“Freedom” by G.B. Shaw: Questions and Answers


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G.B. Saw’s Freedom actually is one of the series of radio talks delivered in 1935 on the B.B.C. As it was intended for the larger circles in their capacity as listeners, the lecture seems to be free from theoretical jargons. But Shaw can be very much deceptive in what he says. For, behind his homour lies the satire of the contemporary social condition. Not only that, his simple talk was actually a denunciation of the conventional and capitalist view of freedom. Politically Shaw conformed to democratic socialism, a variant of Marxism, according to which the society should try to reach the socialist political condition gradually by the democratic means. The concept of freedom, which Shaw satirises, was the fundamental principle of Enlightenment, and he does so because in a capitalist society, according to the Marxian view, freedom of the individual can never be realised.
Shaw begins the essay with the proposition that a person can be called completely free in such a condition, in which he will be able to “ do what he likes, when he likes, and where he likes, or do nothing at all if he prefers it”. He firmly denies the possibility of the existence of such a person as human beings are all slaves to nature:
“…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 one place to place.”
From this funny yet inexorable condition of human life, Shaw very cleverly moves on to the fact that some of the “natural jobs” can be placed on others’ shoulders:
“What you do to a horse or a bee, you can do to a man or woman or child…sort”.
With this Shaw, however, comes to the immediate social and political condition of the time, in which the concept of freedom __ derived from the grand idealistic project of the Enlightenment, and nationalistic bias produced by the First World War __ was being glorified and used by the upper class as a means to achieving their self-interests. According to Shaw the farce of the democratic system in a capitalist state lies in the fact that “most actual governments…enforce your slavery and call it freedom”. But the citizens of the state continue to be duped by the system instead of rising to protest. Shaw terms this unequal relationship “the unnatural slavery of man to man”.
Shaw points out an important difference between the “natural slavery of man to Nature and the unnatural slavery of man to man”. According to him, the first, though unavoidable, provides pleasure after its fulfilment; for instance, if nature forces us to drink, she makes drinking pleasant. The same is true of eating, drinking, sleeping and other activities. Shaw introduces this difference and cites examples more importantly to explain the evils of the former in more acute terms. He refers to few thinkers like Karl Marx and Thomas Moore, who denounced this slavery and tried to abolish it. At this point his explanation of the capitalist mechanism, that is, the means by which the system tries to dupe people and establish, legitimize and perpetuate itself approaches the ideological theories of Althusser and Gramsci. “Ideology represents”, Althusser tells us, “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real condition of existence.” He points out that there are found a number of ideologies – namely, religious ideology, ethical ideology, legal ideology, political ideology – all of which operate invisibly in the superstructure. Shaw strikes at the very root when he says, “Naturally the master class, through its parliaments and schools and newspapers, makes the most desperate efforts to prevent us from realizing our slavery.” He explains historically how the British capitalist system has established itself by propagating the so-called glorious events as the Magna Charta, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and Napoleon. Then he explains how “ideological apparatuses”, to quote Althusser, manipulate the common mass to cast votes in favour of the capitalist leaders. What is more alarmingly effective, according to him, is the educational system, which operates in the superstructure and “ends in deluding the master class much more completely”.
Thus Shaw explains the difference between two kinds of slavery and conclusively tells the listeners/readers: “Wipe out from yours dreams of freedom the hope of being able to do as you please all the time.” For, according to him, people have to remain occupied doing the natural slavery for at least twelve hours a day, while their unnatural slavery is controlled and regulated by the legal and administrative system of the country.
1) Why according to Shaw no man is perfectly free?
Ans- According to Shaw there is no perfectly free man on earth because logically this is impossible. Whether humans like it or not, they must sleep for one-thirds of their lifetime; wash and dress and undress; they must spend a couple of hours eating and drinking; they spend as much time from travelling from one place to another. For half the day they are slaves to their natural requirements, which they cannot shirk.
2) Do all social and governmental regulations aim at regulating man’s slavery?
Ans- Shaw says that the object of all honest Governments should be to prevent the unnatural slavery of man to man. But he regretfully observes that the actual motive of all Governments is just the opposite. The Government simply enforces the slavery of man to man and calls it freedom. They also regulate the norms of slavery and try to keep the greed of the master class within bounds. This does not leave the repressed class any freer because they have to choose between one master and the other.      
3) What does Shaw think of the right to vote?
Ans- Shaw thinks that the governments simply deceive the public by promising that they have the power to govern the country themselves by getting to choose their representative through their right to vote. A general election is held every five years. At the election, two of their rich friends, who are divorced from the pains the commoners, become the candidates for the election. The candidates themselves are unworthy; therefore, in spite of having the right to vote the people are not free to do whatever they would like to do.
4) How is man’s slavery to nature pleasant?
Ans- Shaw believes that man’s slavery to nature is pleasant because even though she (nature) forces man to eat and drink, she makes eating and drinking pleasurable so much so that some people simply live to eat. The comforts of civilised society and family life are so great that young people are eager to get married and join building societies to realize their dreams.
5) How can slavery be ended?
Ans- Shaw points out that man’s slavery to man is unnatural and must be prevented at any cost. He says that poets do not praise slavery. They say that no man is good enough to be another man’s master. Shaw uses the example of Marx who had advocated that law could only stop slavery. Because there were no proper laws against slavery in those times there were continual civil wars. Thomas More also raised his voice against such a social evil. He believed that peace could be achieved only by compelling everyone to do his own share of work with his own hand and brains, and not to put it on anyone else.
6) What means does the master class use to maintain the upper hand over the slave class?
Ans- The master class through its Parliaments, schools and newspapers, makes the most desperate efforts to prevent the mass from realizing their slavery. By directly controlling their thoughts, the master class prevents the slave class from forming a derogatory opinion of them. Whenever the prople complain, they are told that they themselves are responsible for their misery because of their own wrong choice of their representative. When they try to protest about the system of voting they are reminded that they have been given the Factory Acts and the Wage Board, and free education, and the New Deal, and the dole. They always reassure the slave class that they do not need any more than has been already given to them.
7) How do the master class prevent the upheaval of the downtrodden masses when lead by famous figures?
Ans- Shaw says that whenever famous writers protest against the imposture of the master class, they teach the people that they are traitors of the country. Shaw gives the examples of Voltaire and Rousseau and Tom Paine in the eighteenth century, or Cobbett and Shelley, Karl Marx and Lassalle in the nineteenth or Lenin and Trotsky in the twentieth century.  These people are declared 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 makes war upon them and lends money to the other powers to join her in forcing the revolutionists to restore the slave order.
8) How is the master class led to accepting the righteousness of human exploitation?
Ans- Shaw regrets that though “the prodigious mass of humbug is meant to delude the enslaved class only, it ends in deluding the master class more completely”. A gentleman whose mind has been formed at a preparatory school run by the master class itself, followed by a public school run by the government and university course, is completely under the false notion of created history and dishonest political economy and snobbery taught in these places. The gentleman’s education teaches him to think highly of himself. He thinks that being socially superior to the commoners is his right to get his work done by the other underprivileged people.  He sincerely believes it to be his duty to shed his blood and the blood of others to the last drop in order to defend such a nation which has bestowed so many favours on him.
9) Why do most workers or women vote for their social superiors?
Ans- Shaw notes that great men like Aristotle believed that men must be made ignorant idolaters before they can be made obedient workers and law abiding citizens. One must pretend to have God-like-superiority in order to draw the attention of their social inferiors. Women are no exception to this rule. Shaw notes that when women were enfranchised and given the right to sit in Parliament, first use they made of their votes was to defeat all the women candidates who stood for freedom of the workers and had given them years of distinguished service. They had elected only one titled lady of great wealth. The reason behind such mistaken choice is due to human nature. Human nature can of course be changed through education. But education is provided by the Government and the Government would never like to educate the masses to think against the existing system.
10) How does a civilized society protect its citizens?
Ans- According to Shaw, a civilized society has a Government which frames a constitution enumerating the rights and duties of the citizens. Absolute freedom of the citizens is restricted by the laws of the land, enforced by the police, who will oblige the citizens to do something and not do some others and to pay rates and taxes. If they do not obey these laws the courts will imprison them and if they go too far kill them. If the laws are reasonable and impartially administered the citizens have no reason to complain, because the laws increase their freedom by protecting them against assault, highway robbery, and disorder generally.  
11) How should an intelligent trade union movement conduct its affairs?
Ans- Shaw points out that it becomes very difficult for the employees to work under such tyrannical employers. They have only one remedy that of joining a trade union movement. The trade unions use the weapon of strike, which is the device of starving on the enemy’s doorstep until justice is done. The extreme form of 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’s time. And the workers will be the first to die. According to Shaw general strike is madness. Practical trade unionism would never sanction more than one big strike at a time, with all the other trades working overtime to support it.
12) What are Shaw’s views on working hours and retirement?
Ans- At the end of his essay, “Freedom”, G.B Shaw tickles our minds with a question that if we had unlimited freedom would we be able to handle it responsibly? Since absolute freedom is impossible, Shaw leaves his readers to decide for themselves that if they had a choice would they work eight hours a day and retire with a full pension at forty-five, or would they rather work for four hours a day and keep on working till the age of seventy. Shaw wittily concludes the essay by urging his readers to talk this proposition over with their wives and not try to send any replies to him.
13) “Nature may have tricks up her sleeve to check us if the chemists exploit her too greedily”. Critically comment on the statement.
Ans- Science and technology can definitely help produce machines and increase the production of food grains which would directly help equal distribution of wealth. The author reflects on the fact that though we can now cultivate the sky as well as the earth, by drawing nitrogen from it to increase the quality of grass to enhance the quality of food given to the cattle, and consequently improve our cattle, and butter and poultry, it might prove risky. Shaw here is talking about ecological disturbance which is the harsh reality of the modern world.
14) How did the author’s forefathers win freedom for themselves? Give some examples.
Ans- Shaw mockingly points out that whenever countries like England or America are attacked by external forces they try to prevent them. If the said countries are victorious in their assault they note it down in their history books as the glorious triumphs of patriotism. He gives a few examples. The forceful signing of the Magna Carta by King John; the defeating of the Spanish Armada; the beheading of King Charles; the acceptance of the Bill of Rights by King William; the issue and implementation of the American Declaration of independence; the victory of the battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar and the changing of the German, Austrian, Russian and Ottoman Empires into Republics.  
15) What, according to Shaw, are the factors that lead to the curtailment of freedom of common men?
Ans- According to Shaw a lot of factors contribute toward the curtailment of freedom of common men. First of all, man is a slave to his own bodily desires and needs. Secondly, he becomes a slave to the fancies of his employers to whom he has to remain obedient in order to feed himself and his family. Thirdly, he is slave to his landlord. Fourthly, the Government of his country, which extracts income tax from him. Fifthly, by the opaque education given to him by the Governmental institutions. Finally, his independence is mocked at through the flawed institution of voting and democracy.


  1. is the pattern of examination changing?

  2. Anonymous

    Helpful for ssc

  3. Anonymous

    Good but not best

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