- An Enemy of the People
Aslaksen. As Chairman, I call upon the speaker to withdraw the
ill-considered expressions he has just used.
Dr. Stockmann. Never, Mr. Aslaksen! It is the majority in our
community that denies me my freedom and seeks to prevent my
speaking the truth.
Hovstad. The majority always has right on its side.
Billing. And truth too, by God!
Dr. Stockmann. The majority never has right on its side. Never, I
say! That is one of these social lies against which an
independent, intelligent men must wage war. Who is it that
constitute the majority of the population in a country? Is it the
clever folk, or the stupid? I don't imagine you will dispute the
fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely
overwhelming majority all the world over. But, good Lord!--you
can never pretend that it is right that the stupid folk should
govern the clever ones I (Uproar and cries.) Oh, yes--you can
shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me. 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. (Renewed uproar.)
Hovstad. Aha!--so Dr. Stockmann has become an aristocrat since
the day before yesterday!
Dr. Stockmann. I have already said that I don't intend to waste a
word on the puny, narrow-chested, short-winded crew whom we are
leaving astern. Pulsating life no longer concerns itself with
them. I am thinking of the few, the scattered few amongst us, who
have absorbed new and vigorous truths. Such men stand, as it
were, at the outposts, so far ahead that the compact majority has
not yet been able to come up with them; and there they are
fighting for truths that are too newly-born into the world of
consciousness to have any considerable number of people on their
side as yet.
Hovstad. So the Doctor is a revolutionary now!
Dr. Stockmann. Good heavens--of course I am, Mr. Hovstad! I
propose to raise a revolution against the lie that the majority
has the monopoly of the truth. What sort of truths are they that
the majority usually supports? They are truths that are of such
advanced age that they are beginning to break up. And if a truth
is as old as that, it is also in a fair way to become a lie,
gentlemen. (Laughter and mocking cries.) Yes, believe me or not,
as you like; but truths are by no means as long-lived at
Methuselah--as some folk imagine. A normally constituted truth
lives, let us say, as a rule seventeen or eighteen, or at most
twenty years-- seldom longer. But truths as aged as that are
always worn frightfully thin, and nevertheless it is only then
that the majority recognises them and recommends them to the
community as wholesome moral nourishment. There is no great
nutritive value in that sort of fare, I can assure you; and, as a
doctor, I ought to know. These "majority truths "are like last
year's cured meat--like rancid, tainted ham; and they are the
origin of the moral scurvy that is rampant in our communities.
Aslaksen. It appears to me that the speaker is wandering a long
way from his subject.
Peter Stockmann. I quite agree with the Chairman.
Dr. Stockmann. Have you gone clean out of your senses, Peter? I
am sticking as closely to my subject as I can; for my subject is
precisely this, that it is the masses, the majority--this
infernal compact majority--that poisons the sources of our moral
life and infects the ground we stand on.
Hovstad. And all this because the great, broadminded majority of
the people is prudent enough to show deference only to well-
ascertained and well-approved truths?
Dr. Stockmann. Ah, my good Mr. Hovstad, don't talk nonsense about
well-ascertained truths! The truths of which the masses now
approve are the very truths that the fighters at the outposts
held to in the days of our grandfathers. We fighters at the
outposts nowadays no longer approve of them; and I do not believe
there is any other well-ascertained truth except this, that no
community can live a healthy life if it is nourished only on such
old marrowless truths.
Hovstad. But, instead of standing there using vague generalities,
it would be interesting if you would tell us what these old
marrowless truths are, that we are nourished on.
(Applause from many quarters.)
Dr. Stockmann. Oh, I could give you a whole string of such
abominations; but to begin with I will confine myself to one
well-approved truth, which at bottom is a foul lie, but upon
which nevertheless Mr. Hovstad and the "People's Messenger" and
all the "Messenger's" supporters are nourished.
Hovstad. And that is--?
Dr. Stockmann. That is, the doctrine you have inherited from your
forefathers and proclaim thoughtlessly far and wide--the doctrine
that the public, the crowd, the masses, are the essential part of
the population--that they constitute the People--that the common
folk, the ignorant and incomplete element in the community, have
the same right to pronounce judgment and to, approve, to direct
and to govern, as the isolated, intellectually superior
personalities in it.
Billing. Well, damn me if ever I--
Hovstad (at the same time, shouting out). Fellow-citizens, take
good note of that!
A number of voices (angrily). Oho!--we are not the People! Only
the superior folk are to govern, are they!
A Workman. Turn the fellow out for talking such rubbish!
Another. Out with him!
Another (calling out). Blow your horn, Evensen!
(A horn is blown loudly, amidst hisses and an angry uproar.)
Dr. Stockmann (when the noise has somewhat abated). Be
reasonable! Can't you stand hearing the voice of truth for once?
I don't in the least expect you to agree with me all at once; but
I must say I did expect Mr. Hovstad to admit I was right, when he
had recovered his composure a little. He claims to be a
Voices (in murmurs of astonishment). Freethinker, did he say? Is
Hovstad a freethinker?
Hovstad (shouting). Prove it, Dr. Stockmann! When have I said so
Dr. Stockmann (reflecting). No, confound it, you are right!--you
have never had the courage to. Well, I won't put you in a hole,
Mr. Hovstad. Let us say it is I that am the freethinker, then. I
am going to prove to you, scientifically, that the "People's
Messenger" leads you by the nose in a shameful manner when it
tells you that you--that the common people, the crowd, the
masses, are the real essence of the People. That is only a
newspaper lie, I tell you! The common people are nothing more
than the raw material of which a People is made. (Groans,
laughter and uproar.) Well, isn't that the case? Isn't there an
enormous difference between a well-bred and an ill-bred strain of
animals? Take, for instance, a common barn-door hen. What sort of
eating do you get from a shrivelled up old scrag of a fowl like
that? Not much, do you! And what sort of eggs does it lay? A
fairly good crow or a raven can lay pretty nearly as good an egg.
But take a well-bred Spanish or Japanese hen, or a good pheasant
or a turkey--then you will see the difference. Or take the case
of dogs, with whom we humans are on such intimate terms. Think
first of an ordinary common cur--I mean one of the horrible,
coarse-haired, low-bred curs that do nothing but run about the
streets and befoul the walls of the houses. Compare one of these
curs with a poodle whose sires for many generations have been
bred in a gentleman's house, where they have had the best of food
and had the opportunity of hearing soft voices and music. Do you
not think that the poodle's brain is developed to quite a
different degree from that of the cur? Of course it is. It is
puppies of well-bred poodles like that, that showmen train to do
incredibly clever tricks--things that a common cur could never
learn to do even if it stood on its head. (Uproar and mocking
A Citizen (calls out). Are you going to make out we are dogs,
Another Citizen. We are not animals, Doctor!
Dr. Stockmann. Yes but, bless my soul, we are, my friend! It is
true we are the finest animals anyone could wish for; but, even
among us, exceptionally fine animals are rare. There is a
tremendous difference between poodle-men and cur-men. And the
amusing part of it is, that Mr. Hovstad quite agrees with me as
long as it is a question of four-footed animals--
Hovstad. Yes, it is true enough as far as they are concerned.
Dr. Stockmann. Very well. But as soon as I extend the principle
and apply it to two-legged animals, Mr. Hovstad stops short. He
no longer dares to think independently, or to pursue his ideas to
their logical conclusion; so, he turns the whole theory upside
down and proclaims in the "People's Messenger" that it is the
barn-door hens and street curs that are the finest specimens in
the menagerie. But that is always the way, as long as a man
retains the traces of common origin and has not worked his way up
to intellectual distinction.
Hovstad. I lay no claim to any sort of distinction, I am the son
of humble country-folk, and I am proud that the stock I come from
is rooted deep among the common people he insults.
Voices. Bravo, Hovstad! Bravo! Bravo!
Dr. Stockmann. The kind of common people I mean are not only to
be found low down in the social scale; they crawl and swarm all
around us--even in the highest social positions. You have only to
look at your own fine, distinguished Mayor! My brother Peter is
every bit as plebeian as anyone that walks in two shoes--
(laughter and hisses)
Peter Stockmann. I protest against personal allusions of this
Dr. Stockmann (imperturbably).--and that, not because he is like
myself, descended from some old rascal of a pirate from Pomerania
or thereabouts--because that is who we are descended from--
Peter Stockmann. An absurd legend. I deny it!
Dr. Stockmann. --but because he thinks what his superiors think,
and holds the same opinions as they, People who do that are,
intellectually speaking, common people; and, that is why my
magnificent brother Peter is in reality so very far from any
distinction--and consequently also so far from being liberal-
Peter Stockmann. Mr. Chairman--!
Hovstad. So it is only the distinguished men that are liberal-
minded in this country? We are learning something quite new!
Dr. Stockmann. Yes, that is part of my new discovery too. And
another part of it is that broad-mindedness is almost precisely
the same thing as morality. That is why I maintain that it is
absolutely inexcusable in the "People's Messenger" to proclaim,
day in and day out, the false doctrine that it is the masses, the
crowd, the compact majority, that have the monopoly of broad-
mindedness and morality--and that vice and corruption and every
kind of intellectual depravity are the result of culture, just as
all the filth that is draining into our Baths is the result of
the tanneries up at Molledal! (Uproar and interruptions. DR.
STOCKMANN is undisturbed, and goes on, carried away by his
ardour, with a smile.) And yet this same "People's Messenger" can
go on preaching that the masses ought to be elevated to higher
conditions of life! But, bless my soul, if the "Messenger's"
teaching is to be depended upon, this very raising up the masses
would mean nothing more or less than setting them straightway
upon the paths of depravity! Happily the theory that culture
demoralises is only an old falsehood that our forefathers
believed in and we have inherited. No, it is ignorance, poverty,
ugly conditions of life, that do the devil's work! In a house
which does not get aired and swept every day--my wife Katherine
maintains that the floor ought to be scrubbed as well, but that
is a debatable question--in such a house, let me tell you, people
will lose within two or three years the power of thinking or
acting in a moral manner. Lack of oxygen weakens the conscience.
And there must be a plentiful lack of oxygen in very many houses
in this town, I should think, judging from the fact that the
whole compact majority can be unconscientious enough to wish to
build the town's prosperity on a quagmire of falsehood and
Aslaksen. We cannot allow such a grave accusation to be flung at
a citizen community.
A Citizen. I move that the Chairman direct the speaker to sit
Voices (angrily). Hear, hear! Quite right! Make him sit down!
Dr. Stockmann (losing his self-control). Then I will go and shout
the truth at every street corner! I will write it in other towns'
newspapers! The whole country shall know what is going on here!
Hovstad. It almost seems as if Dr. Stockmann's intention were to
ruin the town.
Dr. Stockmann. Yes, my native town is so dear to me that I would
rather ruin it than see it flourishing upon a lie.
Aslaksen. This is really serious. (Uproar and cat-calls MRS.
STOCKMANN coughs, but to no purpose; her husband does not listen
to her any longer.)
Hovstad (shouting above the din). A man must be a public enemy to
wish to ruin a whole community!
Dr. Stockmann (with growing fervor). What does the destruction
of a community matter, if it lives on lies? It ought to be razed
to the ground. I tell you-- All who live by lies ought to be
exterminated like vermin! You will end by infecting the whole
country; you will bring about such a state of things that the
wholecountry will deserve to be ruined. And if things come to
pass, I shall say from the bottom of my heart: Let the whole
country perish, let all these people be exterminated!
Voices from the crowd. That is talking like an out-and-out enemy
of the people!
Billing. There sounded the voice of the people, by all that's
The whole crowd. (shouting). Yes, yes! He is an enemy of the
people! He hates his country! He hates his own people!
Aslaksen. Both as a citizen and as an individual, I am profoundly
disturbed by what we have had to listen to. Dr. Stockmann has
shown himself in a light I should never have dreamed of. I am
unhappily obliged to subscribe to the opinion which I have just
heard my estimable fellow-citizens utter; and I propose that we
should give expression to that opinion in a resolution. I propose
a resolution as follows: "This meeting declares that it considers
Dr. Thomas Stockmann, Medical Officer of the Baths, to be an
enemy of the people." (A storm of cheers and applause. A number
of men surround the DOCTOR and hiss him. MRS. STOCKMANN and PETRA
have got up from their seats. MORTEN and EJLIF are fighting the
other schoolboys for hissing; some of their elders separate
Dr. Stockmann (to the men who are hissing him). Oh, you fools! I
tell you that--
Aslaksen (ringing his bell). We cannot hear you now, Doctor. A
formal vote is about to be taken; but, out of regard for personal
feelings, it shall be by ballot and not verbal. Have you any
clean paper, Mr. Billing?
Billing. I have both blue and white here.
Aslaksen (going to him). That will do nicely; we shall get on
more quickly that way. Cut it up into small strips--yes, that's
it. (To the meeting.) Blue means no; white means yes. I will come
round myself and collect votes. (PETER STOCKMANN leaves the hall.
ASLAKSEN and one or two others go round the room with the slips
of paper in their hats.)
Previous - An Enemy of the People - Next