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The different feelings about truth in the play an enemy of the people

The prophet who proclaims an unpopular message, the religious reformer who turns into a critic of an established church, the whistle—blower who exposes government abuse come to mind.

  • He suffers materially, but not morally;
  • Though this may mean penury to his family, the doctor declines to follow this road to moral capitulation;
  • It is not confined to a hedonistic calculation.

This perennial issue was dramatized with great ingenuity and clarity by Henrik Ibsen in his drama, An Enemy of the People. Henrik Ibsen 1828—1906 published this play in 1882, and it was performed in Scandinavia and subsequently in other European countries. The Norwegian original was translated into various languages. The play, as virtually any dramatic presentation, takes place in a certain place and time—though the place is not identified geographically but merely described as a coastal town in southern Norway, and the time is simply assumed to be coeval with the publication of the drama or its imminent presentation.

Yet this fairly concrete framework in no way binds and limits the drama and its message to a passing moment of history in a Scandinavian setting. The message is universal in scope and it is as relevant today as it may have been at the end of the nineteenth century.

The central character the different feelings about truth in the play an enemy of the people the drama is Dr. He lives with his wife, Katherine, their daughter, Petra, who is a teacher, and two young sons.

He represents the Establishment, the Authority in the community. Unlike the newspaper editors, he is not a radical but, as he insists on presenting himself, a man of moderation. He does not want to offend the people in power, though he has the interests of the modest majority at heart. There are a couple of additional characters, who will be mentioned later. The plot revolves round the Municipal Baths. They have been established on the initiative of Dr.

Stockmann, with the support of his brother, who claims for himself greater contribution to the achievement than is his due. The Baths promise to be a great asset to the development of the town, as they are expected to attract visitors and invalids, who will come to the place during the summers to improve their health.

Peter Stockmann, the good citizen and savvy businessman, points to the great benefits of the Baths for each and all: Taking one thing with another, there is an excellent spirit of toleration in the town—an admirable municipal spirit. And it all springs from the fact of our having a great common interest to unite us—an interest that is in an equally high degree the concern of every right—minded citizen.

Think how extraordinarily the place has developed within the last year or two! Money has been flowing in. Houses and landed property are rising in value every day. This perfect edifice suddenly faces a dramatic change. Indeed, its foundations are challenged.

The threat is the result of an objective scientific discovery. Stockmann, the primary founder of the Baths, finds out through reliable tests that the water supply of the Baths is contaminated with infusoria,2and this endangers the health of the patrons and visitors of the establishment. In the words of Dr. Stockmann is quite clear.

  1. The majority has might on its side—unfortunately; but right it has not.
  2. Plato had his own preference for the knowledgeable philosophers, and Ibsen may be echoing the Platonic belief, without elaborating on it, a belief which has been open to criticism since the days of Aristotle. As we have seen, he openly challenges the people at the meeting, and declares.
  3. I have already told you that what I want to speak about is the great discovery I have made lately—the discovery that all the sources of our moral life are poisoned and that the whole fabric of our civic community is founded on the pestiferous soil of falsehood. This turning of the issue of conflict is effected by the wily Mayor who approaches the editors of the newspaper before the report of his brother is printed and succeeds in forming an alliance with them, as well as with Aslaksen, the representative of the timid majority.
  4. And in this way the ring will be broken up. Is there no inherent link between majority opinion and the right opinion?

The Baths must not be used, unless the pipe system is replaced. One might have expected to see Dr. Stockmann deeply disappointed at his finding—for it was his creation that turned out to be problematic.

Yet there is no trace of such a sentiment. On the contrary, he seems to be elated at his discovery, as it will prevent dire consequences. He is a man committed to do right, and cares little for his own prestige. This makes him happy—not because of the feeling of security and power which such support offers, but because it conveys the sense of brotherhood with the community. He is involved in the well-being of society and his fellow townsmen respond with approval and support—a situation which is the very opposite of alienation.

Yet here he faces a great disappointment.

The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

His brother, after exploring the cost of installing new pipes, points to the great expense involved. Moreover, the reconstruction would take two years, during which the Baths would have to be closed. Other towns may take advantage of the situation.

Flabbergasted, the doctor asks his brother what ought to be done. The answer, characteristically for a man who does not have the integrity of Dr.

Stockmann, is evasive and intellectually dishonest. The Mayor does not say: The Mayor is not only determined to ignore the harm to visitors and invalids, but adds hypocrisy to moral obtuseness. Just as his brother is honest and cares for his fellow human beings, so he is dishonest and callous. Stockmann makes the point, as he hurls the accusation at his brother: The whole of our flourishing municipal life derives its sustenance from a lie! Indeed, one is tempted to see the biological poison as a symbol for moral corruption.

The lack of honesty and of moral responsibility decomposes the community itself. He offers his report for publication by the newspaper.

While the editors are all too eager to have the issue brought to the public, their motives are not as pure as those of Dr.

Their main motivation is to stir up controversy with the conservative Mayor and thus gain a political advantage over the party ruling the town. And in this way the ring will be broken up. Billing, the sub-editor, who exceeds Hovstad in radicalism, looks forward to a revolution. He is concerned about the well-being of human beings; they are interested in gaining political advantage.

For him the issue is the health and lives of men; for them the concern is political power. He is committed to Right; they worship Might.

The gap between the two orientations, alien to each other, is unbridgeable. Thus, the two sides are on a road to collision—even if actually it does not occur along these lines. It would have been easy to envision a confrontation, with Dr. Stockmann recoiling from the political schemes of the editors and asserting the purity of his public concern, and thus breaking his alliance with the liberal paper.

This turning of the issue of conflict is effected by the wily Mayor who approaches the editors of the newspaper before the report of his brother is printed and succeeds in forming an alliance with them, as well as with Aslaksen, the representative of the timid majority. Peter Stockmann explains to them the cost of the economic damage that would result from the publication of the report, and that would affect the people of modest means not less than the wealthy.

The common threat leads to a joint stand: His appeal to the editor to publish the report meets with an emphatic refusal.

Stockmann, with Right on his side, faces the united will of the people and the collective interest of the community. Fiat justitia et pereat mundus, or, more strictly speaking, Fiat justitia et pereat communitas! The principle is more important to the doctor than the will of the people, or even the well—being of the people. Is there a justification, a moral justification, for such a stand? Is not the morality of the doctor basically flawed, or even perverse?

Does it make sense to adhere to an abstract principle and ignore the well-being of concrete human beings? The answer to this argument is that the moral principle here represents the well-being of human beings.

The readiness to sacrifice the prosperity of the community is motivated by the compassion for wider humanity. The alienation from the town and its people is the consequence of the deep attachment to humanity. Moreover, the stand of Dr. Stockmann versus the town is not limited to the weighing of the gains and the losses of the community and the outside visitors.

It is not confined to a hedonistic calculation. It transcends these considerations and harps on the issue of truth and falsehood, honesty and deception—principles transcending the concrete case of the pestilential Baths.

In an address to a public assembly of the townspeople, Dr.

  • Then, there is Horster, a ship captain, a straightforward and honest man, who offers help and housing to the persecuted and impoverished family;
  • It is not confined to a hedonistic calculation;
  • It is noteworthy that a prominent analyst and critic of modern democracy pointed to the adverse impact which the pressure of majority opinion may have on individuals and on individuality;
  • Other towns may take advantage of the situation.

Stockmann makes this point quite clear: I will impart to you a discovery of a far wider scope than the trifling matter that our water—supply is poisoned and our medicinal Baths are standing on pestiferous soil. I have already told you that what I want to speak about is the great discovery I have made lately—the discovery that all the sources of our moral life are poisoned and that the whole fabric of our civic community is founded on the pestiferous soil of falsehood.

Stockmann does not confine his criticism to this general indictment of the community, but makes more specific accusations. Is vox populi, vox Dei?

September 27, 2018

Is there no inherent link between majority opinion and the right opinion? The majority never has right on its side. That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent man must wage war.

  • Stockmann makes it quite clear that he is right in the specific circumstances described in the drama, but this specific case does not provide a general answer as to how to resolve controversies between individuals and majorities;
  • It was Tocqueville who pointed out that, while during the American Revolution individuality was encouraged, once the republics were established, the tendency of public opinion to repress an individual stand prevailed;
  • The Mayor does not say;
  • Fiat justitia et pereat mundus, or, more strictly speaking, Fiat justitia et pereat communitas!
  • Peter Stockmann explains to them the cost of the economic damage that would result from the publication of the report, and that would affect the people of modest means not less than the wealthy;
  • The principle is more important to the doctor than the will of the people, or even the well—being of the people.

Who is it that constitute the majority of the population in a country? Is it the clever folk or the stupid? The majority has might on its side—unfortunately; but right it has not. I am in the right—I and a few other scattered individuals. The minority is always in the right. The majority may not have a monopoly on being right, as Hovstad maintains, but there is no ground for asserting that it never has right on its side.

Whether the majority is stupid or not would depend on the matters to which it addresses its judgment: The few scattered individuals may be right, but—and here is the rub—who has the capacity and the authority to decide which individuals are wise and right? Stockmann denigrates the wealthy conservatives, and points to himself as the authority. Plato had his own preference for the knowledgeable philosophers, and Ibsen may be echoing the Platonic belief, without elaborating on it, a belief which has been open to criticism since the days of Aristotle.