Unfortunately, the after-shocks of the Dreyfus Affair are still with us, over a hundred years until he was finally exonerated in 1906. The dilemma of government secrecy in the in the so-called national interest and the whole ugly stench of clandestine and not publicly debated activities even in the area of peripheral principles is still around with the same bad actors and song and dance men and women…
Although the end was something of an anti-climax, the Dreyfus Affair has some positive as well as negative lessons for all who are concerned about the future of democracy in the current post-modern world. It shows that in an ailing society, especially one already gravely intoxicated by anti-Semitism, or anti-Islamism, one or two authentic traitors, plus a single power hungry bureaucratic tyrant and three or four unscrupulous careerists, helped by the blind, amoral esprit de corps that characterizes every power machine, by a minority of antirepublican activists, by a craven political elite, by an pathetic public and an irresponsible press, can come within a hairsbreadth of destroying the republic.
But it likewise demonstrates that a scarcely larger minority of militant republicans, led by a tiny hand of dedicated individuals, none of them saints or heros, but all honest believers in the democratic principles of equal justice and the rule of law, can save the republic from these self-betrayals. In this sense, the Dreyfus Affair was an exemplary- or as Peguy said, chosen- episode in modern history.
Gopnik: (see link at end)The trouble was that, like most happy endings, the happy ending was not the end. The good guys won in a way that only made the bad guys worse. As with Watergate, the immediate outcome of the affair gave a misleading impression of unanimity; in truth, while the good guys thought the other guys had absorbed it as a lesson, they had merely resented it as a defeat. Though Dreyfus won his place back, in 1908 he was the victim of an assassination attempt by a follower of Charles Maurras, who had succeeded Édouard Drumont as the leading authoritarian anti-Semite in France. In any modernized country, the backward-looking party will always tend toward resentment and grievance. The key is to keep the conservatives feeling that they are an alternative party of modernity. (This was Disraeli’s great achievement, as it was, much later, de Gaulle’s.) When the conservative party comes to see itself as unfairly marginalized, it becomes a party of pure reaction, which is what happened to the French right after Dreyfus. Instead of purging the anti-Semites, people on the right decided to rally behind them. They came to hate the idea of the Republic itself. When Maurras was sentenced for collaboration after the Second World War, he cried, “It’s the revenge of Dreyfus!” It wasn’t true. But Vichy had been four long years of the revenge of Drumont….
Three “readings” of the affair, all by Jews, have long contested its meaning; Begley raises all three. The first is Theodore Herzl’s, which gave birth to modern Zionism. Herzl had been present at the Dreyfus degradation on that January day, as a journalist for a Viennese paper, and if one moment engraved his sense that Jews could never find a safe home in Europe this was it: “It has been established that justice could be refused to a Jew for the sole reason that he was a Jew.” Dreyfus, the perfect case of attempted assimilation, “signifies a strategic position which . . . is already lost.” This insight, repeated and made programmatic in the Zionist project, was seemingly vindicated by what happened during the Second World War, when the members of the Dreyfus family, who had fought for France so often and so patriotically, were, like all French Jews, forced into hiding; Alfred’s favorite granddaughter, Madeline, a Resistance fighter, was deported by the Vichy state and died at Auschwitz, age twenty-five.
Herzl’s reading was that the affair marked the end of a credible idea of assimilation; Marcel Proust’s was that it marked the end of a credible idea of aristocracy. The Dreyfus affair acts as a kind of earthquake in “Remembrance of Things Past,” destroying Proust’s belief in a natural merger of the educated middles, mostly Jewish, and the aristocratic heights. Proust’s ideal was the aesthete’s version of the progressive dream, Manet’s version of Mill: the bourgeois would be encircled by the wise and the witty and the wellborn, and their petty prejudices would fall. This happy merger of intellect and grace, symbolized in Proust by the figure of Swann, the Jewish flâneur with a love for Vermeer, is, as Proust says, “retarded” by the affair. It largely accounts for the difference in tone between the melancholy but high-hearted world of the early chapters in Proust’s series, where Swann is free to roam between the Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the demimonde while still being a trusted Jew among the Boulevard Jews like Proust’s family, and the straitened and suspicious social circumstances in the last books. Proust had always expected his aristocrats to think stupidly; he just didn’t expect so many to behave so shabbily.
Yet these sad readings are not the only plausible ones. Léon Blum, the Socialist politician who began his public career during the affair and, in 1936, became the Prime Minister of France, insisted that the Dreyfus affair was the moment that truly established the emancipation of the Jews, and their right to play a full role as citizens—it was what allowed a Jew like him to become Prime Minister. (The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, born Jewish in Lithuania, liked to quote his father: “A country that tears itself apart to defend the honor of a small Jewish captain is somewhere worth going.”) The real meaning of the affair, for the French left, lay in its vindication of the rights of man and of an ideal of cosmopolitan citizenship, open to all. Certainly, France’s republican governments have been far more inclined to entrust Jews with power than any other modern state.
r Blum, there was Mendès-France, the most admired Prime Minister of the Fourth Republic, and today, in the Fifth Republic, the President, his foreign minister, and his national-security adviser are all, by Vichy’s definition and most others, Jews. In this view, the persistence of anti-Semitism is not an argument against cosmopolitan citizenship; it is an argument against the persistence of anti-Semitism.
… How can French Jews accept French law and lore, and not be haunted by the Drancy internment camp? It is a condition of being modern that our double and triple identities look weird from the outside but are the only kinds that feel authentic from the inside. The passionately nationalist Québécois who listens exclusively to Metallica and AC/DC; the Muslim fundamentalist with the satellite dish—from outside, we wonder how they reconcile the contradictions. But they don’t have to reconcile the contradictions in order to cope with reality. The contradictions are themselves the form that a reconciliation with reality takes.
… The lesson to be learned was the lesson that Clemenceau had tried to teach the jury at Zola’s trial. The urge to protect the nation from its enemies by going around the corner to get them is natural, but what you get is usually not the enemies, and, going around the corner, you bump into something worse. Breaking the law to defend the nation ends up breaking the nation. Sometimes long stories have short morals.
(see link at end)…Justice Michael Kirby:The Vichy aftermath: Some observers declared that the ultimate outcome of the Dreyfus affair was a delayed vindication of French institutions and a reaffirmation of civic equality in the face of stigma and discrimination. Yet the legacy of the case was a deep sense of disquiet both by supporters and opponents of Dreyfus. His supporters noted the long interval of denial, forgery and cover-up to which, even in a democratic country like France, great governmental institutions would stoop. His opponents continued to hate those who had supported Dreyfus. They considered that their damaging campaign had questioned the honour of the French army and the nobility of the nation:
values that were to be maintained at all costs – even, if necessary, at the sacrifice of a person like Dreyfus. Some of the anti-Dreyfusards would
never believe his innocence. A number of them took their vengeance in the anti-semitic laws of Vichy France. After 1942, that regime tightened the noose around the lives of the Jewish refugees in France and, ultimately, even French citizens of Jewish origin. On the perimeter wall of one corner of the Ecole Militaire in Paris, where the beginning and the end of the Dreyfus drama was played out, is a memorial. It records a group of French Jews ordered to assemble there, who were deported to the Nazi death camps with almost total loss of life and true loss of national honour. Anti-semitism did not die out in France with the rehabilitation of Alfred Dreyfus. It lay in wait for further
victims. Read More:http://www.hcourt.gov.au/assets/publications/speeches/former-justices/kirbyj/kirbyj_26mar06.pdf