“What is collective passion?” begins an incisive article in the London Review of Books. Jacqueline Rose examines the Dreyfus affair, the argument that, “What happened [to Dreyfus] in France at the turn of the century was in many ways a forerunner of Vichy,” and the part played in the affair by four heroes:
The affair has three heroes: Zola, the less known Colonel Picquart, one of Dreyfus’s few defenders inside the army, and Bernard Lazare, the Jewish socialist-anarchist and critic who was first to speak out publicly in Dreyfus’s defence. But we should also add a fourth: the radical, little-known literary journal La Revue Blanche.
Rose also explores contemporary parallels:
On grounds of national security, the state prosecutors argued that the most incriminating evidence against Dreyfus, which in fact did not exist, could not be revealed in court. David Miliband recently used exactly the same argument to justify withholding details of Great Britain’s policy on and, the evidence suggests, complicity in rendition and torture. National security as the cover for the erosion of civil liberties is something we have all become familiar with since 9/11.
If your knowledge of the Dreyfus affair was as meager as mine, you may find the article illuminating. I have ordered Louis Begley’s Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters (2009), cited by Rose in her article. (Begley wrote the first-rate The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head, Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay.)
Jacqueline Rose’s article is adapted from a lecture available here.