Henrik Ibsen — Anti-Democrat and Individualist
by Jørn K. Baltzersen
by Jørn K. Baltzersen
Henrik Johan Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828. Today his plays are staged more than anyone else's in live theaters of the world, save Shakespeare.
Let's have a look at the writer's standing when it comes to democracy and individualism. Norwegian Professor of political science Fredrik Engelstad is one of those who have been looking at Ibsen's stand on democracy. Ibsen has a lot of wisdom to offer. I do not agree with everything, or necessarily with everything quoted in this essay. I certainly do not agree with Ibsen's sympathy with socialism or his concept of throwing out everything old. I do, however, see that there is a significant point in his criticism against established facts. There are so many so-called facts that are not necessarily true.
As a general rule deducting Ibsen's personal opinions from his dramas and poetry is not an easy task. Such deductions should be made with caution.
It is said that Ibsen through A Doll's House attacked marriage and stood up for women's cause. However, Ibsen at his 70th birthday denied any knowledge of women's cause. He knew only the human cause. A Doll's House might even be read as a caricature of feminist "history writing." Little Eyolf could in part be an attack in the other direction. The wife in this play cannot tolerate her husband having other passions than herself.
The Lady from the Sea ends with Ellida Wangel choosing responsibly in full freedom to stay with her husband. This is probably a statement for responsibility under freedom and for a society where people make their decisions in freedom.
We have for a long time witnessed how more and more is rendered unto Caesar. The fight between clergy and Caesar is one of the themes of Emperor and Galilean. I will not attempt to speculate where exactly Ibsen stood on the issue of religion in general and Christianity in particular as limit on Caesar's reach, but the issue seems central — along with several other issues — in this play. In Part One, Caesar's Apostasy, Prince Julian takes part in a trial game:
Prince Julian: Right; something Galilean. I've got it. I've refused to pay taxes to the Emperor —
Many voices: Ha-ha; not bad! Wonderful!
Prince Julian: Here I'm brought forward; by the neck; with tied hands —
Sallust of Perusia (to Gregory): Blind judge — yes I mean, as justice is blind —, see this daring man; he has denied paying the Emperor tax.
Prince Julian: Allow me to throw in a word on the weight of consideration. I am a Greek citizen. How much is a Greek citizen indebted to the Emperor?
Gregory Nazianzus: Everything.
Prince Julian: That was really answered as if the Emperor himself were present. But there is a knot; for it is written: render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's — and unto God the things that are God's.
Gregory Nazianzus: And so what?
Prince Julian: Then tell me, oh wise judge, — how much of mine belongs to God?
Gregory Nazianzus: Everything.
Prince Julian: And how much of God's property am I allowed to give the Emperor?
Prince Julian later becomes titular Caesar and then Emperor. Upon his ascension he denounces Christianity and reverts to Hellenic paganism. He admits in Part Two, The Emperor Julian, to wanting to be almighty:
Life and blood is not enough. He who is to rule must be able to rule over the wills, over people's minds. It is in this this Jesus of Nazareth stands against me and opposes my power.
In The Feast at Solhaug, a drama taking place in the fourteenth century we are reminded of how feeble the State was at that time compared to what we are facing now in the words of Knut Gjæsling:
Oh, the King's Law! You know as well as I that the King's Law is not regarded much here in the countryside. Were the King's Law to reign, many a well-built man amongst us would have to pay for bride robbery and murder.
In a poem Ibsen refers to a man by the name of Egil. Egil went on a raid to claim the Norwegian King's tax from an earl. In the last verse he addresses the freedom borne, popularly elected:
Egil's task is yours
That poem was actually dated May 17, which is our Constitution Day, in 1860.
A statement by the schoolmaster in Brand could very well be a sarcastic nut shell statement about the nature of politics [rhyme lost in my translation]:
What is done is no one's business;
that it is done, — see, that's the thing; —
The dean in Brand makes a statement about freedom and equality [rhyme lost in my translation]:
See, the State is what you hardly know,
exactly half republican;
it hates freedom like a plague
but adores equality extremely well;
yet equality is not won before
every inequality is smoothed out, —
The play Catiline treats the theme of the fall of liberty in the Roman Republic, a theme relevant also in our age. The main character, Cataline, tells us [rhyme lost in my translation]:
In Rome you think justice will be found?
Turn around! Go home! Here rules tyranny
and injustice far more than ever.
A republic in name, I guess it is;
and yet, each citizen is a bound slave,
indebted, and dependent like a serf
of a Senate — beholden to goodwill and gift.
Gone is the old spirit of society,
the free-mindedness Rome before held; —
life and security is from the Senate's hand
a mercy that one must outweigh with gold.
Here power talk rules, not justice,
the noble is by might overshadowed —
Ibsen did on several occasions express his view on the form of government in personal letters. In a letter to fellow writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson from Rome on December 28, 1867 he wrote:
We belong in a monarchy and not in a republic; I for one do not like the republic. […] The royal office gives us a sign of honor, because it respects a popular mood, which it recognizes the existence of.
Ibsen had little regard of what at the time was called the liberal side of politics, and remember that Ibsen had no knowledge of the modern American term liberal. In a letter to his brother-in-law from Dresden on September 27, 1872 he makes it clear that future Nobel literature laureate and future father-in-law of his son Sigurd Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, also active in politics, and another liberal politician, Søren Jaabæk, belong in jail. He does this while at the same time showing little faith in the conservatives:
I often think of what we can expect of our new King [Oscar II]. A firm and fearless man in his position could accomplish a lot; but that he has these characteristics is perhaps dubious; so much is, however, certain, if he is to accomplish good, it will be not be with the help of the current royal advisors. People who allow Jaabæk and Bjørnson to run around freely, are themselves qualified for the dungeon.
In a letter to his Danish friend Georg Brandes Ibsen wrote from Dresden on April 4, 1872:
I stated once to you my contempt for political freedom. […] Dear friend, the liberals are freedom's worst enemies. Under absolutism spiritual freedom and freedom of thought thrive best, as was demonstrated in France, later in Germany and now in Russia.
In an earlier letter to Brandes from Dresden, dated February 17, 1871, Ibsen gives his thoughts on Prussia, and he even moves to abolish the State altogether:
Yes, presumably it could be a good to have freedom of choice, freedom to tax, etc.; but for whom is it a good? For the citizen, not for the individual. On the contrary. The State is the curse of the individual. With what is Prussia's state strength bought? With the individuals' dissolution in the political and geographical concept. […] The State must go! Such a revolution I can join. Undermine the state concept, set up the voluntary and the spiritually related as the only deciding factor for an association, that's the beginning of a freedom that's worth something. Change of forms of government is nothing but playing with degrees, a little more or a little less, bad all of it.
I will not here discuss how Ibsen at one moment could recommend jailing the opposition and at another moment promote abolishing the State altogether. Suffice it to say that it is probably part of what made him a great dramatist.
The primary anti-democrat contribution of Ibsen is arguably An Enemy of the People. As said before, caution should be taken when searching for Ibsen's own views in the plays. However, when it comes to this particular drama, the evidence is quite clear. The letter accompanying the last act to Ibsen's publisher, Frederik Hegel, dated September 9, 1882, leaves little doubt:
Doctor Stockmann and I came so wonderfully out of it with one another; we agree to such an extent;
Other statements confirm agreement between Doctor Stockmann and Ibsen. Moreover, Ibsen was born in the Stockmann building/estate in Skien. He was through his mother related to a real Stockmann family. According to historian Halvdan Koht, Ibsen probably did not know of this relation. Note also that the word stokk translates into cane, and that the word is used to describe someone stubborn or uncompromising, often derogatory, for instance in the construction stokkonservativ [based on the word for conservative].
In An Enemy of the People a conversation between Billing, an employee at the local paper, and Horster, a ship captain, takes place. Note the similarity between the name Billing and the word billig, which translates into cheap:
Billing: But then you cannot take part in the new election.
Horster: Is there to be a new election here?
Billing: Do you not know that?
Horster: No, I do not poke my nose in that business.
Billing: But you do care about public issues?
Horster: No, I do not understand such.
Billing: Yet, one must take part in the voting at least.
Horster: Also those who do not understand it?
Billing: Understand? Yes, what do you mean? Society is like a ship, everyone must take part in being at the helm.
Horster: Perhaps that's fine on land; but on board it would not work well.
At first it seems the popular majority and the leaders of society are separate. At that point Dr. Stockmann has no problem getting support. The local paper will print his report on the troublesome sanitary conditions of the local public bath. Editor Hovstad exclaims:
The fable of the infallibility of the ruling must be shaken.
A little later Dr. Stockmann tells his brother:
Yes, but isn't it a citizen's duty to report to the public when he has caught a new idea!
To which Peter Stockmann responds:
Oh, the public certainly does not need any new ideas. The public is best served by the old, good, recognized ideas it already has.
Later Peter Stockmann calls his brother an enemy of society. The local paper will not print Dr. Stockmann's report. So he has to give a lecture on the issue. No one will give him the disposal of facilities for such a lecture but ship captain Horster. When it seems that authority is not based on popular majority, Dr. Stockmann has no problem getting support, but when the majority and authority stand together, there is no haven. This echoes real life even in our time, as Ryan McMaken notes:
In a society where there is a non-democratic element poised against the democratic element, there is always some place for the dissident, the heretic, or the revolutionary to find protection from either the democratic mass or from the non-democratic authorities. Yet in America — the claims of the Constitution notwithstanding — every branch of the government, as well as even non-government organs of opinion and criticism, are all ultimately and directly beholden to the powers of public opinion.
In spite of the fact that Dr. Stockmann has invited people to listen to his lecture the mob takes control of the meeting by appointing publisher Aslaksen as chairman of the meeting. They try stopping him from talking about the sanitary problems. Dr. Stockmann gives in, but only to talk about something else:
I am of the mere opinion that I came under hard weather with the grave immorality the leading men had made themselves guilty of down at the bath. Leading men I cannot stand for my death; — I have had enough of such in my days. They are like billy goats in a young tree plant field; they make trouble everywhere; they stand in the way of a free man wherever he may twin and turn — and I prefer to have them exterminated like other vermin —
After a protest and some noise Dr. Stockmann continues:
Well, my fellow citizens; I shall not speak more of our leading men. If anyone, of what I have just said, should imagine that I am after their [leading men's] guts, then he is mistaken, — very mistaken indeed. For I have the healing comfort that the parasites, all these old people of a dying school of thought, they cause so excellently their own passing; there is no need for a doctor to hasten their departure. Nor is it people of that kind that is the most pressing danger; it is not they who are the most active in poisoning our immaterial sources of life and in infecting the ground under us; it is not they who are the most dangerous enemies of truth and freedom in our society.
Upon the question from the masses on who it is Dr. Stockmann responds:
Yes, you can be sure that I will name them! Because that is exactly the great discovery I made yesterday. The most dangerous enemy of truth of freedom amongst us is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact, liberal majority, — that's it! Now you know.
The masses utter noise. Upon request from publisher Aslaksen to withdraw the claim Dr. Stockmann responds:
Never, Mr. Aslaksen. It is the great majority in our society [community] that robs me of my freedom, and that wants to forbid my telling the truth.
Editor Hovstad responds:
The majority has always got right on its side.
Billing, who wanted also every ignorant living soul to vote, adds:
And truth too, by God!
Dr. Stockmann continues:
The majority never has truth on its side, I say! This is one of these societal lies that a free, thinking man must revolt against. Who constitutes the majority of the inhabitants in a country? Is it the wise, or the stupid? I think we should agree that the stupid are in an extremely overwhelming majority all around the whole wide world. But it cannot be, damn it, that the stupid shall rule over the wise!
After some noise Dr. Stockmann continues:
Well, well; you can shout me down; but you cannot reply. The majority has might on its side — sadly —; but it is not in the right. I and the other few individuals are in the right. The minority is always in the right.
Editor Hovstad responds:
Haha; Dr. Stockmann, we see, has turned aristocrat since the day before yesterday!
Ibsen considered himself an aristocrat and not a democrat. His father was a patrician of Skien before his bankruptcy. So one could say Henrik Ibsen was a degraded aristocrat. He wrote about the aristocratic rebel Cataline of Rome, but not about the slave rebel Spartacus. Ibsen feared revolting in real life, but he gladly made rebels out of his characters. In a sense Ibsen was an aristocratic rebel with a top hat.
The meeting votes on whether Dr. Stockmann is an enemy of the people, and the ayes have it.
Back at his residence, where the mob has thrown stones at the windows, Dr. Stockmann utters words of truth about parties, and parties are in Ibsen's vocabulary not limited to political parties:
A party is like a meat grinder; it grinds all the heads so they are mixed in a mush; and so they turn into mush heads and meatheads, all of them!
Dr. Stockmann gets fired as doctor for the local bath. There is a campaign for people not to use him as a personal doctor. Horster gets fired for letting Dr. Stockmann use his facilities. No one dares to have anything to do with the popular enemy, not even the "independent" and wealthy employer of ship captain Horster. Dr. Stockmann's daughter, Petra, gets fired as a school teacher. Dr. Stockmann's sons are sent home from school for a few days. Dr. Stockmann takes them out of school.
At first Dr. Stockmann's plan is to leave the country, but in the end he chooses to stay and fight. His plan involves running a school. Here we are reminded of Ibsen's critique of what is taught in Norwegian schools. The new school is to educate a future generation of free minds. In our time Dr. Stockmann's school perhaps finds its equivalent in home schooling. The excellent education of Sigurd Ibsen also goes to show that Henrik Ibsen was serious about education.
It is commonly held that An Enemy of the People was a reply to the criticism of Ghosts. However, according to historian Halvdan Koht, Ibsen had already been working on the piece about Dr. Stockmann when he sent Ghosts to his publisher.
On New Year's Eve 1880 Ibsen was in a quarrel about a policy, and he is reported to have said:
Is this not what I have always said, that you republicans are the most tyrannical of all? You don't respect individual liberty. The republic is that form of government where individual liberty to the least extent comes to its right.
Upon a reply that the majority supported the policy Ibsen went even more furious:
The majority? What is the majority? The ignorant mass. Intelligence is always in the minority. How many do you think are entitled to an opinion of those who are in the majority? Most of them are blockheads.
In a letter dated January 3, 1882 Ibsen wrote to his friend Brandes from Rome:
And what shall one say of the conditions of the so-called liberal press? These leaders who speak and write of freedom and free-mindedness and who at the same time make themselves serfs of the presumed opinions of their subscribers! I more and more get confirmation that there is something demoralizing in engaging in politics and joining parties. Under no circumstances will I ever join a party that aims for the majority. Bjørnson says: the majority is always right. And as a practical politician I guess he has to say so. I, however, must necessarily say: the minority is always right. Of course, I am not thinking of the minority of men of stagnation, who are lagging behind in the big center party, which amongst us is called liberals; but I am thinking of that minority, which is ahead, where the majority has not yet reached. I mean, he is in the right who is most in line with the future.
Later in the same letter Ibsen wrote:
To me freedom is the highest and first condition of life. At home one worries not about freedom, but only about freedoms, some more or some less, all according to party line. I also feel very embarrassed about this unfinished narrow-mindedness in our public dispute. Under its praiseworthy efforts in making our people a democratic society one has come without intent far on the path towards making us into a plebeian society.
From Rome Ibsen again wrote to Brandes in a letter dated June 12, 1883:
You are of course right when you are saying that we all must work for the spread of our opinions. But I still hold that a spiritual pioneer never can assemble a majority with him. In ten years perhaps the majority is where Dr. Stockmann stood under the popular gathering. But during these ten years the doctor has not been standing still; he still stands at least ten years ahead of the majority; the majority, the mass, the lot never catches up with him; he can never have the majority with him.
Later in life Ibsen denied any responsible for "all the crap" that Dr. Stockmann comes up with. One wonders what the reason for this was. Was he afraid of publicly endorsing a rebel? Had he really moved on from "old truths that were no longer truths?" Or could he just not stand having accepted opinions?
An Enemy of the People is a masterpiece conceived in the heat of battle of democratic transition in Europe. It was published in 1882. There were parliamentary elections in Norway that year. It is one of the most important election years in Norwegian history — if not the most important. The liberals' plan was to pack the impeachment tribunal. I wrote an article about this about a year ago. The upcoming impeachment trial was a major cause of our first parliamentary government at the end of June in 1884. So 1882 was an important year in our democratic transition. An Enemy of the People could as much be seen as a commentary to this transition as a response to critique of Ghosts. That the losing side in the transition struggle basically was in the right in its critique of democracy makes the piece also highly relevant today.
Ibsen knew Alfred Meissner, whose father had been doctor at the public bath in Teplitz in Bohemia in 1830. This doctor had warned against use of the bath because of unsatisfactory sanitary conditions. Their house had been stoned, just as Dr. Stockmann's house is stoned. Ibsen also knew of pharmacist Harald Thaulow in Christiania, who had been brought to silence when trying to give warning of poor hygiene. Also, Ibsen was appalled by the stoning of a Hagbard Berner's residence in connection with the issue of "the pure Norwegian flag."
A question that is worth asking is whether the election and the upcoming impeachment trial had any influence on An Enemy of the People. The liberals were packing a tribunal for a specific trial. Their main purpose with the parliamentary elections was to pack the tribunal. Has this inspired Ibsen in constructing the popular vote on whether Dr. Stockmann is an enemy of the people? The Norwegian impeachment trial of 1883 and 1884 was conceptually similar to the trial at Westminster Hall of Charles I. King Charles was labeled "public enemy."
A caricature was published in 1882 suggesting that Ibsen was having a go at both sides of politics with An Enemy of the People.
Ibsen hated those who could not stand for anything on their own. There is little doubt that he most of all hated those who referred to the majority for what was right or wrong. The habit of the press to see how the wind of the subscribers blows was subject to his hatred as well. Both the popular majority and the undaring press are portrayed in An Enemy of the People.
Last year a movie based on Ibsen's An Enemy of the People was released. The movie deviated in several respects from Ibsen's play. One difference is that in the movie Tomas Stockmann is abandoned by everyone, even his family, who in the play, together with Horster, sticks with Tomas Stockmann. This can perhaps serve as an illustration of how far collectivism has come since the 1880's.
As has been mentioned before, Ibsen's fellow writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was active in politics. He was standing with the Liberal Party. On one occasion he wanted Ibsen with him on the issue of removing the union symbol from the flag. The union symbol was known as the "herring salad," and what Bjørnson wanted was known as "the pure Norwegian flag." Ibsen responded in a letter from Amalfi on July 12, 1879:
Now the union mark has become fact, and then it should stay. The union idea cannot be removed from the minds; what satisfaction can then be achieved by removing the mark from the flag? That this mark is a sign of dependence I can absolutely not understand. The Swedes have the same mark. This shows that we are not more dependent of them than they of us. I have otherwise no great sympathy for symbols. Symbols are no longer in the time except in Norway. Up there one is so busy with symbols, theories, and ideas that practical progress does not get under way. And there is something nervous about keeping the minds busy with unproductive tasks.
Later in the same letter:
It is quite insignificant if our politicians acquire a few more freedoms for society as long as they do not acquire freedom for individuals. It is said that Norway is a free and independent realm; but I do not appreciate this freedom and independence as long as the individuals are neither free nor independent.
I have not been able to find any similar statements about the impeachment trial proceedings, but considering that the proceedings took place in the years 1883 and 1884, and that the verdict was announced on February 27, 1884, one could wonder what parliament negotiations Ibsen was referring to when he wrote to Bjørnson on March 23, 1884 from Rome:
I do not comprehend why our men of the Liberal Party are called liberals. When I read the parliament negotiations, it occurs to me that it is not possible to trace a bit more of real free-mindedness than what is found in the ultra monotonous peasant population in Tyrol.
On the other hand, according to historian Francis Bull, Ibsen did respect those who brought the impeachment process forward.
The League of the Youth was published in 1869. This comedy and satire was, according to historian Halvdan Koht, born out of the threat of "photographing" society. The liberals were made the laughing stock, although the conservatives were not left entirely off the hook either. The liberals' strong tendencies of courting popular sentiments and waiting to see how the wind blows were attacked by the satire. Stensgaard is a character who at the same time lies to himself and the masses. There can also be found references to moves made cleverly and legally to improve one's chance of getting elected. A modern American real life example of this would be the Clintons' move to New York so Hillary Clinton could be elected United States Senator. The theme of The League of Youth is at least as relevant today as it was then. Publisher Aslaksen from The League of Youth reappears in An Enemy of the People. He thus provides a link between these two anti-democratic and anti-political works, but the use of references specific to time and country does not make it as timeless and placeless as An Enemy of the People.
When The League of Youth was first staged in Christiania, in 1870, it was embraced with joy by the conservatives. The first night there was some booing. The second night there was booing in concert. The third night a fight broke out between the booers and the applauders. When Ibsen heard about this on his trip in Egypt, he replied:
At home it is as it was.
Ibsen visited Norway in 1885, and of his travel he wrote to Brandes in a letter from Munich dated November 11, 1886:
The impressions, experiences, and observations from last year's summer trip were for a long time disturbing for me. […] Never have I felt more foreign to my fellow Norwegians' Thun und Treiben than after the lessons the last year has given me. Never more appalled. Never more unpleasantly affected. But I am nevertheless not abandoning the hope that all this temporariness once could clear into a real cultural content in a real cultural form […] It was an unhappy moment for the cause of progress when Johan Sverdrup [our first parliamentary prime minister] came to "power", — and was gagged and cuffed.
About two years later he again wrote to Brandes from Munich [October 30, 1888]:
By the way, to me the political development up there has certainly not been a disappointment. What has happened is nothing else than what I was prepared for. I knew beforehand that like this and not otherwise it had to go as a necessity of nature. But the leaders of our Liberal Party lack totally world experience, and, thus, they had devoted themselves to the most unreasonable illusions. They wandered about imagining that an oppositional leader [Sverdrup] would and could stay the same after he had risen to power.
During the said trip to Norway in 1885 Ibsen held a speech on June 14. This speech gives ambiguity to whether Ibsen actually did not expect progress from the political changes:
But the visit at home has also given me disappointments. I have experienced that the most indispensable individual rights not yet are as safe as I had hoped for under the new constitutional order.
Thus, there is yet much to do before we can say we have reached real freedom. But our present democracy will hardly manage to accomplish those tasks. There must be added an element of nobility to our political life, to our government, to our representation, and to our press. I am of course not thinking of nobility of birth, nor of nobility of money, not of nobility of knowledge, not even of nobility of ability or of giftedness. But I am thinking of nobility of character, of mind, and of the will.
This nobility alone can liberate us.
This nobility, which I hope our people can be equipped with, will come from two sides. It will come from two groups that have not yet taken irreparable harm under party pressure. It will come to us with our women and with our workers.
The change of society that is now taking place out there in Europe is basically concerning the future position of workers and women.
Ibsen has a very good point when it comes to the harmful effects of the political system by lighting a light of hope for the nobility of those who at the time did not yet have the right to vote. However, the tendency towards mass character that has marked these groups and the way history turned when these groups got their political influence can make one wonder whether there ever was a noble potential.
Ibsen touches on the ennoblement in Rosmersholm, published in 1886. Rosmer turns democrat, and he wants to ennoble every single person. Later on Rosmer is convinced by proponents of old thought that this ennoblement project will not succeed.
The Wild Duck is absolutely relevant in our own time in the sense that it has been claimed to question the concept of forcing people to be free.
This year has been declared in Norway as an Ibsen year. One of the major goals — if not the major goal — of the "Ibsen year" is to make known to the world that Ibsen was Norwegian. It seems they want to have Ibsen as some national icon. Norwegians know that Ibsen was a Norwegian. Well-educated foreigners know that Ibsen was Norwegian. A lot of foreigners, while appreciating Ibsen, either do not know or care that Ibsen was Norwegian. Nevertheless, Ibsen was primarily a great writer. That he was Norwegian is a secondary concern. Moreover, Ibsen largely did not consider himself spiritually a Norwegian. Any attempt to claim him as a national icon is probably an insult, which will result in the late writer revolving in his grave.
Among the two writers Ibsen, internationally renowned, and Bjørnson, Nobel literature laureate, but not so internationally renowned, Bjørnson was the nationalist. He was active in anti-Swedish and anti-union activities. It is perhaps natural that he is the author of the lyrics of our national anthem, and that Ibsen's song of May 17 is not our national anthem.
Ibsen lived to a large extent on the European continent. He is known to have said that he did not want his son to grow up in Norway. He did not believe it was possible to think freely in Norway. He was to a great extent opposed to what was going on in Norway. He believed conditions were worse in Norway than elsewhere. He wrote to Olaf Skavland from Rome on January 24, 1882:
Is it only in the political field liberation work is to be allowed amongst us? Is it not foremost and above all the spirits that need liberation? Such serf souls as we cannot even use the freedoms we already have. Norway is a free country inhabited by unfree people.
To Brandes he wrote from Munich in a letter dated October 30, 1888:
In Norway it would be outright impossible for me to settle down seriously. No other place would I feel more homeless than up there. For a somewhat spiritually developed person nowadays the concept of homeland does not do.
Yet, we have people who want Ibsen as a national icon.
I owe to Bjørnson to tell the readers that Bjørnson also spent a few years abroad, and that he uttered words about the vices of his fellow countrymen. However, I believe it still is fair to say that Bjørnson was the nationalist, whilst Ibsen was a citizen of the world. Ibsen returned to Norway in 1891. He had problems getting adjusted to living at home, and it was after his permanent return to Norway he wrote a poem about his love for his Norwegian homeland which translates into [rhyme lost in my translation]:
As far as my writing sets minds on fire,
so far goes the limit to my homeland.
Let us today, on May 23, the centenary of the passing of Dr. Henrik Johan Ibsen, instead pay tribute to the contributions of Ibsen to the cause of freedom and to his great literary contributions.
Let us also remember the last words of The Pillars of Society, where the consul conceals his own personal interests as the interests of society, uttered by Miss Hessel:
The spirit of truth and freedom is the pillars of society.
Thanks to H.J. Lysglimt for a review of this article.
May 23, 2006
Jørn K. Baltzersen [send him mail] is a senior consultant of information technology in Oslo, Norway.
Copyright © 2006 LewRockwell.com