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1882-1892 - Anti-Semitism in France

The last country in Europe to make use of the teachings of German anti-Semitism in its party politics was France. The fact that the movement should have struck root in a republican country, where the ideals of democratic and freedom had been so passionately cultivated, has been regarded as one of the paradoxes of latter-day history. As a matter of fact, it is more surprising that it was not adopted earlier. All the social and political conditions which produced anti-Semitism in Germany were present in France, but in an aggravated form due primarily to the very republican regime which at first sight seemed to be a guarantee against it.

In the monarchical states the dominance of the bourgeoisie was tempered in a measure by the power of the crown and the political activity of the aristocracy, which carried with them a very real restraining influence in the matter of political honor and morality. In France these restraining influences were driven out of public life by the republic. The nobility both of the ancien rígime and the empire stood aloof, and politics were abandoned for the most part to professional adventurers, while the bourgeoisie, assumed the form of an omnipotent plutocracy. This naturally attracted to France all the financial adventurers in Europe, and in the train of the immigration came not a few German Jews, alienated from their own country by the agitation of Marr and Stocker. Thus the bourgeoisie was not only more powerful in France than in other countries, but the Jewish element was accentuated by a tinge of the national enemy. The anti- clericalism of the bourgeois republic and its unexampled series of financial scandals, culminating in the Panama "Krach," thus sufficed to give anti-Semitism a strong hold on the public mind.

Nevertheless, it was not until 1882 that the anti-Jewish movement was seriously heard of in France. Paul Bontoux (b. 1820), who had formerly been in the employ of the Rothschilds, but bad been obliged to leave the firm in consequence of his disastrous speculations, had joined the Legitimist party, and had started tbe Union Générale with funds obtained from his new allies. Bontoux promised to break up the alleged financial monopoly of the Jews and Protestants and to found a new plutocracy in its stead, which should be mainly Roman Catholic and aristocratic.

The bait was eagerly swallowed. For five years the Union Générale, with the blessing of the pope, pursued an apparently prosperous career. Immense schemes were undertaken, and the 125-fr. shares rose gradually to 3200 francs. The whole structure, however, rested on a basis of audacious speculation, and in January 1882 the Union Générale failed, with liabilities amounting to 212,000,000 francs. The cry was at once raised that the collapse was due to the maneuvers of the Jews, and a strong anti-Semitic feeling manifested itself in clerical and aristocratic circles.

In 1886 violent expression was given to this feeling in a book since become famous, La France juive, by Edouard Drumont (b. 1844). The author illustrated the theories of German anti-Semitism with a chronique scandaleuse full of piquant personalities, in which the corruption of French national life under Jewish influences was painted in alarming colors. The book, was read with avidity by the public, who welcomed its explanations of the obviously growing debauchery. The Wilson scandals and the suspension of the Panama Company in the following year, while not bearing out Dnimont's anti-Semitism, fully justified his view of the prevailing corruption.

Out of this condition of things rose the Boulangist movement, which rallied all the disaffected elements in the country, including Drumont's following of anti-Semites. It was not, however, until the flight of General Boulanger and the ruin of his party that anti-Semitism came forward as a political movement. The chief author of the rout of Boulangism was a Jewish politician and journalist, Joseph Reinach (b. 1856), formerly private secretary to Gambetta, and one of the ablest men in France. He was a Frenchman by birth and education, but his father and uncles were Germans, who had founded an important, banking establishment in Paris. Hence he was held to personify the alien Jewish domination in France, and the ex-Boulangists turned against him and his co-religionists with fury. The Boulangist agitation had for a second tune involved the Legitimists in heavy pecuniary losses, and under the leadership of the marquis dc Mores they now threw all their influence on the side of Drumont.

An anti-Semitic league was established, and with Royalist assistance branches were organized all over the country. The Franco-Russian alliance in 1891, when the persecutions of the Jews by Pobêdonostsev were attracting the attention of Europe, served to invest Drumont's agitation with a fashionable and patriotic character. It was a sign of the spiritual approximation of the two peoples. In 1892 Drumont founded a daily anti-Semitic newspaper, La Libre Parole. With the organization of this journal a regular campaign for the discovery of scandals was instituted. At the same time a body of aristocratic swashbucklers, with the marquis dc Mores and the comte de Lámase at their head, set themselves to terrorize the Jews and provoke them to duels. At a meeting held at Neuilly in 1891, Jules Guérin, one of the marquis de Morès's lieutenants, had demanded rhetorically un cadavre de Juif. He had not long to wait.

Anti-Semitism was most powerful in the armv, which was the only branch of the public service in which the reactionary classes were fully represented. The republican law compelling the seminarists to serve their term in the army had strengthened its Clerical and Royalist elements, and the result was a movement against the Jewish officers, of whom 500 held commissions. A series of articles in the Libre Parole attacking these officers-led to a number of ferocious duels, and these culminated in 1892 in the death of an amiable and popular Jewish officer, Captain Armand Mayer, of the Engineers, who fell, pierced through the lungs by the marquis de Mores. This tragedy, rendered all the more painful by the discovery that Captain Mayer had chivalrously fought to shield a friend, aroused a great deal of popular indignation against the anti-Semites, and for a moment it was believed that the agitation bad been killed with its victim.

Towards the end of 1892, the discovery of the widespread corruption practised by the Panama Company gave a fresh impulse to anti-Semitism. The revelations were in a large measure due to the industry of the Libre Parole; and they were all the more welcome to the readers of that journal since it was discovered that three Jews were implicated in the scandals, one of whom, baron de Reinach, was uncle and father-in-law to the hated destroyer of Boulangism. The escape of the other two, Dr Cornelius Herz and M. Alton, and the difficulties experienced in obtaining their extradition, deepened the popular conviction that the authorities were implicated in the scandals, and kept the public eye for a long time absorbed by the otherwise restricted Jewish aspects of the scandals.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:57:26 ZULU