In an article I am writing, I am using a quotation from the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, who wrote in what is effectively Danish:

"Ak ja, retten, retten; hvad hjælper det, at du har retten, når du ikke har nogen magt?" (Enemy of the People, Act II, 1882).

This translates roughly as "Oh yes, right, right. What is the use of having right on your side if you have not got might?"

However a Danish friend of mine says this quotation originates with Søren Kierkegaard. Ibsen certainly popularized some of Kierkegaard's ideas - and was criticized in his time for this, see: https://psyche.co/ideas/why-did-ibsen-put-philosophers-in-skirts-up-on-the-stage.

But this "retten" statement seems more about social commentary & politics rather than personal existentialism which was more Kierkegaard's forte. So I am inclined to believe it originates with Ibsen, but I would like to be sure.

I have failed to find any online association for Kierkegaard with this idea, but does anyone have a source for this statement, or an equivalent sentiment, in Kierkegaard's work, please? Or somewhere else?

(By the way, sadly for our world, the bitter perspective of Enemy of the People has not dated in the slightest...)

  • 1
    If this is an direct quote from Ibsen's book, you are right to use it as such. Ask your friend to back up his proof with evidence otherwise if nothing can be found online he is just wrong. And you don;t have to prove it. The person who says it originates to another guy has to prove it.
    – user66933
    Aug 1 at 9:00
  • Thank you @ApricotieHunt. Yes it's a direct quote from Ibsen's playscript. I've asked my friend but I'm not sure he can be bothered. So I came here to SE
    – Laska
    Aug 1 at 9:31

1 Answer 1


It seems highly unlikely that Søren Kierkegaard originated the statement “What is the use of having right on your side if you have not got might?”

While Ibsen was influenced by Kierkegaard and incorporated some of his existentialist ideas into his plays, this particular quote appears to be original to Ibsen. It expresses a pragmatic perspective on power and justice that aligns more closely with Ibsen's social criticism than with Kierkegaard's religious philosophy.

I searched Kierkegaard's published works and did not find any similar statements about right versus might. The quote is universally attributed to Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People, where Stockmann utters it in Act II during a dispute over public opinion.

Given the lack of evidence tying it to Kierkegaard and the unanimous attribution to Ibsen across scholarly sources, it seems very likely this was an original sentiment penned by Ibsen to capture Stockmann's disillusionment and the play's commentary on society. So you are justified in using it as an Ibsen quote in your writing. The perspective sadly remains relevant, as you note.

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    Yeah, not Kierkegaard's vibe at all..! Christian mystic that he was..
    – CriglCragl
    Aug 1 at 22:44
  • Thanks for taking the time to check this. Really appreciate
    – Laska
    Aug 2 at 0:17
  • The only nit is that I think it is Frau Stockmann who utters it - she is disillusioned
    – Laska
    Aug 2 at 0:44
  • Oh, I thought it's Thomas Stockmann
    – user66933
    Aug 2 at 5:25

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