The Dreyfus Affair: could it have happened in England?

The Dreyfus Affair is the term used to describe the mass hysteria which arose in France at the end of the nineteenth century as the result of the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus on charges of treasonable activities with the Germans, an hysteria which in turn gave rise to a wave of nationalism and anti-Semitism.

One leading authority on the subject, Nicolas Halasz, entitled his book Captain Dreyfus. The Story of Mass Hysteria, a choice of title supported by the comment of one observer of the Rennes trial in 1899, G. W. Steevans, who in his book The Tragedy of Dreyfus, published the same year, wrote: ‘Frenchmen are hypnotised by the case of Dreyfus, as some people are hypnotised by religion; in its presence they lose all mental power and moral sense.’

This paper will examine the reasons for the hysteria and show that a similar outbreak could have occurred in

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