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ART. VII.-THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE DREYFUS
The general order of the French minister of war has announced to the arıny that the Dreyfus “incident is closed.” But it may be doubted whether the matter can be terminated by order, or the pacification of minds be attained by any step short of full and final justice. Amid the storm of passion it has been a relief at times to hearken to the scattered voices appealing for a quieter consideration of the issue. Especially during the weary weeks when the shadows deepened over France as the unrighteous efforts of the generals drew nearer to success, those of us who followed the trial froin near at hand found a measure of relief in studying the question under certain more general aspects. These permitted us to forget the while the haunting personal sufferings of the prisoner and the critical national interests at stake.
One of these calmer points of view was given by the psychological principles of which the case furnished so striking an illustration. The able editorial writers of the Paris Temps suggested this aspect of the matter in several articles, which, though they were written out of a literary rather than a technical acquaintance with psychology, brought clearly into view a number of the psychical laws which the leaders in the affaire were following in complete unconsciousness of the fact. The simplest of these laws was illustrated by the influence of the idée maîtresse, the controlling power exercised by preconceived opinions over the minds of a large majority of the parties to the case. That opinion should be biased, that witnesses should appear in whom this bias had colored the memory of actual occurrences and the interpretation of facts accurately reported —this was no novelty either in psychology or in legal practice. But the Dreyfus affaire had so taken hold of the thought of Frenchmen, their feelings concerning the matter had grown so intense, that this well-known principle received fuller and more striking exemplification than the world is often permitted to behold. A jealous husband had been known to describe the prisoner as unfit to wear his sword years before the treason had been committed ; a liveryman had hired him a horse to ride to the German maneuvers; in Berlin a traveling tradesman had listened to two generals, who most conveniently conversed in French, as they discussed this Dreyfus, who in Paris was busy in the service of his country's foes; another traveler had been shown at Potsdam the kaiser's apartment in a palace where the kaiser never resides, and there, though ignorant of the German language, had read a marginal note on a newspaper which proved the guilt of the accused ; a captain had heard a confession which the highest court of appeal threw out, although generals and ministers of war held it conclusive evidence; finally, the president of the court-martial produces, rather than summons, toward the close of the trial, a miserable unbalanced alien who brings with him enough of “proof” to condemn, not merely Dreyfus, but a dozen traitors in a row.
These calumnies were not in every case deliberate falsehoods. In all probability the majority of the slanders rested on a certain basis of fact. Bias and malice had made the stories grow; for no better proof could be demanded than that which is furnished in the records of this case for the further psychological law that feeling exercises a controlling influence over the processes of knowledge and belief. But in some instances, at least, the development of the modicum of fact into the completed tale can be traced with such exactness that the genesis of the legend is explained without the assumption of unworthy motives on the part of the witnesses. Thus, to take the crucial example instanced by the writer quoted above, the facts of the interview in 1894 between the brothers of Dreyfus and Colonel Sandherr evidently gave ground for the false interpretation pat upon it by Sandherr's friend who reported it to the court. Nothing but the written memorandum in the deceased officer's own hand enabled the defense to show that Matthieu Dreyfus's appeal for help and his offer to sacrifice his fortune in his brother's behalf had been magnified by Sandherr's hearers into an attempt to corrupt an officer in high position by the proffer of a bribe. The original written evidence destroyed the oral report at second hand. But if this had been lacking the case of the prisoner would have been sadly damaged by the effect of an idée maîtresse.”
A further, though less direct, illustration of the same law was shown in the reception given to such "evidence" by men of high intelligence. That General Mercier should cite as evidence a letter from a tailor in which “proof” against Dreyfus was followed by a request for a continuance of patronage is explicable on either one of several hypotheses, without recourse to the cruel suggestion of Zola that the ex-minister is past his mental prime. But that “ table d'hôte stories," as the defense correctly termed them, should be counted worthy of grave judicial consideration, that they should be allowed to tell against the prisoner along with the analogous composite of exaggeration and malice produced by the officers from the ministry of war and the staff, that Frenchmen of unquestioned intellectual capacity, outside the army as within it, should found their conviction of guilt in part upon such “proofs” as these, and that the judges in an important case should give heed to them—this is an abnormal condition in which the psychologist no less than the moralist or the student of legal procedure finds instances of the principles of his science.
Back of this special bias, and forming the soil from which it sprang, was the widely spread spirit of suspicion in relation to all matters connected with the case. This aspect of the matter must be kept in mind if the affaire is to be understood either in its psychological or in its historical development. This, furthermore, explains certain of the obstacles that confronted the defense in its endeavor to obtain justice. “He is lost; hie denies everything," was the cry of his opponents at the close of Dreyfus's interrogation in the opening session of the second court-martial. And at least one able English writer, with bias rather in favor of the accused than against him, adopted toward the end of the trial a similar conclusion. The lack of frankness common to his race, so this writer argued, prevented Dreyfus from admitting facts easily susceptible of proof. Thus he incurred his own exposure as a falsifier in his defense and facilitated the exaggeration of the facts which he had endeavored to conceal. For one, we must confess that the incident which is made the pretense for this conclusion—the question of Dreyfus's attendance at the German maneuvers near Mülhausen-does not appear to bear out the inference which has been based upon it. But, whether true or false, it yields a striking example of the abnormal state of suspicion which afflicted the minds of men on both sides of this extraordinary case. It is entirely conceivable either that the prisoner thought too little of his chance meetings with German regiments on the march to mention them until he was driven into a corner by the tactics of his accusers, or that he may have feared to acknowledge a natural and innocent occurrence lest it should be twisted into a new “proof” of his guilt. For it would seem that a French officer must carefully avoid acquaintance with foreigners of his own profession or be prepared to find his sword in danger, if at any time a colorable charge of treason can be brought against him. Fortunately for Dreyfus, such acquaintance conld only be asserted, not proved, even according to the standard of evidence adopted by the five judges at Rennes. If he had known a German fellow-officer, if he had attended a German field day-surely a useful thing for a French officer to do—it may be doubted whether he would have gained the two minority votes which saved him. That he did know more than his fellows of the territory around his home-become German through the conquest of 1870-71—that he took a special interest in the frontier to which his attention had been called by the circumstances of his early life as well as by the longing of his countrymen for revenge, that in general he was eager to inquire into the details of his professional work beyond the requirements of his superiors—these facts told heavily against his case. Esterhazy might long to see the Uhlans riding once more through the Arc de Triomphe and down the Avenue of the Champs Elysées, but he was protected by the general staff. Dreyfus had once asserted the surprising truth that the Deity, as conceived by the Jews, is God on both sides of the Rhine; therefore his lack of patriotism was evident, though his heart melted and his eyes ran tears when he canght sight of the tricolor from his cage on the Devil's Isle.
It is not necessary, however, to multiply illustrations of the abnormal suspicion in question. Of greater importance are the questions which this condition of the public mind suggest concerning the spirit of the French people. Here the case becomesamatter of collective rather than of individual psychology. It may be some time again before the votaries of this inner branch of the science will have a better opportunity for study. ing the rapport of mind with mind in its exaggerated forms, for investigating the effects of class and party spirit, psychical phenomena of crowds and the peculiar characteristics of the mobmind, especially as concerns the tendency of such common psychical developments to degenerate toward the level of the lower elements in the mass, if not to unchain the impulses which man retains along with the brute. But the question is broader even than the facts of life in common. It leads up to the problems of national and racial psychology, a department in which we have long been in possession of certain generalizations of a broad and floating kind, but where precise scientific determinations are so difficult to reach. Many a thinker, in view of these recent developments in France, has been asking himself the questions, Is it true, then, that the cruel suspiciousness ascribed to the French is in fact a mental characteristic of the nation? what difference in essence is there between the mingled suspicion and ferocity of the opponents of Dreyfus, not now to think of his inhuman jailers and their unspeakable work, and the spirit which animated the leaders of the Revolution and the Terror a century ago? Or, not to charge upon a nation the crimes of a part of its citizens, are not this readiness to believe in the guilt of a person charged with an offense, this suspiciousness which tortures innocent facts into proofs of crime, the cruelty with which vengeance rather than judgment is visited upon an offender thus convicted of a charge-are not these traits shown to be inherent in the national spirit by their repeated appearance at critical stages in the history of the people in recent times? It is clear, at least, that the defenders of an affirmative answer have gained a mass of fresh evidence in support of their contention from the miserable happenings of the last five years.
And a still deeper problem lingers in the background. It is recognized by all that the Gallic mind is clear and brilliant. But is it marked by thoroughness, by that persistent determination to penetrate to the heart of a question, by that patience in the verification of results, which have been shown by the history of modern thought to be of paramount necessity in the