For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus

For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus

Frederick Brown

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 0307279219

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, a defeated and humiliated France split into cultural factions that ranged from those who embraced modernity to those who championed the restoration of throne and altar. This polarization—to which such iconic monuments as the Sacre-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower bear witness—intensified with a succession of grave events over the following decades: the crash of an investment bank founded to advance Catholic interests; the failure of the Panama Canal Company; the fraudulent charge of treason brought against a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, which resulted in a civil war between his zealous supporters and fanatical antagonists.

In this brilliant reconsideration of what fostered the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in twentieth-century Europe, Frederick Brown chronicles the intense struggle for the soul of a nation, and shows how France’s deep fractures led to its surrender to Hitler’s armies in 1940.

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he takes care that the scepter of justice be placed in hands strong enough to grasp it.” On this sanctimonious note Chambord exited from French history, leaving his acolytes behind. Several months later they commemorated their dream at the place des Pyramides with the inauguration of Emmanuel Frémiet’s equestrian statue of Joan of Arc (which would become a yearly ritual). Was there not always a king to be restored? “Le roi est mort. Vive le roi!” However grave the defects of this crowned head or

government after MacMahon stepped down, and the republican principally associated with this enterprise, along with Gambetta, was Jules Ferry, who served as minister of education during the late 1870s. Earlier in the decade, Ferry had earned the enmity of the Church by declaring in the Chamber of Deputies: I believe in the lay State, lay in its essence, lay in all its organs. … The conflict between the rights of the State and those of the individual is as old as society itself, but conflicts

Continental Army defeat Cornwallis on October 19, 1781. The handsome, bemedalled general had no sooner set foot on American soil than he became Rochambeau incarnate, a conquering hero, a popular idol. Tricolor flags draped buildings; handkerchiefs fluttered; hats waved to the Frenchman wonderfully fluent in English. How could fantasies of demagogic power not bloom in the praise showered on him for no other reason than that he looked the part of savior? “It was beautiful, it was grandiose, it was

avoided prosecution but lost his seat in the 1893 elections, dueled the Boulangist standard-bearer, Paul Déroulède, to a harmless draw; before an enlarged board of inquiry appointed by parliament; and in the courts. On January 4, 1893, police arrested a representative of the Crédit Lyonnais on charges of having given the disgraced minister of public works, Bai-haut, 375,000 francs to endorse a lottery bond for the Panama Canal Company. Three days later police arrested Baihaut himself. The board

spokesman of a Jewish resistance too long deferred.” After eighteen months of largely futile supplication, Mathieu concluded that drastic measures were needed to break the silence enveloping his brother’s case. Spurred by terrible news from Devil’s Island (where, according to one published report, Alfred Dreyfus had become “ageless, his body stooped over, his hair white, his face sallow and hollowed, his beard gray, weary and slow of pace”), he hired an English agent to spread the rumor through

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