapes his benumbed mind. Thus, the historic injustice inbuilt in the system is never challenged.
The poor semi-literate, and struggling citizens do not and can’t accept with equanimity the logic behind discriminatory treatment meted out to them. They do not quite accept as to why they should get a smaller pie of the nation’s wealth compared to the ‘worthy’ citizens, whom they serve as servants, butlers peasants, factory workers and other such low-paid menial workers. If they express their resentment in any visible and disruptive manner, they face the heavy hand of the law-enforcement arm of the government. And, there are always hawkish officers in the payroll of the government who ensure swift smothering of dissent. The enslaved class owe their allegiance to the emperor, no doubt, but, given a chance they would vote resoundingly against the system that metes out such injustice to them.
So far I have mentioned nothing but plain, natural and historical facts. I draw no conclusion, for that would lead me into controversy; and controversy would not be fair when you cannot answer me back. I am never controversial over the wireless. I do not even ask you to draw your own conclusions, for you might draw some very dangerous ones unless you have the right sort of head for it. Always remember that though nobody likes to be called a slave, it does not follow that slavery is a bad thing. Great men, like Aristotle, have held that law and order and government would be impossible unless the persons, the people have to obey are beautifully dressed and decorated, robed and uniformed, speaking with a special accent, travelling in first-class carriages or the most expensive cars or on the best-groomed and best-bred horses, and never cleaning their own boots or doing anything for some common person to do it. And this means, off course, that they must be made very rich without any other obligation that to produce an impression of almost godlike superiority on the minds of common people. In short, it is contended, you must make men ignorant idolaters before they will become obedient workers and law-abiding citizens.
To prove this, we are reminded that although nine out of ten voters are common workers, it is with the greatest difficulty that a few of them can be persuaded to vote for members of their own class. When women were enfranchised and given the right to sit in Parliament, the first use they made of their votes was to defeat all the women candidates who stood for the freedom of the workers and had given them years of devoted and distinguished service. They elected only one woman—a titled lady of great wealth and exceptionally fascinating personality.
Now this, it is said, is human nature; and you cannot change human nature. On the other hand, it is maintained that human nature is the easiest thing in the world to change if you catch it young enough, and that the idolatry of the slave class and the arrogance of the master class are themselves entirely artificial products of education and of a propaganda that plays upon our infants long before they have left their cradles. An opposite mentality could, it is argued, be produced by a contrary education and propaganda. You can turn the point over in your mind for yourself; do not let me prejudice you one way or the other. The practical question at the bottom of it all is how the income of the whole country can best be distributed from day to day. If the earth is cultivated agriculturally in vast farms with motor ploughs and chemical fertilizers, and industrially in huge electrified factories full of machinery that a girl can handle, the product may be so great that an equal distribution of it would provide enough to give the unskilled labourers as much as the managers and the men of the scientific staff. But do not forget that when you hear tales of modern machinery enabling one girl to produce as much as a thousand men could produce in the reign of good Queen Anne, that this marvellous increase includes things like needles and steel pens, and matches, which we can neither eat nor drink nor wear. Very young children will eat needles and matches eagerly—but the diet is not a nourishing one. And though we can now cultivate the sky as well as earth, by drawing nitrogen from it to increase and improve the quality of our grass—and, consequently, of our cattle and milk and butter and eggs—Nature may have tricks up her sleeve to check us if the chemists exploit her too greedily.
Explanation ….. Now, G. B. Shaw reflects on whatever he has said so far. He is aware of the fact that his views may not be quite agreeable to a good number of his listeners. So, he decides to be less combative in preaching what he believes. He is aware of the fact that radio talks are necessarily one-way communications giving no scope for argument or counter. In such an environment, it is but natural that some listeners might seethe in disagreement with his stated position.
He asserts that he does not want his talks to create controversies. He does not want to come to a summary conclusion and advises his listeners to desist from drawing their own conclusions. As a word of advice, he tells his listeners that a certain degree of intelligence is needed to appreciate his arguments. A listener devoid of this, is likely to draw dangerous conclusions from his arguments. That would be undesirable.
Ironically, Shaw argues that to be called a slave might be considered derogatory by most citizens, but for running a society, slaves are indispensible. It was the great philosopher Aristotle who maintained that slaves are essential for running governments with their system of law and order. In a government set-up, there are a few who occupy exalted positions whom the citizens obey. These privileged persons must have an aura of superiority around them. How can this aura be built? It can be done by making them look smart, powerful, special and very rich. They must dress well, eat well, speak with polished accents, live in mansions, move around in expensive cars, must not do any of their personal works themselves. Servants must cook his food, brush his dress and carry his bags. A few must always be at his beck and call to take orders and do errands. Only if such pomp and grandeur surrounds them, ordinary people will feel inclined to obey them. So, the creation of the special class of people with clout necessitates creation of an army of slaves.
You can make people subservient to authority only if they are trained to treat their superiors as lords. This is an inescapable practical necessity.
And now to sum up. Wipe out from your dreams of freedom the hope of being able to do as you please all the time. For at least twelve hours of your day Nature orders you to do certain things, and will kill you if you don’t do them. This leaves twelve hours for working; and here again Nature will kill you unless you either earn your living or get somebody else to earn it for you. If you live in a civilized country your freedom is restricted by the laws of the land, enforced by the police, who oblige you to do this, and not to do that, and to pay rates and taxes. If you do not obey these laws the courts will imprison you and, if you go too far, kill you. If the laws are reasonable and are impartially administered you have no reason to complain, because they increase your freedom by protecting you against assault, highway robbery, and disorder generally.
Explanation ….Here Shaw attempts to sum up his arguments. He feels that man can never be truly free because Nature takes out nearly 12 hours from a day’s 24 hours. He was to relax, sleep, and wash. Any curtailment in this puts his health in jeopardy. In the rest 12 hours, he has to work either for himself in his own fields or for his employer to be able to earn a living.
In a civilized society, one has to abide by so many rules. Breach of these rules invites the heavy hand of the police. Disobedience of rules and non-payment of government dues surely invites penal action that may mean imprisonment or even execution if one takes one’s protest to a high pitch. However, society’s laws are not always undesirable. When applied uniformly, they prove to be boon rather than bane in one’s life. It affords safeguards against abuse, attack or oppression.
But as society is constituted at present, there is another far more intimate compulsion on you: that of your landlord and that of your employers. Your landlord may refuse to let you live on his estate if you go to chapel instead of to church, or if you vote for anybody but his nominee, or if you practise osteopathy, or if you open a shop. Your employer may dictate the cut, colour and condition of your clothes, as well as your hours of work. He can turn you into the street at any moment to join the melancholy band of lost spirits called the unemployed. In short, his power over you is far greater than that of any political dictator could possibly be. Your only remedy at present is the trade union weapon of the strike, which is only the old Oriental device of starving on your enemy’s doorstep until he does you justice. Now, as the police in this country will not allow you to starve on your employer’s doorstep, you must starve on your own—if you have one. The extreme form of the strike—the general strike of all workers at the same moment —is also the extreme form of human folly, as, if completely carried out, it would extinguish the human race in a week. And the workers would be the first to perish. The general strike is trade unionism gone mad. Sane trade unionism would never sanction more than one big strike at a time, with all the other trades working overtime to support it.
Now let us put the case in figures. If you have to work for twelve hours a day, you have no freedom at all. If you work eight hours a day you have four hours a day to do what you like with, subject to the laws of the land and your possession of money enough to buy an interesting book or pay for a seat at the pictures, or, on a half holiday, at a football match, or whatever your fancy may be. But even here Nature will interfere a good deal; for if your eight hours work has been of a hard physical kind, and when you get home you want to spend your four hours in reading my books to improve your mind, you will find yourself fast asleep in half a minute, and your mind will remain in its present benighted condition.
Explanation …. Shaw laments that in the present form and practice of society, the influence of the landlord and the employer may be overpowering.
If you are a tenant, the landlord may breathe down your neck by ordering you to practice a certain religion, vote for a candidate of his choice, have hobbies considered undesirable by him, or dare to use your home for commercial purposes.
If you are an employee, the employer decides what uniform you will wear in the work place, how long you will work, or even the tenure of your job. He can dismiss you from service at his will, pushing you to the streets. He towers over you more menacingly than even a powerful politician or a despotic ruler.
If the office/ factory hours are 12, you are left with no time for yourself because, the Nature has already claimed 12. When pushed to a corner by the indifferent employer, you may approach your trade union for redress. The Union can call for a strike, but then that means no job and no income. It amounts voluntary infliction of starvation on oneself. Voluntary or involuntary, strike means no income and subsequent starvation. The law of the land precludes any coercive protest near the employer’s place. So, as the protester, one has to retreat to one’s home to suffer the pangs of hunger. A launch of mass strike may appear quite potent to force the employer to conceded, but if the latter does not budge, the workers suffer severely bringing them closer to starvation deaths.
If you work for just eight hours instead of 12, you are left with four hours for yourself. However, during this time you must not do anything that falls foul of the laws of the land. If you want to spend this time reading a book or going to a film, you must afford to buy the book or the ticket to the movie. In either case you must have money to spare. More sadly, if your duty involves long manual slog, you will return home to hit bed at the earliest. Then, the ‘free’ four hour goes for relaxation, not for recreation.
I take it, then, that nine out of ten of us desire more freedom, and that this is why we listen to wireless talks about it. As long as we go on as we are—content with a vote and a dole—the only advice we can give one another is that of Shakespeare’s Iago: “Put money in thy purse.” But as we get very little money into our purses on pay day, and all the rest of the week other people are taking money out of it, Iago’s advice is not very practical. We must change our politics before we can get what we want; and meanwhile we must stop gassing about freedom, because the people of England in the lump don’t know what freedom is —never having had any. Always call freedom by its old English name of leisure; and keep clamouring for more leisure and more money to enjoy it in return for an honest share of work. And let us stop singing “Rule, Britannia,” until we make it true. Until we do, let us never vote for a parliamentary candidate who talks about our freedom and our love of liberty; for whatever political name he may give himself, he is sure to be at bottom an anarchist who wants to live on our labour without being taken up by the police for it as he deserves.
Explanation … Towards the end of his talk, Shaw assumes that nearly nine out of 10 citizens want freedom, and what to learn all about it from the radio, if possible. Shaw turns to Iago of Shakespeare for guidance. Iago had counseled his followers to earn money and enrich oneself monetarily. But how to earn more money when wages are limited and determined by others? So, it is not a very practical solution, Shaw feels. He thinks the prevalent politics needs to be radically changed if true freedom can be made accessible to ordinary folks. Till then, we should stop celebrating our freedom, which is hollow and deceptive. Since the people in the lower strata of British society had never experienced real freedom, they can’t feel its absence. Shaw suggests that ‘leisure’ is the nearest equivalent word of ‘freedom’. People should demand more money and more scope for leisure in exchange of a reasonable amount of work. Till it is achieved, Britain remains a country unworthy of emulating. Britons should, therefore, stop chanting ‘Rule Britannia’. Britain can’t aspire to rule over others when its own moral fibres are frayed.
Shaw then expresses his disdain for the system of elections and political parties saying that they perpetuate a system deeply rooted in oppression and exploitation. The talk of freedom and liberty are empty rhetoric indulged in by a parasitic political class nicely disguised as a champion of justice and equality. The politician, in the true sense, is an anarchist who deserves to be prosecuted and punished rather than respected and trusted upon.
And now suppose we at last win a lot more leisure and a lot more money than we are accustomed to. What are we going to do with them? I was taught in my childhood that Satan will find mischief still for idle hands to do. I have seen men come into a fortune and lose their happiness, their health, and finally, their lives by it as certainly as if they had taken daily doses of rat poison instead of champagne and cigars. It is not at all easy to know what to do with leisure unless we have been brought up to it.
Explanation … Shaw then reflects on the advice he has proffered – to demand more money and more leisure. He fears that most people can’t make judicious use of their new-found affluence and free hours. They will indulge in sinful ways and squander their riches. Even, some of them might be crippled by diseases that result from the excesses of luxury. One needs education and healthy conditioning of mind to make good use of wealth and leisure.
I will, therefore, leave you with a conundrum to think over. If you had your choice, would you work for eight hours a day and retire with a full pension at forty-five, or would you rather work four hours a day and keep on working until you are seventy? Now, don’t send the answer to me, please: talk it over with your wife.
Explanation .. Now comes the final poser from Shaw. He asks his listeners to choose between
a. Eight hours of daily work, higher earning and scope to retire at 45, Or
b. Four hours of work a day, but no scope for retirement till the age of 70
In a lighter vein, Shaw asks his listners to confide not in him but in their wives about their preferred choice in this riddle.
This is the best explanation I have ever read for this essay