Do We Have Faith in Humankind?

— Stig Dagerman, 1950. His response to a magazine question posed to six authors.

IMG_20160101_113657875_HDRTo speak of humanity is to speak of oneself. In his relentless indictment of humanity at large, the individual himself is a part. Only death can separate him from his charges. So even as judge, he will always be found on the bench of the accused.

Nobody can claim that humanity is in the process of decay without having observed the same putrid symptoms in himself. Nobody can say that humanity is evil without he himself having been part of evil deeds. There is no such thing as unshackled observation. He who lives is the life-long prisoner of humanity and contributes, willingly or unwillingly, to an increase or decrease of the human inventory of happiness and misfortune, greatness and humiliation, hope and despondence.

And so I dare to venture, the fate of humanity is at stake everywhere and at all times, and the responsibility of one life for another is immeasurable. I believe in solidarity, compassion and love as humanity’s last white shirts of hope. Above all the other virtues, I hold the form of love called forgiveness. I believe that an individual’s thirst for forgiveness is impossible to slake, not due to some original sin traced to heaven or hell, but to the fact that we from our very beginnings are confronted by a merciless world upon which we can affect less change than we wish.

But here is the tragedy in our situation: while I am convinced of the existence of human virtue, I doubt the human capacity to halt the holocaust we all fear. And the doubt is there because it is not humanity who makes decisions about the world’s ultimate fate but political blocs, constellations of power, clusters of states that speak a different language, that of force.

Design includes entire text and is by Jan Landvist and Swedish Stig Dagerman Society

Design includes entire text and is by Jan Landvist and Swedish Stig Dagerman Society

I believe that the natural enemy of mankind is the mega-organization. It robs the individual of his vital responsibility for his fellow man. It shuts down his propensity for solidarity and love, instead making him a stakeholder in a power that seems directed at others, but ultimately is directed at himself. Because what is power other than the feeling of not having to pay for the consequences of evil deeds with your own life but with those of others?

If, at last, I were to declare the futile dream that I like many others carry, it would be this one: that as many people as possible will realize the need to break away from hateful and inhumane power blocs, power churches and power organizations, not to mount new structures but to weaken the sway of life-destroying forces in the world. Such a realization may be humanity’s only chance to relate as one fellow human being to another, to once again become one another’s friend and source of joy.

Translation by Lo Dagerman and Max Levy


Translators’ note: In his last sentence, Stig alludes to “Man is the joy of man” (No. 47) from Havamal, Norse poems from the Viking age.

Young was I once, I walked alone,

and bewildered seemed in the way;

then I found me another and rich I thought me,

for man is the joy of man.

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4 Responses to Do We Have Faith in Humankind?

  1. Kate Lynch says:

    Word for word I agree. Great New Years message on truth to power.

  2. Bengt Forss says:

    Humanity should never stop listening to Dagerman. In this time of individuality it is of vital interest to listen to the voice which urges us to consider our own responsibility for future generations to live on this lonely planet.

  3. Jan-Michael Hirsch says:

    So true and so well written and translated.
    It’s easy to lose hope reading Stig Dagerman
    but he also points out the road ahead.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Bengt Söderhäll says:

    “To speak of humanity is to speak of oneself.”
    From a former pupil (thirtyfive years ago!), a comment arrive soon after Lo published the text “Tror vi på människan?” on fb in her and Max Levy’s translation, saying:
    “Fantastisk forsta rad… Bara den tal att lasas och tankas pa om och om igen.” (Fantastic first line… This line is worth reading and think about over and over again.)
    This Dagerman text – in Swedish – is now printed on white thin curtains in The Dagerman Corner, a reading room in the library at the University of Gävle.

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