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The Dreyfus Affair, which began in 1894, had a defining moment in January 1898 with Émile Zola’s article ‘J’accuse’. The demand for a revision of the original guilty verdict of 1894 led to the formation of the pro-Dreyfusard Ligue des Droits de l’Homme in February 1898. Durkheim was a member from the beginning and worked to get a list of signatories. The Ligue de la Patrie Française was founded in 1899 to oppose this. While the former recruited from the universities and the intellectual left, the latter recruited from the intellectual right: the Institut de France, the Academie Française, Catholics, conservatives and nationalists (Weber 1962: 17). For Zola, the trial was a denial of truth and justice: ‘La verité est en marche est rien ne l’arrêtera’ (1898: 138). There was, however, significant opposition to this march of truth and not only by members of the the General Staff of the French Army and the judiciary. Léon Blum (1935) remembers the astonishment at how the evidence gathered by Lucien Herr, Georges Picquart and Jean Jaurès, among other Dreyfusards, was resisted if not immediately repudiated. For members of the right who coalesced around this moment, there were more important questions than right and truth, and these concerned the foundation of social order. The Dreyfus Affair opened up moral political and philosophical fault lines concerning right, justice and the liberal values of a democratic state, on the one hand, and the authority of the army and the state, on the other…


This article concerns Émile Durkheim’s critique of the Action Française as expressed in his seminal articles of 1898, which was an important moment in the Dreyfus Affair, where Durkheim’s active engagement serves to challenge a still widespread view of him as a latter day traditionalist and positivist, He developed epistemological and political arguments against this proto-fascist movement, which have implications for his accounts of nationalism and internationalism.


  • Action Française
  • Dreyfus Affair
  • fascism
  • internationalism
  • representation
  • right
  • logical pluralism
  • nationalism
Sue Stedman-Jones
Susan Stedman-Jones formerly taught the philosophy of social science and sociological theory at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She has studied philosophy and anthropology at University College, London, and completed a PhD in philosophy. Her dissertation ‘From Kant to Durkheim’ earned a British Academy research award. She has worked with the British Centre for Durkheimian Studies and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, both at the University of Oxford, and has published Durkheim Reconsidered (2001) and various articles which focus on the philosophical and historical aspects of Durkheim’s thought, some of which have appeared in Durkheimian Studies/Études Durkheimiennes.
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