The Dreyfus Affair 1898

A Protest

Source: La Revue Blanche, February 1898;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2012.

We protest against a public opinion duped and rendered fanatical; one that doesn’t see the danger to which the booted bureaucracy exposes us.

We are of course not surprised to see the enthusiasm of the parties of reaction. And it is natural that cortèges under the orders of Catholic circles, made up half of students and half of ruffians, vociferate as they march down the boulevards.

But what cannot be tolerated is that secular opinion takes part in this fanatical and anti-Semitic clamor. For it is perhaps appropriate to the era regretted by M. le Mouton de Boisdeffre, but it is not appropriate to our time that men be jeered at and persecuted for the religion they profess or their ancestors professed. For people should not allow Catholic circles to dictate the cries of acclaim or reprobation we issue. For it is not true that the Jews are a race and the rest of the French are another race and that there’s a danger if these two races – which aren’t ones – mix and live together. For a difference in race, even if it were as profound as it is superficial, cannot in all fairness motivate the persecution of men. For in democratic law there can be no question of what men have in their blood, of which we are ignorant, but rather of what they have in their minds and wills, which is knowable and which socially is the only thing that interests us. For if Jews act dishonorably we have the means to force them to remain inoffensive without establishing an unjust solidarity among all Jews which makes the innocent pay for the guilty. For in this excitement against the Jews there is an interested and too facile maneuver which consists in singling out the Jewish bank and Jewish capital in order to turn people’s eyes from banks that are no less harmful though blessed by the pope, from Ottoman banks criminally directed by Protestants, and from speculators of all beliefs who lead us to things like the Panama scandal.

In this anti-Jewish clamor there is a Judaic character of religious exclusivism that reduces the anti-Semites to the level of the Jews of the first centuries. Within this racial persecution there lies an ancient Judaic superstition which returns us to the time when Jews believed in the Talmud. And we find in this unleashing of public brutality, which puts in question the clearest and must humane acquisitions of French and rationalist civilization, free and free-thinking men who commit acts and propose laws that will serve the policies of the parties of brutal authority and imposed ignorance.

But though serious, all of this was rendered possible in nineteenth century France by peasant stupidity and a bourgeoisie raised by the Jesuits. What saddens us is less these classic facts that could be foreseen than the attitude of young people and the newborn parties.

What we hold against the young people of the universities is their praise of the booted bureaucrats and their anti-Jewish clamor, for they don’t have the right to be ignorant and to not think freely. The high Kantian and rationalist concepts which the Republic raised them in taught them never to respect men, even those in high places, but only ideas and, uprooting in them all prejudices concerning origin, it oriented them towards the contemplation of the ends to which all men of good will are called. They must know that any other philosophy leads them to the philosophies of servitude. They were raised in the culture of rigorous methods, which controls the affirmations of even the greatest men and critiques the most officially accepted testimonies. We decry the fact that they leave in their offices instead of introducing it into their lives this critical spirit of incessant revision and distrust of pure affirmation which they gained through scientific work, the habit of which seemed the guarantee of their moral emancipation..

And not only do they lack the rigidity of rigorous minds, they are also lacking in artistic sense and aesthetic enthusiasm. It is inconceivable, even if Emile Zola were in the wrong, that young people be lacking in passion for the generous beauty of his act. We find it admirably dramatic, this writer standing alone against a mob provoked by braided military men, throwing all his glory onto the scales in the problematic hope of saving a man. We can’t understand how young people could have had anything but admiration for this attitude.

But in order to ensure that not a single form of cowardice was missing they gathered together in groups to insult him, this man who stood alone. They called “Genoese” this man whose works over the thirty years of decline we owe to militarism have caused the renown of his French fatherland’s to shine in the outside world.

We not only hold something against young people, who have demonstrated their moral vulgarity, but also against the young political parties. The Radical Party, which M. Clemenceau alone honors with his enthusiastic polemics, how diminished it’s become over the course of this adventure; how much less worthy of governing it is, this party from which we hoped, before the liberating dawn, for those reforms most immediately indispensable. For its leaders did not condemn the vicious methods and illegalities which no one can accept who calls himself a democrat.

And finally we have something to hold against the Socialist Party. It is held to the rigor of its doctrines, for it is the reserve of the future. The ideas that will slowly penetrate the other parties should emanate from it. And in ways other than through the conquest of power, through the internal and involuntary regeneration of souls, it must work within even those parties opposed to emancipation. Since it will be a long time until it has to worry about governmental affairs nothing excuses it for its opportunistic turning away from rational law, which it believes in and which is its very raison d'être. It is scandalous that it renounces a point in its program because it places at risk a few seats in parliament.

In this war against bureaucratic Jesuitism the Socialist Party, from which we expect complete honesty, comes to us with a Jesuitical proclamation. When threats float over basic liberties and when the simple right to think, the right of the nation to control a privileged bureaucracy is put in question, it dithers. It discusses whether it was a capitalist who was put on trial behind closed doors and if it was against a Jew that military and clerical brutality were inflicted. These deputies of the future republic are still living in the time of the medieval law of an eye for an eye, which in an eternal cycle engenders reprisals according to the offense and the offense according to the reprisals. They don’t see that if having been the victims yesterday of the arbitrariness of a government holding trials behind closed doors, if the workers tolerate arbitrariness and secret trials against their enemies they thus legitimate such trials against themselves in encounters yet to come. They want to found a classless republic and don’t see that in this regard it is essential that justice henceforth be rendered regardless of class. They don’t see that the indifference they preach to the workers in this case is culpable: it is not possible for the very people who have seen the help indifference renders abuse to stand by with their arms folded.

Whoever hopes for the future brotherhood of man must prepare it by calling for justice, even for those who are not one of his own.

And this is why we have, in consideration of those who read us, wanted to depose here, with calm indignation, these words of protest. We invite to join with us all those who think freely, who want justice rendered by virtue of the forms of the law and who, hating all autocracies, accept military autocracy less than any others. But we render enthusiastic homage to those courageous men who have dared compromise themselves in order to perhaps save an innocent man and to certainly save several public freedoms. And we hope that when he leaves the courtroom to which his generosity has led him that Emile Zola – whether found innocent or guilty – will be met by an imposing cortège that will deliver a civic laurel wreath awarded by thinking youth.