IN DEFENCE OF SCIENCE
GALILEO, BERTOLT BRECHT, GROVE PRESS, 1996
The pressures that the established order can bring to bear on those who want to move outside the status quo are enormous. In the end those in charge can grind down the best of men and women with the most worthy knowledge to disseminate. That is the story that the master communist playwright Bertolt Brecht brings us here concerning the pressures to recant brought on Galileo by the Catholic Church in the 1500’s. And for what crime? For merely bringing out facts about the nature of the earth and its place in the universe that are taken as commonplaces, even by small children, today.
Brecht himself certainly knew about such pressures. Although in public, at least, Brecht was a fairly orthodox Stalinist he had his private moments of doubt. Certainly some of the themes in his plays stretch the limits of the orthodox Stalinist ‘socialist realist’ cultural program. Thus the strongest part of the play is the struggle between an individual who is onto something new about the world and an institution that saw that such a discovery would wreak havoc on its claims to centrality. Every once in a while a section of humankind turns inward on itself like that and here the Church was no exception. Damn, that is the overhead cost we pay for some sense of human progress. Except, as in the case of the Catholic Church, it should not have taken 300 years to admit the error. Know this. We have to defend the Galileos of the world against the seemingly never-ending rise of obscurantism. And in this play Brecht has done his part to honor that commitment.