An Enemy of the People
A Play in Five Acts
Large Print Edition
By Henrik Ibsen
BiblioBazaar (2007), 112 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - May 5, 2010
Henrik Ibsen wrote this play immediately after his play Ghosts was greeted by mass outcries (see my review of Ghosts). Rather than defend himself against charges of immorality, he pointed out that the multitude are wrong.
Dr. Stockmann, a stand-in for Ibsen's views, wants to do the right thing, the moral thing, to tell the truth to the people of his town, a truth that they do not want to hear. He is the medical advisor of the town's health baths, baths that brings wealth to the community. He discovers that the bath water is contaminated because the town officials, against his advice, set the pipes in a wrong place, and the water flowing through the area is causing bathers to become sick. The cost of repairing the pipes is enormous and it would take two years to fix them. The doctor is stopped from revealing the problem to his community by the Mayor, his older brother, who was interested in his health, but not in the health of others, who insisted that the doctor be silent because the community wants the money that the baths will bring, doesn't want to pay the large repair costs, and leaving the baths unused for two years would result in a large financial loss to the community.
The town newspaper and the home owners are behind the doctor until the Mayor explains the enormous loss to them. Then, as with Ibsen who described moral problems in Ghosts, the entire town turns against Dr. Stockmann and vilifies him, calling him a lunatic and an enemy of the people. He tries to explain that he is telling the truth, but the town people refuse to see it. The town argues that they are the majority and they determine what is right. This is reminiscent of the Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas, who is not mentioned in the play, who insisted on holding the community and the church above the individual.
Stockmann responds that in matters of right and wrong, the individual is superior to the will of the many. In a memorable line, he says, "A minority may be right; a majority is always wrong."
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.