GERM 260 Chapter Notes -Proletarian Revolution, Tyrant, Epicureanism

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Writing the Truth
Five Difficulties
Bertolt Brecht
1935
Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at
least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the
keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the
judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the cunning to spread the truth among
such persons. These are formidable problems for writers living under Fascism, but they exist also for
those writers who have fled or been exiled; they exist even for writers working in countries where civil
liberty prevails.
1 The Courage to Write the Truth
It seems obvious that whoever writes should write the truth in the sense that he ought not to suppress
or conceal truth or write something deliberately untrue. He ought not to cringe before the powerful,
nor betray the weak. It is, of course, very hard not to cringe before the powerful, and it is highly
advantageous to betray the weak. To displease the possessors means to become one of the dispossessed.
To renounce payment for work may be the equivalent of giving up the work, and to decline fame when it
is offered by the mighty may mean to decline it forever. This takes courage.
Times of extreme oppression are usually times when there is much talk about high and lofty matters.
At such times it takes courage to write of low and ignoble matters such as food and shelter for workers;
it takes courage when everyone else is ranting about the vital importance of sacrifice. When all sorts
of honors are showered upon the peasants it takes courage to speak of machines and good stock feeds
which would lighten their honorable labor. When every radio station is blaring that a man without
knowledge or education is better than one who has studied, it takes courage to ask: better for whom?
When all the talk is of perfect and imperfect races, it takes courage to ask whether it not hunger and
ignorance and war that produce deformities.
And it also takes courage to tell the truth about oneself, about one’s own defeat. Many of the perse-
cuted lose their capacity for seeing their own mistakes. It seems to them that the persecution itself is
the greatest injustice. The persecutors are wicked simply because they persecute; the persecuted suffer
because of their goodness. But this goodness has been beaten, defeated, suppressed; it was therefore a
weak goodness, a bad, indefensible, unreliable goodness. For it will not do to grant that goodness must
be weak as rain must be wet. It takes courage to say that the good were defeated not because they were
good, but because they were weak.
Naturally, in the struggle with falsehood we must write the truth, and this truth must not be a lofty
and ambiguous generality. When it is said of someone, “He spoke the truth,” this implies that some
people or many people or least one person said something unlike the truth—a lie or a generality—but he
spoke the truth, he said something practical, factual, undeniable, something to the point.
It takes little courage to mutter a general complaint, in a part of the world where complaining is still
permitted, about the wickedness of the world and the triumph of barbarism, or to cry boldly that the
victory of the human spirit is assured. There are many who pretend that cannons are aimed at them
when in reality they are the target merely of opera glasses. They shout their generalized demands to a
world of friends and harmless persons. They insist upon a generalized justice for which they have never
done anything; they ask for generalized freedom and demand a share of the booty which they have long
since enjoyed. They think that truth is only what sounds nice. If truth should prove to be something
statistical, dry, or factual, something difficult to find and requiring study, they do not recognize it as
BERTOLT BRECHT 1Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties
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truth; it does not intoxicate them. They possess only the external demeanor of truth-tellers. The trouble
with them is: they do not know the truth.
2 The Keenness to Recognize the Truth
Since it is hard to write the truth because truth is everywhere suppressed, it seems to most people to
be a question of character whether the truth is written or not written. They believe that courage alone
suffices. They forget the second obstacle: the difficulty of finding the truth. It is impossible to assert
that the truth is easily ascertained.
First of all we strike trouble in determining what truth is worth the telling. For example, before the
eyes of the whole world one great civilized nation after the other falls into barbarism. Moreover, everyone
knows that the domestic war which is being waged by the most ghastly methods can at any moment be
converted into a foreign war which may well leave our continent a heap of ruins. This, undoubtedly, is
one truth, but there are others. Thus, for example, it is not untrue that chairs have seats and that rain
falls downward. Many poets write truths of this sort. They are like a painter adorning the walls of a
sinking ship with a still life. Our first difficulty does not trouble them and their consciences are clear.
Those in power cannot corrupt them, but neither are they disturbed by the cries of the oppressed; they
go on painting. The senselessness of their behavior engenders in them a “profound” pessimism which
they sell at good prices; yet such pessimism would be more fitting in one who observes these masters
and their sales. At the same time it is not easy to realize that their truths are truths about chairs or
rain; they usually sound like truths about important things. But on closer examination it is possible to
see that they say merely: a chair is a chair; and: no one can prevent the rain from falling down.
They do not discover the truths that are worth writing about. On the other hand, there are some who
deal only with the most urgent tasks, who embrace poverty and do not fear rulers, and who nevertheless
cannot find the truth. These lack knowledge. They are full of ancient superstitions, with notorious
prejudices that in bygone days were often put into beautiful words. The world is too complicated for
them; they do not know the facts; they do not perceive relationships. In addition to temperament,
knowledge, which can be acquired, and methods, which can be learned, are needed. What is necessary
for all writers in this age of perplexity and lightening change is a knowledge of the materialistic dialectic
of economy and history. This knowledge can be acquired from books and from practical instruction, if
the necessary diligence is applied. Many truths can be discovered in simpler fashion, or at least portions
of truths, or facts that lead to the discovery of truths. Method is good in all inquiry, but it is possible
to make discoveries without using any method—indeed, even without inquiry. But by such a casual
procedure one does not come to the kind of presentation of truth which will enable men to act on the
basis of that presentations. People who merely record little facts are not able to arrange the things of
the world so that they can be easily controlled. Yet truth has this function alone and no other. Such
people cannot cope with the requirement that they write the truth.
If a person is ready to write the truth and able to recognize it, there remain three more difficulties.
3 The Skill to Manipulate the Truth as a Weapon
The truth must be spoken with a view to the results it will produce in the sphere of action. As a specimen
of a truth from which no results, or the wrong ones, follow, we can cite the widespread view that bad
conditions prevail in a number of countries as a result of barbarism. In this view, Fascism is a wave of
barbarism which has descended upon some countries with the elemental force of a natural phenomenon.
According to this view, Fascism is a new, third power beside (and above) capitalism and socialism;
not only the socialist movement but capitalism as well might have survived without the intervention of
Fascism. And so on. This is, of course, a Fascist claim; to accede to it is a capitulation to Fascism.
Fascism is a historic phase of capitalism; in this sense it is something new and at the same time old.
In Fascist countries capitalism continues to exist, but only in the form of Fascism; and Fascism can be
combated as capitalism alone, as the nakedest, most shameless, most oppressive, and most treacherous
form of capitalism.
But how can anyone tell the truth about Fascism, unless he is willing to speak out against capitalism,
which brings it forth? What will be the practical results of such truth?
BERTOLT BRECHT 2Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties
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Document Summary

Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least ve dif culties. These are formidable problems for writers living under fascism, but they exist also for those writers who have ed or been exiled; they exist even for writers working in countries where civil liberty prevails. It seems obvious that whoever writes should write the truth in the sense that he ought not to suppress or conceal truth or write something deliberately untrue. He ought not to cringe before the powerful, nor betray the weak. It is, of course, very hard not to cringe before the powerful, and it is highly advantageous to betray the weak. To displease the possessors means to become one of the dispossessed. To renounce payment for work may be the equivalent of giving up the work, and to decline fame when it is offered by the mighty may mean to decline it forever.

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