An Enemy of the People

Ibsen’s 19th century play resonates in the 21st century

Tom Tordillo
2 min readApr 17, 2023

for Henrik Ibsen

Have I such fortitude that I might speak
And become the people’s enemy?
Would I crucify as crowds do, or pay the cost
Face opprobrium, censure, grief and loss?
Have I the will to look and see
Poisons flow from my own tannery?
Might change our course, or try my best
To take none, or fewer, fruits by hurting others less?
The people tolerate no progress here
Once woke is joked, frenzies appear
And harms that need one season’s cure
Fester, founder as scoundrels falsely reassure.
‘Twould be better if I spoke
Best strive to thrive, whilst stay awoke.

© 2023 by Tom Tordillo. All rights reserved.

Top photo: Photo by Kajetan Sumila on Unsplash. Bottom photo: Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash. Note that as memes go, including a text that says “X is NOT Y” has bizarre effects upon human cognition. Many people will actually read that to say that X actually is Y, even if the text means the opposite.

Volume 7 and Volume 8 of the Collected Works of Henrik Ibsen were published by Project Gutenberg in April 2023.

Ibsen ranks among the greatest playwrights of world literature, subtly critiquing older dramatic conceits. A play like “An Enemy of the People” is no comedy, tragedy, or history in Bill the Quill’s scheme.

Perhaps it involves Sophoclean ‘hubris,’ but what kind? Is it Dr. Stockmann, who warns the town that the Baths are contaminated, or is it the town itself, which violently rejects the doctor’s warning if it threatens their prosperity?

Do you imagine that in a free country it is no use having right on your side? … Besides, haven’t I got the liberal-minded, independent press to lead the way, and the compact majority behind me? That is might enough, I should think!

- from “An Enemy of the People”

Can anyone show me a single play by Shakespeare or Sophocles that builds its drama around a human experience as likely to recur as this presentation of Ibsen? Ibsen anticipated battles that recur again and again in every case of pollution and pandemic.

It’s become fashionable to claim that the term “Woke” emerged as a purely Black expression in the 20th century, specifically from Lead Belly’s song, “Scottsboro Boys” in 1938.

Before Lead Belly’s song, a “Wide Awake” movement that linked certain Abolitionists with other “federalists” who organized militantly against the repeated threats of secession by Southern leaders.

These days, the term “woke” is mostly derisive. Florida’s silly governor enacted laws to protect against “gender pronouns,” “racial justice,” and Disney movies with cool LGBTQ characters (“wokeness”).

Such efforts must have impeded preparations for historic flooding climate scientists spent more than a decade warning about, only to be mocked as “enemies” of the people.



Tom Tordillo

Necromancer unleashing zombie hordes from Project Gutenberg to work literary atrocities. Also father/lawyer/commentator/ironic.