Charles Murray's "Dreyfus Affair"
by DCDave


In what is probably a good indication of how little-read is the expensive-to-produce, widely-distributed magazine with virtually no visible means of support, the Weekly Standard, it has just now come to my attention that Charles Murray, the newest popular proponent of the comfortable old notion that the rich and the poor in America get what they deserve, had an article published there on February 22, 1999, entitled "Why the Clinton Affair is America's Dreyfus Affair." I stumbled across it archived on the Free Republic forum.  It has been purged from there, but now it can be found at the web site of the American Enterprise Institute under the title, "Our Dreyfus Case."

Murray's argument, in a nutshell, is that the Clinton accusers in the Lewinsky matter are like the falsely-accused Captain Alfred Dreyfus (and his camp of defenders) who, though they lost initially both in court and in the court of public opinion will be vindicated with the passage of time. Further, says Murray, the two affairs are similar in that they brought to a head, each in its own way, the moral bankruptcy and the loss of legitimacy of the "French right" and of the U.S. "national government."

Now, almost a year later, in a very superficial way Murray's analysis is beginning to look almost prescient. The poll numbers of those saying that President Clinton should have been convicted, we are told, have gone up, and those Republican Congressmen who were said to have been committing political suicide are now said to be in quite good shape politically.

In a deeper sense, however, Murray's comparisons insult the intelligence. They also sully the memory of men with the sort of character that to a Murray must seem unfathomable. The Dreyfusards, as they were called, were constantly accused by their powerful detractors of having ulterior motives in their attacks upon the military court that had convicted Captain Dreyfus. It is clear, though, in retrospect that they were interested only in truth and justice. The whole weight of French official and unofficial power, the military, the courts, and the greater part of the press, was lined up against them.

"I accuse the War Office of having conducted an abominable campaign in the press (especially in L'Eclair and L'Echo de Paris) in order to cover up its misdeeds and lead public opinion astray," wrote Emile Zola in the famous open letter that won him a one-year prison sentence for libel. In the sentences preceding he had accused in the strongest terms seven high- ranking officers and three handwriting experts, by name, of serious malfeasance.

Lt. Colonel Georges Picquart, who did his patriotic and professional duty and revealed from within the government that Dreyfus had been railroaded, paid for it with his career, his freedom, and almost with his life. Anyone who would suggest strong similarities between these men and a Rush Limbaugh or a Kenneth Starr is simply selling snake oil.

The defenders of Dreyfus were desperate to get the full truth out. The accusers of President Clinton, who in no way resemble the powerless tiny minority the Dreyfusards were initially, wanted his impeachment only if it could be accomplished with a very small, relatively insignificant, portion of the truth getting out. Perjury in a civil suit, an offense that went no further than Bill Clinton's most personal conduct was one thing; taking on a host of larger scandals, including the sweeping cover-up of the murder of a high White House official, a cover- up in which the president and lots of other people were as obviously involved as Dreyfus was innocent, was something else entirely. With their reluctance to come to grips with the more serious crimes, either for fear of where they led or because of their own complicity, the authors of the Clinton impeachment attempt, in the final analysis, showed themselves not to be the exposers of fin de siecle corruption, but just another part of it.

Murray's second point is as weak as his first. The weakness is in large part a result of logical confusion. The "national government" that has been losing legitimacy in the eyes of the public includes Clinton's Republican accusers. Their defeat over the impeachment, to Murray, represents a potential bottoming out, from which we might well begin to come to our senses and somehow to start getting rid of the rot. But the accusers, with their participation in the cover-up of larger, more important scandals are as much a part of the rot as is Clinton. Had the accusers won in this relatively trivial matter, this fake wrestling match, little would have changed. In the Dreyfus case, things did get better in due time because the rank outsiders won. The full truth eventually came to light. Clinton's accusers are standing in the way of that happy eventuality as much as he. And it is pure moonshine to believe that we can make things better without insisting upon truth and justice and the punishment of the guilty. On the contrary, that is a recipe for making things worse.

In the France of a century ago, as I point out in my "America's Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster," which predates Murray's article by some four years, the truth got out and justice was done in part because the press was much more diverse and not as thoroughly controlled as ours. France, unlike us, also had some leading writers and thinkers who cared enough about truth and justice to stick their necks out for it. Murray carefully avoids mention of the fact that America's press has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the public as much as have the politicians, and for good reason. Like Clinton's Republican opponents in the Congress, they are a large part of the corruption problem. As I reveal in my "Dreyfus," they have participated in the Foster-case cover-up more actively, and more monolithically, than did the French press in the Dreyfus miscarriage.

We should not be surprised that Murray would give the press a pass. In his biography we see that he has had articles in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Public Interest, Commentary, Atlantic, New Republic, and National Review and that he has been on a number of public affairs programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, and NPR. He would hardly sink his teeth into those hands.

As for America's version of "intellectuals," when he and the late Richard Herrnstein wrote in The Bell Curve about the "cognitive elite" who, as they see it, justly rise to the top in our great land of opportunity, one can almost see this Harvard graduate with a Ph. D. from M. I. T. looking in the mirror approvingly. I really didn't expect him to fault someone like author William Styron as I did in my "Dreyfus" for participating in the Foster cover-up, since he won't even acknowledge that there has been a cover-up, but he also avoided mention of the 400 historians who rallied to Clinton's cause in the Lewinsky scandal (See my "Moral Midgets of American Academia"). When he wrote of those who have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the public, he would have done well to have looked in the mirror then, as well, but he chose to lock arms with those he regards as his peers and to look away.

With this fluff ball in William Kristol's suspect little magazine, Murray has made my earlier limerick-style review of his co-authored book look all the better:

Losing Ground

We live in a sort of democracy
That they say is a "meritocracy,"
But The Bell Curve go hang,
If you'll pardon my slang,
I think it's a sycophantocracy.

David Martin
January 3, 2000

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