On Man's Cowardice: Don Juan Debates the Devil

by George Bernard Shaw

Your weak side, my diabolic friend, is that you have always been a gull: you take Man at his own valuation. Nothing would flatter him more than your opinion of him. He loves to think of himself as bold and bad. He is neither one nor the other: he is only a coward. Call him tyrant, murderer, pirate, bully; and he will adore you, and swagger about with the consciousness of having the blood of the old sea kings in his veins. Call him liar and thief; and he will only take an action against you for libel. But call him coward; and he will go mad with rage: he will face death to outface that stinging truth. Man gives every reason for his conduct save one, every excuse for his crimes save one, every plea for his safety save one: and that one is his cowardice. Yet all his civilization is founded on his cowardice, on his abject tameness, which he calls his respectability. There are limits to what a mule or an ass will stand; but Man will suffer himself to be degraded until his vileness becomes so loathsome to his oppressors that they themselves are forced to reform it.


SOURCE: Shaw, George Bernard. Man and Superman (1901-3), ed. Dan H. Laurence (London: Penguin Books, 1946), "Don Juan in Hell" segment, pp. 144-145.


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George Bernard Shaw on the Artist-philosopher

George Bernard Shaw: The Quintessence of Ibsenism, Preface to 3rd edition


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