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People have often been known to find comfort in numbers and to therefore enter into social contracts with others living around them. People feel safer in groups and so they choose to give up certain rights and privileges for protection from their peers. This inevitably leads to domination of man over man. People choose leaders to make their decisions for them, or they do as the majority says. It is very rare for people to make rational decisions and carry to them to their full potential once they have entered into a social contract. The desire to follow the crowd which is created by this social setting is deplorable and is therefore the main object of critism in Henrick Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People.
The characters in this play all live together in a town ruled by what is known as the compact majority. This majority is led by a group of town officials who come up with plans and policies on which the people may vote. This system offers no chance for the freedom of individuals. Beginning with a speech discussing “. . . the colossal stupidity of the authorities,” Doctor Stockmann deconstructs this appalling social system. This speech criticizes the lack of intelligence the authorities have shown and the need for their destruction. If freedom is to exist for individuals, the first step must be to do away with worthless officials and authorities that force the people to make a choice from the narrow selection they provide. What is right in one situation may not hold true in another, but the authorities force all people to live under the same laws with the same punishments instead of allowing for diversity. However, Stockmann does not stop there. In fact, he says that the authorities are not the main problem, but that instead “The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom among us is the compact majority.” This majority follows its leaders blindly without ever giving thought to any alternative outside of the shielded path on which they are directed. “People that do that are . . . so very far from distinction.” These people have given up their won right to think and have doomed themselves to lives that can never meet the full potential of the human experience. Stockmann ends his speech with a proposal “. . . to raise a revolution against the lie that the majority has the monopoly of truth.” This lie that people are born into believing must be destroyed for the sake of the individual. If people continue only to do as they are told, and if people continue to tell their children to believe unquestioningly the truths others make for them, then individual rights and rational and creative thoughts will cease to exist. It is for these reasons that Stockmann makes his stand, that he proposes such a revolution. Only once Stockmann’s truths can be heard and analyzed can people begin to know what they were intended for.
The idea that the majority destroys itself is so obvious that it is often over-looked. People refuse to make their own decisions about anything and instead choose to follow what others believe or what others say is right. People lose rights they never knew they had when they do things like that. In An Enemy of the People, Stockmann is the first to realize that he has his own mind, and that people who do not know they have their own mind are not really living at all. He is the revolutionary who allows people to produce their own thoughts and ideas and to have their own opinions about what others say. He is the one that sets each individual person free from the horror of a blind and mindless community of mass thought.
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