Drumont, édouard

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effectiveness and ineffectiveness

DRUMONT, ÉDOUARD (1844–1917), French publicist and anti-Semitic activist.

Few cases of notoriety are as puzzling as the strange case of Édouard Drumont. Drumont, a French publicist, emerged suddenly in 1886 to become one of Europe's leading anti-Semitic activists. Sprung from the humblest of provincial beginnings—his father was a ne'er-do-well who ended his days in an insane asylum—Drumont abandoned his mother and sister to their fates and made his way to Paris. Through the 1860s, 1870s, and well into the 1880s, the scrivener made a sort of life for himself as a minor journalist, moving from newspaper to newspaper, most of them right wing, often Bonapartist.

la france juive

Then, in the spring of 1886, Drumont published a two-volume work entitled La France juive—or Jewish France. The book sat in the stores for a month, then received some important (if critical or mixed) reviews in the press, after which it suddenly took off, becoming France's largest bestseller since Joseph-Ernest Renan's La vie de Jésus (1863; Life of Jesus).

Jewish France is a sprawling pastiche, a confection of hoary religio-cultural notions and new-fangled socioeconomic and "scientific" (racist) ideas that had been floating in the Zeitgeist (general cultural climate) for the previous few decades. The highly repetitious and factually faulty work displays a complete absence of rigor or system, and even of the force and energy that drive certain other, equally repellent, writings (such as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf of 1925–1927, which cites Drumont approvingly).

Drumont loudly denies he has anything against Judaism as a religion; rather, he claims to demonstrate that the Jews as "a people" are arrogant, anti-Catholic, rich, and controlling. "Foreigners everywhere," they are "unpatriotic cosmopolites" in every nation they inhabit. "France," Drumont writes, "is for the French." Herein lies a contradiction—if France is "Jewish," then how can the French Jews not be French? He adds, the Jews are "capitalists by nature" but also, curiously, "revolutionaries"—another contradiction. And a third: Drumont borrowed a large sum from a leading Jewish banker of the day, a man whom he was vilifying in the press.

Drumont wrote other books—Le testament d'un antisémite (1891; Testament of an Antisemite), La fin d'un monde: Étude psychologique et sociale (1889; The world we have lost), Le secret de Fourmies (1892; The secret of Fourmies), and so forth—none nearly as famous as his first. In all of them, he often uses the word race, though what he generally means by it is not so much a set of physical and genetic traits (though he does occasionally speak of such) but rather the characteristics of group solidarity and aggression that are associated with nationalism.

The gravamen of his charges turned on two issues: the Jews' alleged financial control of the French economy and, correspondingly, their political influence in the Third Republic. Together with a handful of Protestants who held high office in the regime ("every Protestant is half a Jew"), the Jews, he averred, constituted the activist core of France's governing classes and therefore were singularly responsible for the anticlerical legislation of the 1880s (and after) against the Catholic Church.

In short, the "new" French anti-Semitism of the 1880s and after consisted of a politico-religious kernel lying within a socioeconomic husk. This should not be surprising. In a nominally Catholic nation such as France, the Church of Rome keenly felt the "rude blows" raining down on it from a secular regime intent on creating republican citizens. Catholics might normally have responded by launching a political party of their own, as they did in Germany and Austria, yet they did not do so in France.

A number of contentious newcomers therefore entered the French political world. Drumont's anti-Semites, as also the monarchists and the nationalists, took as their model of opposition Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine's attack on the French Revolution and the Third Republic, only reoutfitted as an attack on "Jewish France," rather than "the Jacobin Republic." But their appeals and styles were new; for Drumont, like some of his more intuitive right-wing rivals, had an opportunistic finger on society's pulse, and in the 1890s they managed to enlist a number of anarchists, socialists, and workers. This ceased by the end of the decade, when the far left turned against organized anti-Semitism; yet French socialism never entirely overcame its occasional tendency to inveigh against "Jewish finance."

effectiveness and ineffectiveness

Drumont's new "ism" thus had its moments—small triumphs that battened on the great political "affairs" that shook the regime through the turn of the century: Boulanger, Panama, Dreyfus. This last crisis saw anti-Semitic riots break out in provincial France. Drumont's National Anti-Semitic League of France amounted to nothing, although it, and a successor league, gave the impression of huge size. Drumont's daily newspaper, La libre parole (Free Speech), however, boasted well over a hundred thousand readers on most days. Drumont accepted prison and exile on behalf of his convictions, and he frequently risked his neck in duels with many of the leading figures of the day (including the Radical statesman Georges Clemenceau). In 1898 he was elected on an anti-Semitic platform from Algeria for a term to the Chamber of Deputies, where he sat with a couple of dozen other anti-Semitic representatives. But formal anti-Semitism was by 1902 largely a thing of the past, its organizations and leadership diminished, and certainly nothing remotely akin to the mighty parties, numerous newspapers, or powerful parliamentary delegations that anti-Semitism fielded in Germany, Austria, or Russia.

Then, too, Édouard Drumont was anything but a Karl Lueger or a Georg von Schoenerer, to name the two most famous German-speaking anti-Semites. Lacking entirely their organizational capabilities, he was an introvert, preferring his study to the street. This was perhaps just as well, for he also lacked these leaders' charisma and their apparent civic-mindedness. Instead, Drumont was misanthropic, a man of fathomless querulousness who broke with every ally he ever had, and made enemies where he did not need to. Thus, the Vatican, for example, which quietly supported the Austro-German Catholic parties, nearly condemned Drumont for his invective against the pope and the bishops. Drumont's own confessor, Father du Lac—a renowned Jesuit who had aided the publication of La France juive—wrote to him a few years later, "Almost nobody believes you any more.…Almost no one takes you seriously."

Finally, perhaps relatedly, Drumont's ideas remained narrow and negative—too obviously the acting out of his tortured psyche and emotional conflicts. He never learned how to associate his anti-Semitism with other, more positive, political and cultural stances and ideas, as Karl Lueger managed to do when he became mayor of Vienna. "I feel my heart more capable of hatred than of love," Drumont wrote Father du Lac, in what was, for once, not only a sincere but also an accurate statement.

Drumont's historical fame results from his nationality, his being French. Simply because La France juive appeared in the home of the democratic Revolution of 1789—the only major European power to be a republic—it provoked international astonishment and won its author some degree of reknown. But the "movement" that he sought to create from his book's reception proved stillborn, as the French anti-Semitism of this era remained a porous entity with transparent borders, not a formal ideology or organized party. Though anti-Jewish ideas infected the Zeitgeist, they proved a difficult doctrinal sell in postrevolutionary culture. When anti-Semitism showed itself in prewar France, it was commonly as an accompaniment of other doctrines, a momentary revitalizer of failed causes, such as Boulangism.

See alsoAnti-Semitism; Boulangism; Dreyfus Affair; Jews and Judaism.


Primary Sources

Beau de Loménie, Emmanuel. Édouard Drumont; ou, L'anticapitalisme national: Choix de textes. Paris, 1968.

Drumont, Édouard. La France juive devant l'opinion. 2 vols. Paris, 1886.

Secondary Sources

Busi, Frederick. Pope of Antisemitism: The Career and Legacy of Edouard-Adolphe Drumont. Lanham, Md., 1986.

Byrnes, Robert F. Antisemitism in Modern France. Vol. 1: The Prologue to the Dreyfus Affair. New Brunswick, N.J., 1950.

Poliakov, Leon. Histoire de l'antisémitisme. Paris, 1968.

Wilson, Stephen. Ideology and Experience: Antisemitism in France at the Time of the Dreyfus Affair. London, 1982.

Steven Englund

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