A careless traveler from the beginning of the 20th century and catapulted to Paris this Sunday, November 12 would undoubtedly be very surprised. He could attend a “great civic march” against anti-Semitism launched by the respective presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate, Yaël Braun-Pivet and Gérard Larcher. Since the terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas in Israel on October 7, anti-Semitic acts have indeed exploded. But in this manifestation, our traveler would struggle to find his way.
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Indeed, he would discover, among his most determined participants, the representatives of a nationalist party co-founded among others by Pierre Bousquet, a former Waffen-SS, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, a man convicted several times for anti-Semitic remarks, the RN, which his daughter Marine successfully took over. He would also notice a very young formation, Reconquête, whose founder Eric Zemmour, although Jewish, was able to estimate, regarding the innocence of Captain Dreyfus, that “this is not obvious”. He would undoubtedly see, separated from the two pariah parties by a “sanitary cordon”, LREM, the PS, EELV and the PCF. And he would look in vain for the elected representatives of the first left-wing party, LFI, which, for more than a month, has refused to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, implying that Israel, after all, was looking for it, and sanctions a deputy who is too… rebellious while letting her colleagues defend the Hamas “resistance fighters”. If it is difficult to rule definitively on the anti-Semitism of LFI or its tutelary figure Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as they skillfully favor detours and innuendoes, it is on the other hand clear that this left is not philosemite.
Return to 1906. The political landscape is profoundly transformed by the Dreyfus affair, which ends after twelve years of tumult. The Republicans emerge victorious from their confrontation with the nationalists and the reactionaries. The hope of a return to the old order is dashed. The case is, in the words of the historian Michel Winock, a “breaking point in (the) history of relations between the left and the Jews” since it “will have the effect of cutting off the semi-complicit relations between the left and the anti-Semites”. At the beginning, in fact, the Republican left in power and the socialists showed great caution. In this case, noted Alain Finkielkraut“the socialists do not feel concerned by the battle that is looming. Even when they do not go so far as to proclaim after Marx that money is the true god of Israel and that with capitalism the world has become Jewish , they are reluctant to defend a bourgeois officer. This would distract their energy from the only war that is worthwhile because it has at stake the very humanity of man: the class struggle.”
A humanism “gone mad”
The upheaval occurred after the anti-Semitic demonstrations of January and February 1898 and the revelation, in August, of the forgery committed by Commander Henry. Jaurès becomes a Dreyfusard, late but firmly. The French Socialist Party of the Jauresians and the Socialist Party of France of Guesde and Vaillant were born in 1902 and merged in 1905 into the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). Another consequence, the birth in 1901 of the Republican Party, radical and radical-socialist, the first modern political party, and the creation of the French League for the defense of human and citizen rights. The left, particularly intellectual, became humanist, facing a nationalist right which would continue to benefit from a large platform and would last until 1945. The conflict was far from being Manichean since there were right-wing Dreyfusards and left-wing anti-Dreyfusards. It remains that it results in the victory of the Republic over its enemies. Even more, the Affair marks the victory of the rule of law over reasons of state.
In our present situation, the terms seem reversed. As suggested by recent polls, it is the parties of the right of the right which benefit from the circumstances, as their posture seems more republican than that of the government, timid and contradictory, or of the left of the left. And it is this which continues to turn away from humanism (we note in passing that the situation has worsened since 2015, when it was a little more present at the demonstrations of January 10 and 11, 2015) and which, while consolidating its base and disseminating its ideas thanks to its media, academic and intellectual relays, destroys its chances of victory at the polls.
However, the most striking aspect of this reversal is that it testifies to a humanism “gone mad”, to use a phrase from the English writer GK Chesterton. [1874-1936]. It is in the name of defending the “oppressed”, in this case Muslims and Palestinians, that LFI finds itself incapable of condemning anti-Semitism, when it is not flirting with anti-Zionism with anti-Jewish overtones. It is in the name of human rights that it fails to grant the same respect to Jews as to Arabs. It is in the name of the “weak” that she turns a blind eye or even justifies the torture of the “strong”. Tied up by its anti-capitalism, its authoritarianism and its conspiratorial inclinations, it shows itself incapable of recognizing that the victims it defends could be executioners, and that the dominants it accuses could be victims. By an irony such as only History can produce, it seems to have returned to the point where socialism was before the Dreyfus affair.
Towards a clash between the rule of law and reason of state
However, we should not conclude from this that the right of the right will save the Republic. Like the socialists in their time, the frontists were anti-Semitic and some still are. The executives of the RN version of Marine Le Pen, who had her father expelled from the party in 2015, seem to have broken with anti-Semitism, and their voters, if they cultivate more than the average French anti-Jewish tropes, have little to do with the violent anti-Semites of the Third Republic. But the risk that the right poses to our democracy lies elsewhere. In the confrontation between the rule of law and reason of state, the RN and Reconquest unambiguously signal that they prefer, in all circumstances, to take the side of the latter. Our rule of law can be greatly improved: it is so broad that it can come into contradiction with the protection of the interests of the nation. But the right of the right does not claim to toughen the exceptions to the rule of law in unfortunately necessary cases; it contests, like the anti-Dreyfusards in their time, the very principle.
To put it another way, this sort of Dreyfus affair with a reversed front shows us, when it does not ask us to choose between them, several degrees of what we would formerly have called anti-Dreyfusism. Liberal democracy will not emerge from it strengthened but stunned.