Paris, 24. June 1935, evening

Speech of Heinrich Mann

It is quite strange that, in 1935, a meeting of writers is calling for freedom of thought: since that is, after all, what’s at stake here. In 1535 it would have been new. Conquests of individual thought, those are what the modern world began with – which now seems to be on the verge of dissolution. Thus, everything is called into question again, even that which had been settled for centuries. Freedom of conscience, so many peoples have fought for it, and now it is under threat. Thinking itself is endangered, and yet it is thought that created the world in which we still live. For more than simply tactical reasons, I’m avoiding speaking of a single country. This conscious tendency is universal, at least in the West. The limbs of one and the same society cannot be separated either. The symptoms of the same organic disease are expressed in different places with more or less severity: there’s nothing more to say. Certainly the freedom to think exists, otherwise we would not have been able to come together. Unfortunately, where it still exists, one does not have the impression that it is considered to be of vital importance. In contrast, one country which has already suppressed thought, loudly professes the opinion that the suppression of thought is absolutely of vital importance. The leader of a coercive state will fl atly demand that the freedom of the press in the neighbouring state, which still has it, should be suppressed. On the other hand, it has never been the case that the representatives of a liberal state have demanded even the slightest freedom for the neighbouring people who have lost all freedoms. That’s the crucial difference. They are both opposing conceptions of life; but one senses its increase in power and proceeds with an attack. Resistance is necessary. One must arm oneself, not with patience, but with fi rm convictions. One must follow examples and agree on plans of action. We mustn’t wait until this calamity reaches its completion and spreads over even more countries in the West. We have a glorious past to defend, as well as our inheritance from it: the freedom to think and act according to knowledge. We have brilliant examples to follow. We are the successors and defenders of a great tradition: we, and not the others who obey the suppressors of thought or show them sympathy. When the suppressors, for their part, gloat as if they were defending something, one wonders what they’re referring to. Western civilization? They couldn’t care less about it and speak of it in a misleading manner. They sacrifi ce thought without hesitation if it threatens their interests or turns into a personal inconvenience. They’ve already reached that stage, through burnings, expatriations and the other methods that correspond to the level of their intellects.


Excerpt from Heinrich Mann’s lecture he delivered at the International Writers Conference in Paris 1935.