Between Justice and Politics: The Ligue Des Droits de L'homme, 1898-1945

By William D. Irvine | Go to book overview

FOUR
Liberty with All Its Risks

The leaders of the League were, by 1911 at the latest, men with impeccable leftwing credentials. They were also individuals with equally impeccable civil libertarian reflexes who took some pride in their hard-nosed willingness to push the cause of liberty wherever it might lead. In principle there was no conflict. To the League, one of the defining traits of the Left—as opposed to the Center and the Right—was precisely its commitment to civil liberties. Nothing seemed to illustrate this as clearly as the Dreyfus affair, the classic defining movement of the League’s conscience. In practice, of course, principled stands on civil liberties could indeed conflict with the League’s more general political goals. Were this to happen, the League’s doctrine dictated that principles trumped politics. Henri Guernut, who took some pride in being the most unrepentant “liberal” in the League spelled it out clearly when in 1934 he declared: “To tell the truth is the first mark of a Leaguer; to tell the truth even when it might be disagreeable to one’s friends is the second mark; to tell the truth when it might be to the advantage of one’s enemies is the ultimate mark of a Leaguer.”1 President Victor Basch could match this language when he declared in 1928: “We are the people who bet on liberty, with all its grandeur but also with all its risks.”2 But this kind of rhetoric, impressive though it was, could not conjure away the very real difficulties the League had when faced with the political consequences of principles it theoretically embraced. Sometimes, as with the affaire des fiches, such difficulties could be written off as a momentary casualty of the heated political debates of the day. But over the course of its life, the League also wrestled for years with more fundamental conflicts between the policies that liberal and civil libertarian theory ought to have dictated and the more immediate political consequences of such policies. The debates over women’s suffrage, freedom of association for religious congregations, and freedom of the press illustrate the dilemma of an association attempting to reconcile its simultaneous dedication to civil liberties and to left-wing politics.

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Between Justice and Politics: The Ligue Des Droits de L'homme, 1898-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Between Justice and Politics - The Ligue Des Droits de L'homme, 1898–1945 iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • One - Origins, Organization, and Structure 5
  • Two - Ici on Ne Fait Pas de la Politique 20
  • Three - Politics, Yes, but Not Electoral Politics 53
  • Four - Liberty with All Its Risks 81
  • Five - The League from below 111
  • Six - War and Peace- 1914–1934 132
  • Seven - From the Popular Front to the Fall of France 160
  • Eight - Vichy 194
  • Epilogue 213
  • Notes 225
  • Bibliography 255
  • Index 257
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