France is still fractured by the Dreyfus Affair

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Niccolo and Donkey
France is still fractured by the Dreyfus Affair

Telegraph UK

Piers Paul Read

January 28, 2012


France in the last decades of the 19th century saw an extraordinary flourishing in the arts, the sciences and technology which, along with its climate of sexual permissiveness, earned this period the title of la belle époque. To celebrate these achievements, the French government prepared for a Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900, with an ambitious programme of building that included two railway stations, Gare de Lyon and Gare d’Orsay, and two exhibition halls, the Grand and the Petit Palais.

These plans were suddenly jeopardised, in the autumn of 1899, by an international campaign to boycott the exhibition, a result of the outrage felt throughout the world at the conviction, at a court martial in Rennes, of a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, on charges of passing secret documents to the Germans. This was his second court martial. The first, five years earlier, had led to a sentence of life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. A campaign by his family, his lawyer and a small number of supporters had eventually uncovered overwhelming evidence that the traitor was not Dreyfus but another officer, Charles Walsin-Esterhazy. However, senior officers on the general staff and in military intelligence feared that to admit a miscarriage of justice would not just lose them their jobs but discredit the army. To thwart a revision of the case against Dreyfus, they resorted to a series of threats, forgeries and dirty tricks.

On January 13, 1898, France’s leading novelist, Émile Zola, entered the fray with a polemic, J’Accuse, naming the officers responsible for the conspiracy against Dreyfus. It was hailed as heroic by the Left, outrageous by the Right, and provoked anti-Semitic riots throughout France. Opinion abroad was incredulous. How could France, the most civilised country in Europe, experience this eruption of medieval barbarism? Why had the case of one Jewish officer led to this rage against all Jews?

The fuse leading to this explosion of ancient animosities can be traced back to the revolution of 1789, which emancipated the Jews but also led to a persecution of Catholics so savage that it was, in the view of the historian Michael Burleigh, “tantamount to genocide”. The mutual antagonism between conservative Catholics and radical republicans simmered throughout the 19th century. Unlike Britain, where radicalism was largely Christian in inspiration, in France it was militantly atheist – and the free-thinking heirs of the revolutionaries of 1789 made common cause, against what they perceived as bigoted and reactionary Catholics, with Protestants, Freemasons and Jews.

Thanks to the growth in industry and a money economy, Protestants and Jews had become rich and powerful: they controlled the “commanding heights of the economy”. The conspicuous consumption and political corruption of this new plutocracy provoked resentment, particularly since, at a time of growing national rivalries, it was felt that neither Protestants nor Jews were “true Frenchmen of France”.
It became a fixation in the minds of French nationalists – not just rioters in cities like Rennes or Nantes but cultivated intellectuals – that there was a conspiracy to destroy France’s Catholic identity. The most easily identifiable enemies were the Jews, because many were rich and their talents had led to a disproportionate presence in the judiciary, the civil service, the press and even the army. Moreover, most came from Alsace, had Germanic names, and some, like Dreyfus, spoke with a German accent.

It is not always made clear in accounts of the Dreyfus Affair that many Dreyfusards were quite as anti-Semitic as their opponents. Zola himself has anti-Semitic stereotypes in his novels; so too the Dreyfusard authors Marcel Prévost and Anatole France. The officer who refused to “bury” the evidence that Dreyfus was innocent was vocally anti-Semitic, whereas a number of the anti-Dreyfusards abhorred anti-Semitism.

Nor were the Dreyfusards all motivated by a disinterested passion for justice. Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau, a prominent lawyer, refused to defend Dreyfus for fear that it would jeopardise his political career. As a friend of Edgar Demange, who did take the brief, he must have known that the conviction was unsound, but he kept his head down until it became politically advantageous to join the Dreyfusards.

It was Waldeck-Rousseau, by then prime minister, who faced the prospect of an international boycott of the Universal Exposition. He advised the President to pardon Dreyfus, and arranged an amnesty for anyone involved in the affair. He then turned on the Catholic religious orders, making them scapegoats for the villainy of the dozen or so officers who had conspired to keep Dreyfus on Devil’s Island. Only one of them was a practising Catholic but, on the pretext that Jesuits had been behind conspiracies against the government, Waldeck-Rousseau, and later Emile Combes, passed laws dissolving religious orders and closing Catholic schools.

To Waldeck-Rousseau, the religious orders were the “moral culprits” of the affair. “If Dreyfus and his friends become historians and write textbooks,” wrote the anti-Dreyfusard author Maurice Barrès, “we shall be the villains in the eyes of posterity.” That prediction has turned out to be more accurate than he could ever have imagined. In most histories, the anti-Dreyfusards are indeed the villains, their anti-Semitism linked to the behaviour of the Vichy government during the Second World War, and hence to the Holocaust. The injustices done to monks and nuns forced into exile, and parents who wished their children to be educated in Catholic schools, were airbrushed out of the picture.

In 1906, seven years after his pardon, Dreyfus was declared innocent by the French Court of Appeal, reinstated in the Army and awarded the Légion d’Honneur. He was never acquitted, as he had hoped, by his fellow officers in a court martial.

In 1994, the Director of the Historical Section of the French Army stated that Dreyfus’s innocence was merely “a thesis generally admitted by historians”. He was sacked, and Dreyfus’s innocence declared indisputable by his successor. It illustrated, once again, the difficulty of approaching with even-handed detachment this critical event in the history of France.
Niccolo and Donkey

This is a chapter from Jacques Bainville's 'The French Republic'. Bainville was a member of the Action Française, but still generally respected as a historian to this day. To the extent it's possible, he gives a summary of the whole affair and its immediate consequences. Its long lasting impact is hard to measure. Like the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, it was a seemingly insignificant event in itself, but put in motion unstoppable forces which transformed the world. Its influence far transcended France. It was the precursor of our current media driven scandals, of cultural trench warfare, of journalistic accusations of racism, of human rights vs. nationalism and many other features of our modern circus. Moreover, like the article above shows, it became another artefact of history which cannot be questioned, another chapter in the leftist morality play used to educate us.


With gentle obstinacy, Jules Méline[prime minister from 1896 to 1898] kept on repeating, ‘There is no Dreyfus affair.’ There were really two, one judicial, the other political; one in the law courts, the other in opinion. There was another as well, and the greatest, a revolution in ideas, in the cast of men’s minds; and this undermined heaven and earth because it made Dreyfus ‘a symbol.’ Regarding this double passage from temporal to spiritual and from spiritual to temporal, both Barres and Peguy are agreed, as they are in the discovery that Meline, his eyes fixed on the provision market prices, had not the slightest understanding of it. This worthy agriculturist did not know that he exuded boredom. And herein lay a phenomenon often found among the French. Frenchmen were weary of decent mediocrity, of a vegetating existence, of humdrum merits. Wheat and live-stock prices were rising. What nourishment was provided for the emotions and the intelligence? Respectable patriotism was cultivated, but the idealism of ‘revenge’ had long been jettisoned. The word Republic was constantly reiterated, and democracy was rebuffed. These years seemed hollow. Amongst the active intellects yawns could be heard. They felt a craving for action, a longing to fight for some cause or other. ‘Somehow or other,’ said Peguy, ‘a crisis was coming.’ As the Dreyfus affair, that crisis was a convulsion.

In reiterating that the Dreyfus affair did not exist, Méline was perfectly reasonable, and indeed too much so. He clung to that respect for a duly settled question which is one of the essentials of public order. He ranked it with that respect for law and contracts without which there can be no security for anyone. But this was not only a question of the general principle. When the condemnation of Dreyfus was assailed, it was inevitable that the institution of the army should also be assailed, because his judges had been soldiers. They were charged with an infraction of rights. And hence came consequences which were not produced for ordinary magistrates. From the first, the highest interests o f the nation and State were at stake. Two conceptions, two opposites, were bound to come violently into collision. This was what Meline and his bloodless maxim did not make allowance for.

Nevertheless, the power of judging men, delegated as it is to fallible men, sets justice and injustice in the scales. Judicial error stirs up more feeling than the error of a doctor who closes the coffin over a living man. Nothing perturbs humanity in the way that a great trial does. One such trial lies at the roots of Christianity. The trial of Socrates is a starting-point of philosophy. Men’s minds were certain to be profoundly moved by the affirmation that an innocent man, the victim of racial prejudice, was undergoing an undeserved punishment. When it was further alleged, by a no less gratuitous supposition, that the military tribunal had obeyed a spirit of caste, and had abused a twofold power, drawn both from its judicial function and from its hierarchical authority, an appeal was made to the instinctive hatred of discipline and the commander. It roused the spirit of anarchy. And authority, in its turn, was provoked into self-defence.

The Dreyfus case might have remained simply a cause célèbre or an historical enigma. Actually it grew, became a political battlefield, and cut France in two. Intellectual forces, and the most illustrious names, fought in it. And it assumed the scale of a religious war, after kindling in those who invoked justice and truth a truly sectarian passion. How men in those days were ‘dreyfusards' or ‘dreyfusistes’ or 'dreyfusiens,' shades of distinction like the variants of Protestant churches; how one party seized hold of this ‘religious movement’ to make it what Georges Sorel called ‘the Dreyfus revolution,’ until the ultimate ‘fraudulent bankruptcy’ of the cause, that collapse into demagogy which Peguy execrated in the name of his ‘mysticism’ : all this would require a long narrative. Nowadays not many people know even the facts of the case, what made its excitement so prolonged, the basis of this endless quarrel, the reasons why the truth was perpetually obscured, leaving the problem always unanswered.

The Dreyfus affair lasted for twelve years. It took Joseph Reinach six volumes to recount it. The mere Précis by Dutrait-Crozon contains seven hundred pages. And never have there been seen so many incidents, episodes, trials superimposed on trials, dramatic turns and twists, whilst soldiers, lawyers, magistrates, experts, spies, ministers, diplomats, authors, domestic servants, and even a former head of the State—nearly a thousand all told—came into the picture either as actors or as witnesses. The complexity of the whole story was such that jesting distinctions were drawn between Bachelors, Masters, and Doctors of Dreyfusology. It ceased to be known as the Dreyfus affair, but simply as ‘the Affair,’ the great and only Affair, which ranged Frenchmen in hostile camps, and filled their minds year after year. To understand its extraordinary scope, it is essential to recall the circumstances of its birth and growth, and how it came to wind itself round its core to such an extent that, as it could no longer be unravelled, it had to be cut, as in Turkey, where, according to Montesquieu, it does not matter how disputes are finished, so long as they are finished with.

Going back to the origins of the Dreyfus affair, it will be seen that they fall into that part of this narrative which described the Republicans’ work for the organisation of the army. They had succeeded in creating a military instrument capable of confronting Germany. It was only natural that Germany should feel some concern about this, and try to discover the plans of the French General Staff and the secrets of their armaments. As soon as Freycinet began his task, espionage had begun to develop. Two traitors had already been discovered and condemned; one was an official in the technical branch of the artillery, Boutonnet by name, and the other, Greiner, a clerk in the Marine Ministry. The intelligence branch of the War Office was on the alert. It had no doubts that the German military attache, Schwarzkoppen, was controlling an espionage system from the German Embassy, in conjunction with the Italian military attache, Panizzardi. It is important to note, in the first place, that the authenticity of the famous bordereau, the central document in the charges against Dreyfus, was not disputed. It formed the corpus delicti round which the battle raged for twelve years without being put in question. Indeed, its origin was indisputable. But the document came into the hands of the War Office as the fruit of a theft committed in the German Embassy, a fact which might naturally create grave complications. For that reason General Saussier and the Foreign Secretary, Hanotaux, were of opinion that a prosecution should not be launched. But the opposite view prevailed in the Government, on the grounds that impunity was an incitement to treason, and that it was important to make an example. Besides, the Emperor William II was complaining that his military attache was being accused by the French newspapers, and insisted on a note freeing the German ambassador from responsibility. In point of fact, the abstraction of documents from the inviolable residence of a diplomatic representative was quite enough to create a serious incident. There was one famous night at the Elysee when it was feared that, on these grounds, Germany might instantly declare war on France, a circumstance which went still further to prove the authenticity o f the bordereau.

Suspicion was not instantly attached to anyone. It was clear that the sender of the bordereau took part in the life of the General Staff, and must be an artillery officer. The list of documents given to Schwartzkoppen also led to inquiries amongst the officers undergoing Staff instructional work, who of necessity passed through the successive bureaux of the Staff. A process of elimination and the resemblances of handwriting led finally to the charge being made against Captain Alfred Dreyfus. He was condemned by a court martial without being found in the act of guilt, without confessions being recorded either by the prosecution or by the tribunal. The defence had accordingly pleaded not guilty. The explanations tantamount to confession which handed Dreyfus over to the ceremony of his military degradation were subsequently contested.At an early stage after this it was stated that Dreyfus had been found guilty after the communication of secret documents, and because he was a Jew. His judges were suspected of having bowed to the insistence of an anti-Semite journal. But their tribunal had not been self-constituted. The Government of 1894 had constituted it, and it was they who committed the original error. The wrong, if one considered the injury which France was to suffer, lay in having recourse to a process of judgment which inevitably made the case a subject of controversy. It would have been more prudent to keep Dreyfus under surveillance until he was caught in the act. It would have been more skilful and less honourable to get rid of him without leaving traces. An unscrupulous General Staff would have sent him silently into one of those colonies from which men do not return.

Immediately after the trial in 1894, his brothers and other relatives, after defending him, undertook the task of establishing his innocence. Devoted, tenacious, and provided with influence and resources, they interested various people in the case of their kinsman. Certain sensitive and generous hearts were perturbed by the affirmation that a wrong had been done. Others (the prime example of these being Peguy) made the reparation of this wrong into a question of conscience and honour for Frenchmen. It was in order to nip this agitation in the bud that Méline invoked the principle of the affair being over and done with. But in order to quash the judgment of 1894, it was necessary to produce a new fact. Pending its discovery it was alleged that the innocent Dreyfus had been unjustly condemned by illegal methods, although partisans of innocence as ardent as Jaurès and Trarieux—so much did contradictions obscure the issue—admitted that secret papers could be communicated in a trial for treason. But it was added that their communication had been made in bad faith, which led to generalisations. Reflections were made upon courts martial, upon officers, their loyalty and sense of rank, on the army itself, sacred to the great mass of Frenchmen. Immediately the case began to spread outside of its judicial limits, and two camps were formed. The partisans of Dreyfus’ innocence were at first subject to great unpopularity, and this very circumstance was not unfavourable to the cause of Dreyfus.
If courage were needed to rally to that side, it acquired the attraction of originality, of a challenge to common opinion, even of sacrifice. The first Dreyfusards proudly styled themselves intellectuals. Later they stressed their distinction from the late-comers to the battle, the mob which invaded their private preserve when it could only be profitable to do so.

Men’s minds were seething. But the Affair itself stood still. An innocent man can be wrongly condemned. When a crime is committed, somebody must have committed it; and the incriminating document was extant. If Dreyfus was not the author of the bordereau, who was? Mathieu Dreyfus denounced Commandant Esterhazy, a man sunk in debt and of discredited honour, whose culpability was admitted by the new head of the Intelligence branch, Commandant (later Colonel) Picquart. From this new complications were to arise, as Picquart in his turn was accused of trickery and falsifications for which he was prosecuted, whilst himself accusing his own colleagues of prevarication and forgery. Meanwhile charges had been formulated against Esterhazy, who was brought before a court martial. He declared his innocence. Although he was a thoroughly suspicious character, proof was lacking to his accusers and the inquiry revealed nothing. The Government commissioner abandoned the charge. Esterhazy was acquitted, the public rashly applauding. This seemed to be the end of the Affair. Actually it was just beginning. The real signal for the opening of the campaign was given by a newspaper founded to support the Dreyfus cause, edited by Clemenceau. On 13th January 1898, two days after Esterhazy’s acquittal, L'Aurore published a violent article signed by Emile Zola, under the famous heading ‘J ’accuse.’ Anatole France correctly described it as ‘a revolutionary act of incomparable force.’ Zola accused the military chiefs and judges of having deliberately ruined an innocent man and wilfully whitewashed a criminal. He in his turn was prosecuted in the criminal courts for defamation, and was convicted. The excitement in both camps was redoubled. On both sides positions had been definitely taken up. Things had gone too far now for any proof to be capable of convincing both parties.

With Esterhazy ruled out, a strange situation had now developed. The law insists that an accused man, having once been cleared by a verdict of acquittal, can never be prosecuted or otherwise disturbed on the same charge, even though his guilt be proved to the hilt, or if he make the fullest confession. After his acquittal, Esterhazy let it be understood, at first with precautions and reticences, later in a more and more obvious fashion, that he himself had written the bordereau. These confessions, being free from risk and possible penalties, were suspect. The anti-Dreyfusards denied that Esterhazy could have been in a position to obtain the documents mentioned in the bordereau. Besides, might not a man so disreputable as this adventurer have taken to 'himself the burden of guilt, in order to benefit someone else? If he was capable of treason, he was also quite capable of impersonating a
traitor. The mystery had not been dispersed, and fresh impetus was given to the feud. The Dreyfusards, whilst taking Esterhazy’s admissions into account, thought it well to support them by evidence from handwriting experts; and these experts were no more infallible than those who had originally recognised the handwriting of Dreyfus in the incriminating document. However that might be, even if Esterhazy had been wrongly acquitted of the charge, his case could no longer be the object of a contradictory judgment alone competent to clear away obscurity and doubt. As regards Dreyfus, on the other hand, he had been condemned, and should be retried if a fact capable of proving his innocence were revealed. The Affair was becoming inextricable. It thereby became increasingly provocative of increasing violence, and was transformed into a weapon of civil war: which prompted the remark of Charles Maurras that if Dreyfus was innocent he should be made a Marshal of France, and a dozen of his chief defenders should be shot. Those who were estranged by the new trend in the regime, those who hoped to revert to truly Republican ideas, those who were temperamentally or professionally anarchistic, all came gradually into the Dreyfus camp. The first champions of his innocence had been isolated figures. Some had direct interest in their cause, others were disinterested, but they had suffered for its sake, if only by exposing themselves to public execration. Their sparse ranks filled up. By the end the stream became a flood. The Dreyfus case became an affair of politics which enabled the Radicals to regain power and the Socialists to slip in behind them.

The alliance between the moderates of the Right had given the Méline ministry a long span of life. The general elections took place in May 1898. The result seemed to bring nothing new. This Chamber scarcely differed from its predecessor, and on the country as a whole the Affair produced no more effect than had the Panama crisis. Everything went on as i f politics were one thing and the election another. But a change there was, and it was speedily visible. Méline seemed to be sure of again obtaining his majority, when, at the first interpellation in the Chamber, he was deserted by some of his followers on a motion put forward by the Radicals, enjoining the ministry to accept no further voting support from the Right. Although Méline won the vote of confidence on the text which he accepted, he found his majority too much weakened, and resigned. This was an opening success for the Left. It was also one for the partisans of Dreyfus. With Meline the Conservative Republic was coming to a close; and with it was disappearing the principle of the ‘settled question.’ The Dreyfusard party henceforth had the Government with it and not against it. The tables had been turned.

Brisson, the veteran of the Left who became President of the Council, already inclined towards a retrial. His War Minister was Godefroy Cavaignac, likewise a Radical, an ardent patriot and sincere in his convictions; his name had a great Republican tradition, and had been on the side of the light in the Panama affair. If there were any proofs of the innocence of Dreyfus, or any traces of illegality in the trial, Godefroy Cavaignac could be trusted to speak the truth, whatever it might be. He did indeed study the records, and his conclusion was a certainty as to Dreyfus’ guilt, which he announced to the Chamber by reading from the tribune several documents, one of which, from the pen o f the Italian military attache Panizzardi, was particularly incriminating for the accused. The movement for a retrial seemed to be checked just when it was believed to be winning.

This was 7th Ju ly 1898. Five weeks later Captain Cuignet, the officer appointed by the War Minister to investigate the case, discovered that the Panizzardi letter was apocryphal. Lieutenant-Colonel Henry, an officer in the Intelligence branch, confessed that he had forged it two years after the trial of Dreyfus, when the agitation for a retrial had been started, in order to be able to show a definite and exact document, as it were an abridged proof, which would dispense with the need for any other explanation. He denied having committed what could strictly be termed a forgery. Arrested like his adversary before him, Colonel Picquart, on a charge of falsification, Henry was taken to Mont-Valerien, and there on the next day, 11th August, he cut his throat.

The Dreyfusards were triumphant. They declared that the condemned man’s innocence was proved. Here was the new fact necessary for a retrial, and Brisson pressed for an immediate opening of proceedings. On 3rd September Godefroy Cavaignac resigned his portfolio, on the grounds of his disagreement with the President of the Council, continuing to declare that Dreyfus was guilty.

Was this at last to be the end? The discovery of the Henry forgery, after all, may have undermined the general public confidence that the judicial process had been regular, and thrown doubt on the sincerity or clear-sightedness of the General Staff; but it had no connection with the trial of 1894, because the apocryphal letter was of later date than the 1894 verdict and had not played any part in securing the conviction. Moreover, Captain Cuignet, who revealed the forgery and thereby gave evidence of his perspicacity and good faith, confirmed the authenticity of the other documents. Here again, therefore, was a strange position. The Henry forgery produced a powerful effect in furthering the hypothesis of innocence. Its judicial value was none. Neither of the two appeals could even take it into account. The Affair became more fevered. It was not abating.

Brisson had replaced Cavaignac by General Chanoine, who, after an incident provoked by Deroulede, resigned in the tribune of the Chamber on 26th October, declaring that his views on Dreyfus did not differ from those of his predecessors. Brisson affected to regard Chanoine as a factious general, and secured the passing of a motion declaring the supremacy of the civil power, an expression foreshadowing the ‘Republican defence.’ But when a motion calling upon the Government to suppress attacks on the army was passed in the same sitting, the ministry resigned.

Fear always explains more things than seems likely. The Left might be beginning to feel apprehensive of the nationalists, but the Chamber in the mass remained moderate, startled by the campaign of the Dreyfus partisans, which, through the allies it was obtaining, now took on a revolutionary aspect. At the outset the party of rehabilitation did not know where to look for support. The Dreyfus family first appealed to the soldiers themselves, and encountered some who listened to their case—notably Colonel Picquart—which only resulted in an increase of nervous tension. It was natural that with the development of the Affair those who had influence at the moment should be solicited. Joseph Reinach recounts how the heads of Catholic organisations were approached. The champions of Dreyfus pointed out to them that, failing the forces of religion, they would be obliged to ask the help of the anti-clericals and Socialists, which would be moving a long way from the ‘new spirit'. It was the old saying: ‘If I cannot bend the gods to my will, I shall stir up the denizens of Hell,’ which was converted into a strong threat of upsetting the apple-cart. If these advances were made to the Catholics, as seems quite probable, it is comprehensible that they showed no eagerness to embark on the adventure, and to part company with a Government which, under Meline, gave them so few reasons for complaint that the advent of a ‘clerical Republic’ no longer seemed an impossibility. Finally, to associate the Church with an enterprise inevitably directed against the heads of the army would have revived the old charges of Ultramontanism, and so seemed singularly imprudent.

It was easier for the Dreyfus party to enrol the advanced elements. The ‘professional agitators,’ as Joseph Reinach himself called them, were bound to make a ready response; and others, still ‘less pure,’ did not fail to join with them. In fact, the cause of Dreyfus came to be espoused by all who could profit from disorder and all who had scores to pay off. The Socialists rallied solidly under Jaurès. Clemenceau had preceded them,
guided by his instincts of the Republican foe of hierarchies, and by those of the outcast frantic with impatience to return to the arena. One affair obliterated another. Dreyfus washed out Panama. An influential journalist of the Left, Ranc, who had been guiding the old ‘Republican Union’ since the beginning of the regime, was the first to realise that here was a means of putting an end to the reign of the moderates. Joseph Reinach, again, says that the Affair ‘propelled men into revolutionary socialism’ who until then had stood far removed from such courses. The Affair became in effect a projectile. Justice and truth, which some idealists believed they were disinterestedly serving, were diverted towards less noble passions and very different ends. There was in particular an exploitation of the weariness which the country was beginning to feel after the efforts demanded of it for national defence. Gone were the days of patriotic fervour and the schoolboy battalions, when it was the mission of the Republic’s teachers to inculcate the lesson that ‘in every citizen there must be a soldier.’ That enthusiasm was spent. Anti-militarism was born of the equal service for all, which sent into barracks all those men—writers, professors, intellectuals—who hated the life most bitterly and could voice their resentment, forcing them in pellmell with those who did not suffer from it, or, if they did, could not say so. Renan had already said that he could not have endured a term of military service, and would have deserted, or committed suicide. Anti-militarism was showing itself in literature. It only awaited an occasion to spread out into politics.

The moderates, forming the majority in the Chamber, took account of these circumstances, and appreciated the outcome of such an agitation. Charles Dupuy, recalled to power, saw its danger all the more clearly because just then a grave foreign complication occurred. His ministry was formed on 3rd November 1898, and immediately found itself facing an alarming problem. Since July an expedition setting out from the Congo, under the command of Captain Marchand, had been at Fashoda, on the Nile, after an epic journey across the African continent. It was the result of the colonial policy which had resumed its course since the Russian alliance. Through Fashoda the question of Egypt was reopened. Kitchener called upon the French to with draw. Marchand would do nothing before receiving orders from his Government. To keep the French flag flying there meant certain war. The British fleet was already preparing to weigh anchor. The French Government yielded, and recalled Marchand.

The incident was another strain on French nerves. The army was being attacked in the persons of its leaders at the very moment when the need for unity and confidence was greatest. The Dreyfus party, whose polemists, led by Clemenceau, insulted and jeered at the soldiers, day in, day out, was called ‘the foreigners’ party,’ especially as the foreign press had almost unanimously adopted the theory of Dreyfus’ innocence. English gold—the old St. George’s cavalry—was accused of subsidising the Dreyfusard ‘syndicate.’ In this connection Freycinet, back at the War Ministry, even gave informative details, which he later minimised. National sentiment felt a stimulus, and a kind of Boulanger fever without the shadow of Boulanger began to revive. The Radical Ligue des Droits de l ’Homme confronted the Ligue de la Patrie Française and the Ligue des Patriotes. France was indeed sundered, with these two great camps ranged as in the time of the religious wars.

Like Michel de l’Hopital between the Catholics and Protestants in the sixteenth century, Charles Dupuy now sought to hold the balance even between the parties, and to displease none. The Criminal Court of Appeal to which the request for a retrial was submitted showed signs of its partiality in favour of Dreyfus’ witnesses. Dupuy tried to pacify feeling by passing a law of cession obliging the Court to give its opinion with a full meeting of the associated Courts. By way of compensation, Colonel Picquart, the idol of the Dreyfusards, was removed from the jurisdiction of his normal judges and the court martial was rejected as a presumption of antipathy. This measure was equally unavailing. Its only result was that the charges levelled against Picquart were never elucidated, whilst he was blamed for having slipped away from facing them in court.

This was the position when Félix Faure suddenly died, on 16th February 1899. Once again the reign of a President—the fifth—was cut short by accident, and so fortunately did this happen for some, so unfortunately for others, that many refused to believe that his death was natural. Félix Faure was notoriously anti-Dreyfusard. His fine presence and elegant person were agreeable, and he had lent to the Presidency the character appropriate to the Conservative Republic, not far removed from the sound MacMahon qualities, with princely connections. This President might almost have reviewed the troops on horseback. He paid special attention to the army chiefs. Forty-eight hours after his death he was replaced, and the candidature of Méline was defeated in advance. The Congress of Versailles preferred to choose Emile Loubet, who had taken refuge in Senatorial honours since the Panama crisis and become the chosen man of the Left, although actually he cherished conservative feelings.

By appointing Loubet on Clemenceau’s nomination, the majority in both Houses had chosen a policy. It inclined towards the Dreyfus party, towards Republican defence, towards the Left. It was apprehensive of nationalism, the new name for the Boulanger spirit in politics. It regarded the Leagues as dangerous, and Loubet, in virtue of his opportunist past, as a safe man. Paris felt this election as an insult and a challenge. The new President entered the Elysee greeted by shouts of ‘Panama!’ Clearly, a new period and a new policy were beginning. Paul Deroulede tried forcible opposition. On the afternoon of 23rd February, after the funeral of Félix Faure, counting on support from the army and the street crowds, he made a melodramatic attempt at a coup d’état. Seizing the bridle of General Roget’s horse, at the head of the troops returning from the funeral, he tried to convince this officer, a particular bugbear of the Dreyfusards, to march on the Elysee. The General refused, and had Déroulède arrested. Three months later he was acquitted.

The attitude of the military element in this brief adventure had been perfectly correct. When Commandant Marchand returned to France shortly fterwards, he too kept aloof from cheering admirers. No new Boulanger held the stage, and yet the Republicans were alarmed by the very grounds which they gave nationalism for showing its feelings. On 3rd June the Court of Appeal ordered the retrial of the Dreyfus case on grounds other than those of the Henry forgery. It admitted the ground of the communication to the judges in 1894 of a secret document, ‘considered’ as being inapplicable to the condemned man, and the attribution of the bordereau to ‘another officer.’ On the same day Esterhazy, still a refugee in England, declared himself to be the real author of the bordereau, though giving contradictory and even absurd evidence; no doubt he had actually written the document, but he
had done so ‘under orders,’ and the real culprit was Dreyfus. The latter, meanwhile, was brought back from his place of detention on Devil’s Island, and was to appear before a new court martial which would meet at Rennes.

This decision of the Court was a success for the Dreyfusards, and brought them a flood of adherents. Dupuy himself crossed to their side with unconvincing haste, which redoubled the excitement in Paris. On 4th June, booed by the crowd at the Auteuil races, President Loubet was slapped by a spectator, Baron de Christiani, whose title gave rise to alarms about an aristocrats’ plot. A week later Dupuy’s ministry wasoverturned. He was felt to be too flaccid, and the regime felt itself endangered.

Waldeck-Rousseau was chosen to form a Government of Republican defence. Waldeck-Rousseau liked to style himself a Conservative Republican, and had entered political life in the days of Gambetta and Ferry, when memories of the Sixteenth of May were still vivid. From this period he retained two principles: first, that clericalism was the enemy, and then, that to oppose clericalism a union of all Republicans, even the most advanced, was essential in cases of urgency. He attributed enormous influence to the religious orders, especially to the Assumptionists, who were, however, obedient to the orders of Leo XIII and active champions of the rallying of Catholics to the regime. So far as can be judged at a distance, Waldeck-Rousseau had concocted a terrifying picture of leagued monks plotting to fill the army with their pupils, imbuing the body of army officers with fanatical ideas, and thus gaining hold of the State. In defiance of his solid middle-class habits, he sought the aid of the revolutionaries, which he did not deem superfluous in battling against this hydra. The most perspicacious member of his cabinet was Alexandre Millerand, the bogey of the propertied classes, although General de Gallifet, the executioner of the Communards, sat alongside him in this curious combination, chosen to counteract apprehension.

When Waldeck-Rousseau died in 1904, he begged his friends to bear witness that he had never been a Socialist, nor merely Radical. He was the man required to snatch the Republic from the moderates’ grip. With him, and through the Dreyfus affair, returned the years of battle during which the regime followed a truly Republican course. All that had been done to modify democracy, to stem its excesses and to mitigate its perils, was abandoned. To make this reversion to 1880 acceptable a man was again needed who would be reassuring in his mode of life, his connections, his demeanour. Men of standing like himself followed him in those feelings which, at the time of the Sixteenth of May, had brought about the union of all Republicans. But circumstances had altered, but at the moment this was not appreciated. The Dreyfus affair was restoring power to the Left, to a degree never known before. It opened the doors wide to the ‘radicalism’ which Grevy had stifled. It brought about a revolution.

Furthermore, the Affair still dragged on. It remained, as it were, a principle of agitation, and when Waldeck-Rousseau entered to put an end to it, everything seemed to conspire to prolong it. The Rennes court martial was to deliver the definitive judgment, to which both parties had only to bow. Light was sought in the battle, and there lay the means of making it shine forth. Who had committed the act of treason? Dreyfus was accused of it. Esterhazy said: ‘It was I who wrote the bordereau.’ To confront the two men and compare their culpability seems now the obvious solution of the problem, as the problem lay in a choice between two accused. Esterhazy was summoned as a witness. But he remained in London, and did not reply to the calling of his name. What strange tacit agreement made both parties accept his absence? When the Government prosecutor proposed to take no further notice, Demange, the counsel defending Dreyfus, stated that he had no observations to make, and with no further protest on his part the Court decided that Esterhazy’s evidence was not indispensable to the elucidation of the truth. Thus, one man declared his innocence, urging that he had not written the famous document of which another proclaimed himself the author; his trial was reviewed on grounds of which the principal one was this; and his advocate did not insist on hearing the confitentem reum, as if this confession did not deserve consideration, as if it were not genuine, as if it did not exist. This is what seems to us, in retrospect, amazing. It is still more amazing that it did not surprise contemporaries.

In retrospect again, it looks to us as if the champions of Alfred Dreyfus’ innocence were more concerned with showing that Dreyfus was not the perpetrator of the crime than with establishing that the crime was committed by somebody else. Demange was satisfied with a plea of doubt. It is incomprehensible that there should have been any need to clear Dreyfus and oppose the charges against him, if it was indisputable that Esterhazy
had written the bordereau, since the guilt of Esterhazy implied the innocence of Dreyfus. But the condemned man of 1894, although present at Rennes in person, was always a ‘symbol.’ The two camps faced one another at Rennes, which was flooded with Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards, still confronting their general ideas and their theories over and above the questions of fact which the witnesses for the prosecution kept bringing back before the judges, demonstrating now, as they had demonstrated in 1894, that the traitor could only be an artillery officer, a Staff officer, an officer going through his Staff course. By five votes to two the court martial again found Dreyfus guilty.

But while they condemned him, the military judges wished to assuage matters. They granted ‘mitigating circumstances’ and modified the penalty. Waldeck-Rousseau had expected an acquittal, and was gloomily vexed by this verdict. He retorted by granting a pardon, which was immediately signed by President Loubet. Dreyfus accepted it and dropped his application for appeal. Everything seemed to be over. Gallifet officially declared to the army that ‘the incident was closed.'

It was not an incident. For years the Dreyfus affair had transcended the person of Alfred Dreyfus. It continued when it had ceased to interest the public, and Dreyfus himself no longer interested his friends. It was never to finish. The party of the condemned man did not disarm. The Affair which had given it power enabled it to retain that power and to work reprisals. In order to foment still further the revolutionary agitation which had been so profitable to the advanced groups, Jaurès pursued a campaign for rehabilitation with the same tenacity which had already brought about the retrial. Seven years after the Rennes verdict he obtained a decree quashing it, which declared Dreyfus to be innocent, although recognising that in 1894 a ‘grave crime’ had been committed, without it being legally established that Esterhazy was the guilty man. The Court had freed the man found guilty at Rennes from having to appear before a third court martial only by altering the law and by renouncing its own jurisdiction. The anti-Dreyfusards protested, but
the sincere Dreyfusards deplored. It was the latter who sought the full and open rehabilitation of the victim by the same tribunals which had twice condemned him, and the ‘grave crime’ which had set France on fire was submerged in the mass of legal formulas which really reiterated its existence. Things had moved a long way from the judicial drama. Several of the participants therein had already shifted their allegiance. The quarrel has gone on even to our own day. The decisive revelation expected from Berlin has not been vouchsafed. The published memoirs of Schwartzkoppen still admit of contradictory presumptions.

What eludes discussion is the consequences of the Dreyfus affair. And to understand its epoch neither public actions nor public speeches nor the pronouncements of ministers need be searched for significance. Only the writers of the time disentangle and fix the general sense of its events. In 1904, commemorating the death of Zola, Anatole France, who had fought in the Dreyfusard ranks and reached socialism through the avenues of the Affair, said: ‘The Dreyfus affair rendered our country the inestimable service of gradually confronting and revealing the forces of the past and the forces of the future: on one side, the authoritarianism of the propertied classes and Catholic theocracy, on the other, socialism and free thought.’ In less oratorical terms, the Dreyfus affair ruined the rule of the moderates and the Conservative Republic, the ‘new spirit,’ as well as the military organisation of Freycinet. It led to the advent of that ‘radicalism’ which the wisest of the Republicans had feared and kept in check. Within the structure of the Republic it had induced a revolution which threatened a general dissolution. War might have come upon the country in a state of utter disintegration, exposing the regime to the worst of disasters, that which in the course of history has delivered other democracies to foreign onslaughts, if time had not been granted to a few men who, standing on what survived, rebuilt the foundations of the shattered breakwater. All that the old guardians of the regime had done had now to be started again, and the plan in which they had succeeded would one day have to be resumed under far more difficult conditions, which, this time, would make success dubious.