Lucien Herr (1864 - 1926)

Lucien Herr


Journalists & intellectuals

Lucien Herr was born in Altirch in the department of the Upper Rhine on 17 January 1864. He organized the mobilization of the Dreyfusard intellectuals.

Herr was the son of a secondary school teacher who, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, chose to leave Alsace and keep his French citizenship. Lucien did his studies in Vitry-le-François; he received his baccalaureate at the age of 15 and by age 22 had passed the competitive examination to become a philosophy teacher. A member of the class of 1883 of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, in 1888 he was appointed director of the school's library. Alerted to the tragedy that had befallen the Dreyfus family, particularly by Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, a cousin of the family by marriage, Herr transformed the Ecole into a Dreyfusard stronghold.

On 2 December 1897, he had no doubt about the captain's innocence, but foresaw a tough fight to reach the end "of the desperate resistance of the military who see themselves as dishonored and lost"; he found it appalling "to know not where the truth lies, but whether the truth will win out over united egoisms." He drew up the first lists of intellectuals who were likely to sign a protest "against the violation of legal conventions during the 1894 trial" and to ask Parliament "to uphold legal safeguard for citizens against all arbitrary measures."

Although he retained 44 important and definite names, he unleashed a movement of nearly 2,000 intellectuals who, for the first time, broke into the field of politics as such, via the lists published in L'Aurore and Le Siècle in January 1898. On 15 February, in La Revue blanche, Lucien Herr challenged Maurice Barrès, who denounced the intellectuals as rabid and brainless animals.

A socialist revolutionary, Lucien Herr saw the combat as "a work of justice, humanity and honor"; the judgment of Rennes did not cause him to become apathetic. Following the pardon, however, he went through a period of depression before taking part in the founding of the newspaper L'Humanité, and directing the Education Museum starting in 1916. On 24 June 1918, he wrote to his wife: "I am capable of passionate interest only on that which will result in something practical, in intellectual and social broadening." Barely a year after his death on 18 May 1926, in recognition of his influence, the city of Paris dedicated the Place Lucien-Herr to him in the heart of the Latin Quarter. A similar gesture for Alfred Dreyfus did not take place until the year 2000.