Money and Gunpowder

There are two people in a debate about what are the most pressing factors concerning a stable society. One of the pair, a military industrialist, is driven by money and might. He believes security, fiscal responsibility, and military might to be the most important pillars upon which a country functions healthily.

The other debater, a Christian man, is driven by his religious values. He believes that getting a liberal arts education, teaching ethics and morals, and supporting the poor are the most important pillars upon which a country functions healthily.

The two men spar words, arguing over what religion exactly entails, how it should influence leaders, how it should influence romantic relationships, and what to do with your religion when you’re in a position of power.

These two people are not Stephen Harper and Jack Layton. Nor are they Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama. They are Andrew Undershaft and Adolphus Cusins.

Who are Andew Undershaft and Adolphus Cusins?

They are characters in George Bernard Shaw’s play Major Barbara. It’s one of the plays I’m working on right now. And it was written in 1905. For those of you who can’t do math, that’s one hundred and three years ago.

It appears that either Shaw was a great prophet – a possibility which I’m not entirely willing to rule out – or there are certain historical/philosophical constants which govern the cosmos. And one of those constants is the divisiveness in opinion as to who is responsible for caring for the constituents of a country. Shaw’s characters might as well have been ripped from this morning’s newspaper headlines. And I’m willing to bet that they will ring as true and imminent a year from now, and then some.

I’m not going to preach as to which of the two I believe is in the right. Or… in the “left” as I would have it. I’m going to share one of the characters’ dialogues, just to shed a little light on the state of the world today. Anybody who thinks we’re at the lowest of lows, living in a time when our governments are riddled with corruption, our leaders incapable of leading, and trillions of dollars being spent on death and destruction should take a look at Shaw.

Things haven’t changed that much:

“There are two things necessary to Salvation… Money and gunpowder. That is the general opinion of our governing classes. The novelty is in hearing any man confess it.”

“Is there any place in your religion for honour, justice, truth, love, mercy, and so forth?”

“Yes: they are the graces and luxuries of a rich, strong, and safe life.”

“Suppose one is forced to choose between them and money or gunpowder?

“Choose money and gunpowder; for without enough of both you cannot afford the others.”

“That is your religion?”



  1. Harold says:

    This is a very old argument.

  2. jepaikin says:


    Is it still relevant? I’d say so.

    Thanks for your comment – it really expresses your opinion eloquently.

  3. Alexander says:


    To what extent is this a false dichotomy?
    It’s not out of the realm of possibility to pursue both aims, and it’s rare that such a straight-forward choice is made available. Ideal types are wonderful for the purpose of philosophical contemplation, but otherwise kind of irrelevant.

    Living in the world that we do, the focus shouldn’t be on trying to abandon money and gunpowder in favour of a utopian ideal. It should be on ensuring that honour, justice, truth, love and mercy govern (as much as possible) how we use Money and Gunpowder.

    Also, the national/international divide is interesting here. You can function morally within your country and run a liberal arts welfare state and still use M&G in the world at large.

    I know this is an underdeveloped train of thought, but I need to get back to a Civil Rights paper. Let me know when Shaw’s on.

  4. jepaikin says:

    I never suggested that there was a false dichotomy… merely that there was a debate between two perspectives, and that for a one hundred year old play, this debate was remarkably imminent and relevant.

    You raise some interesting thoughts on how to bridge the gap between conservatism and liberalism. But for once, I was trying to set my personal politics aside and simply present some old societal commentary.

  5. Alexander says:

    Yeah, fair enough. I read it analytically, because I’m immersed in this stuff 24/7.

    And I’m not sure if I actually think those ideal types are completely futile. They have their place, and I put great value in at least one of them. But, you know…pragmatism and on-the-ground, etc.

    Anyway, footnote time!

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