An Enemy of the People

by Henrik Ibsen

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"The Minority Is Always In The Right"

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Last Updated on June 19, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 343

Context: Dr. Thomas Stockmann, medical officer of the municipal baths in a coastal town in southern Norway, tries to warn his fellow townsmen that the water supply of the baths is impure and that the baths themselves are built upon pestiferous ground. The officials of the town, including his brother Peter, the mayor and also the chairman of the bath committee, refuse to do anything about the matter; the local newspaper, The People's Messenger, sides against the doctor and truth; even the townspeople themselves, who do not wish the news to get abroad to sully the town's reputation, and who have no desire to pay higher tax rates to solve the sanitary problems, side against the doctor. Dr. Stockmann finally calls a public meeting at a private home, no public place being open to him, to deliver a lecture. His enemies come, but when he says he wants to speak about a matter other than the municipal baths, they agree to hear him. He tells them that the problems of the baths are not to be laid upon officialdom alone; he places the blame on the majority of the people of the town, saying they are unwilling to face the truth. When some of the audience protest this statement, he goes on to exclaim his bitterness over their behavior:

The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say. That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent man 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 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! . . . 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.

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