This passage about the anti-Semitic Dreyfus Affair (from a book I’m reading on the French Third Republic) is coming to mind today:
Long before the end of the Affaire, as the French called it, the question of the guilt of Dreyfus became almost lost in the melee, giving way to a fundamental conflict over the very moral concepts of French society which cast its shadow over the Third Republic from then on to the end. For to the Army leaders and their backers in the Church, and among the conservative classes, the supreme issue became not whether Dreyfus was guilty (though they believed he was) but that even if he was innocent it were better that he suffer the tortures of the damned (as he was literally doing on Devil’s Island) than that the prestige and the honor of the French Army, on which the defense of the country depended, be impugned. Of what significance was the life and honor of one individual compared to the life and the honor of la patrie? Of what significance indeed were naked truth and naked justice for the individual and even respect for the human personality regardless of race or religion if adhering to them undermined the confidence of the people in the leaders of the Army and sapped their faith in the constituted authorities and thus weakened the fiber of the nation? Above everything else lay the national interest and throughout history individuals had been sacrificed for it, as had truth and justice.
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