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

By William D. Irvine | Go to book overview

FIVE
The League from Below

However much the League dabbled in politics or questions of broad public policy, its raison d’être was the defense of public liberties and the cases of injustice and arbitrary justice. In 1927 the president of the federation of the Drôme noted that although the League was best known for its stance on “national or international politics, the foremost and essential function of the League is the often modest, difficult and low profile defense of minor civil servants, widows, pensioners and common citizens.”1 Most of its day-to-day activities were directed toward this end. By the 1930s the League was dealing with nearly 20,000 such cases annually, and the bulk of its substantial staff of nearly 50 employees was dedicated to handling the problems arising out of these questions.

In principle a very efficient mechanism was in place. Potential cases would first be dealt with by one of the League’s nearly 2,500 local sections. Sections would examine the case in order to establish if it were an appropriate one for the League and to pass on its inherent merits. If a section thought a case worthy and believed it to be one that it could not handle at the local level, the section would compile a complete dossier and send it on to Paris. There, one of the many legal experts the League retained would examine the case, emit a judgment on its merits, suggest the most effective recourse, and if deemed appropriate, recommend formal League intervention with the relevant public authorities. The League routinely sent out circulars to its sections showing how most effectively to compile a dossier and explaining the fine points of the law and of the legal system.

In practice, very frequently nothing like this happened. Sections routinely passed on cases that were transparently not within the League’s jurisdiction and more or less devoid of merit. The dossiers were often incomplete, when not totally rudimentary, thus requiring a string of letters calling for more information. By 1933, Emile Kahn, noting that the resultant postage costs were prohibitive, informed his staff that incoming cases required far more rigorous

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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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