Front Page Titles (by Subject) SWITZERLAND - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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SWITZERLAND - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 1
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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the people and their history
Among the modern democracies which are true democracies, Switzerland has the highest claim to be studied.1 It is the oldest, for it contains communities in which popular government dates farther back than it does anywhere else in the world; and it has pushed democratic doctrines farther, and worked them out more consistently, than any other European State. Moreover, being a Federal State, it contains within its comparatively narrow limits a greater variety of institutions based on democratic principles than any other country, greater even than the Federations of America and Australia can show.
To understand Swiss institutions and their working one must know something both of the physical character of the country and of the history of the small communities, diverse in race and speech, which have grown into the Swiss nation. The natural conditions might seem most unfavourable to the creation of a State or even of a nation. The Swiss people, as they are to-day, dwell on both sides of a gigantic mountain mass, those to the north on a high plateau traversed by a series of ridges, the rest in deep valleys separated from one another by craggy heights and widespreading snow-fields. No natural boundary marks them off from the Germans to the north and east, from the French to the west, and from the Italians to the south. Ethnologically they belong some to one, some to another, of those three racial stocks, and have no common language. It is a remarkable series of events, reaching back over more than six hundred years, that has brought men of these three stocks together, and made them not only a united people, but one of the most united, and certainly the most patriotic, among the peoples of Europe.
Towards the end of the thirteenth century three small Teutonic communities dwelling in secluded valleys to the south and south-east of the Lake of Luzern, entered into a league of mutual defence to protect themselves against the encroachments of the land-owning nobles of the lower country to the north, to whose exactions, based on more or less doubtful feudal rights, they would not submit. Turning to account the strength of their mountain fastnesses, they repelled the repeated attacks of the Counts of Habsburg, though never disputing the ultimate sovereignty of the Emperor, having indeed received favours from the great monarchy of the house of Hohenstaufen. Like the Englishmen who in the same age were wresting from the Crown a recognition of English liberties, they proclaimed no abstract principles of freedom, but stood on the foundation of their ancient rights. They lived off the produce of their own fields and woods and pastures, governing themselves by gatherings of the people in which every householder was the equal of every other. This was the beginning of democracy. After a time other rural communities and a few cities, some which, like Zürich and Luzern, may have come down as trading centres from Roman times, some which, like Bern, had grown up as hill fortresses in the welter of the Dark Ages, entered into alliance with these stalwart mountaineers, and by degrees fresh communities were added, all being allied to the original three, but not necessarily to each of the others. In 1353, when Bern joined, the League came to number eight cantons. In 1513 the accession of Appenzell raised it to thirteen, at which figure it remained down till the changes induced by the French Revolution. Before the end of the fifteenth century it had become a power in Central Europe. The religious dissensions of the Reformation put a severe strain upon its cohesion, for half the cantons embraced Protestantism and half clung to Rome, but it survived the strain, for the supreme interest of common defence held its members together. In 1648 the Confederation was recognized by the Treaties of Westphalia as an independent State, the theoretical suzerainty of the Empire having by that time become obsolete. The internal political institutions of the allied communities varied greatly. The rural cantons were pure democracies, governing themselves by meetings of the people. Of the cities, some, like Bern, were close oligarchies of nobles: in others oligarchy was more or less tempered by a popular element. As the Confederation bound them together only for offensive and defensive purposes, each canton had control of its domestic affairs. The Diet met to deal with external policy and divers matters in which the cantons were jointly interested, and the delegates who sat in it acted on the instructions given by their respective cantons. There was, as in the United States between 1776 and 1789, no Central Executive. Some cantons had by conquests in war acquired territories whose inhabitants they ruled as subjects, and to whom they granted none of the freedom they claimed for themselves.
The French Revolution ushered in a period of storm and confusion. In 1798 French armies entered Switzerland. Much fighting followed. The old system was completely overthrown.1 A centralized Helvetic Republic was created, and vanished when a Federal system, far closer than that of the old League, was established by Napoleon in 1803. Change followed change. A new and larger Confederation was set up in 1815; and even thereafter unrest and dissensions continued till, after the short Sonderbund2 war of 1847 between the Protestant and Catholic cantons had ended by the victory of the former, a new Constitution was created in 1848, which turned what had been a League of States into a Federal State, modelled in many respects upon the lines of the United States Constitution. This frame of national government was. after long debates, further amended in 1874, and it is by the Constitution of that year (altered subsequently in certain points) that Switzerland is now governed. The territories formerly subject to particular cantons, as Vaud was subject to Bern and as the Italian districts now forming Ticino were to the three oldest Forest Cantons (Uri, Schwytz, and Unterwalden), were in 1803 raised into autonomous cantons, and all Swiss citizens now enjoy equal political rights under cantonal constitutions, and under the Constitution of the Confederation.
Differences, however, remain between the component parts, differences so marked as to make the unity of the Swiss nation a singular, perhaps a unique, phenomenon in history. Nearly two-thirds of the population speak German, most of the others French, a few Italian, a still smaller number Romansch or Ladin.1 A considerable majority both of German-speaking and of French-speaking people are Protestants, the rest Roman Catholics. Fortunately the local boundaries of the religious confessions do not coincide with those of language, for in some Protestant cantons the people speak German; in some Catholic cantons they speak French; in some Catholics and Protestants are mixed, and both languages are spoken. Racial intermixture proceeds steadily though slowly, and the diverse elements are assimilated more through literature and migration and commercial intercourse than by intermarriage. Villages may be found in which the German-speaking inhabitants do not know French, nor the French-speakers German. Some are more advanced than others in political knowledge and experience, but all alike are devoted to Switzerland, proud of its history, resolved to maintain the liberties both of the Cantons and of the Confederation. The circumstances which detached them from the three great neighbouring peoples secured to the older cantons a freedom which they prized all the more because they alone among continental nations enjoyed it; and when the subject lands were emancipated this love of freedom and fidelity to national traditions spread from the older cantons to the newer. Thus have members of three races become one people.
But though united they are not homogeneous. Not only in language are there differences, but also in the occupations of the inhabitants, in the external conditions of their life, in religion, in character, in ideas and habits of thought; and with this diversity there is also a local pride which clings to time-honoured ways and resists the tendencies, strong as these have become, that make for uniformity. Here, therefore, are the salient features of the nation which the student of their institutions must keep always before his mind — a strenuous patriotism bracing up the sense of national unity, an abounding variety in the details of social, of economic and of political life, coupled with an attachment to local self-government, which, having been the life-breath of the original cantons, passed into the minds and hearts of the others also, making them wish to share in the ancient traditions, and contributing to the overthrow of oligarchy in the cities even where, as in Bern, it had been strongest. Thus one may say that the three Forest Cantons, the highland kernel of what was called in the sixteenth century the “Old League of Upper Germany “have, while each retaining to-day no more territory than they held in 1291, so spread out by their traditions and by the spirit they kindled as to be the creators of the new democratic State. Success in war, and the pride in common triumphs, counted for much in the earlier stages of the process, while in the latest the existence of four great States to the north, east, south, and west, had, so to speak, squeezed the Swiss together, keeping them always on their guard against dangers from abroad.
The diversity of those who inhabit this small area (15,976 square miles) has increased of recent years by the growth of manufactures. One-third of the total population (which was estimated in 1915 at 3,900,000) is still engaged in pastoral and agricultural occupations, and the number of persons owning land is given as about 500,000. Among manufacturing industries, textiles (silk and cotton) are most important, watch-making and the production of machinery coming next. There are practically no mines, except of salt. Although the country has to import its coal, and is only beginning to develop the water power furnished by many mountain torrents, the recent extension of factories and workshops has created a large working-class population in the towns, especially of the north-eastern cantons, and drawn in a crowd of immigrants, chiefly from Germany, many of whom have not become citizens.1 This has helped to diffuse socialistic principles, as the immigration of Italians into the industrial districts and of French into the West has largely increased the number of Roman Catholics.2 In Geneva, the city of Calvin, these now form a majority of the inhabitants, though not of the citizens. The growth of the urban element as compared with that of the country dwellers naturally affects political parties, and the incoming foreigners do not at once imbibe Swiss patriotism and Swiss ways of thinking. But the rural folk, with their traditions of a historic patriotism, their individualism, and their habits of local self-government, still remain the dominant element and give to the nation its peculiar character of steadiness and solidity.
Local Government—The Commune
As Swiss political institutions have been built up on the foundation of small communities, rural and urban, accustomed to control their own affairs, it is from this kernel that a description may fitly start. I begin with the Communes, passing on next to the Cantons and thence to the Confederation. The Commune is in some places as old as the Canton, in some even older. The history of its earlier forms, its control of the common lands, the various features it showed in different districts of the country, and the transformations it has undergone down to quite recent times,— these are matters so intricate that I must be content with observing that the commune was from the earliest times a potent factor in accustoming the whole people to take interest in and know how to handle local affairs, every man on a level with his fellows. It is still the political unit of the nation and the focus of its local public life. To be naturalized as a Swiss citizen, one must be a member of some commune, and this gives (with the approval of the cantonal authority) both cantonal and national citizenship. There are now over 3104 communes in the country, varying greatly in size and population, and roughly corresponding with American townships. They deal with many branches of local business (though not everywhere to the same extent) such as education, police, poor relief, water-supply, sometimes in conjunction with a cantonal authority. Usually, too, a commune holds property, and has, in rural areas, the supervision of the communal woods and pastures. In the German-speaking cantons it is governed, in rural places and very small towns, by a mass meeting of the citizens in which questions are debated as well as voted upon. Where the population is larger, and generally in the French-speaking districts, the main business is the election of the Communal Council, a standing body for conducting current business and making minor appointments. Its chairman (like the Maire in Erance) has often special functions and a certain measure of independent action.1
In parts of Switzerland some communes were, till the end of the eighteenth century, virtually sovereign States, tiny, but independent. Such was the hamlet of Gersau, east of Brunnen, on the shore of the Lake of Luzern, and now included in the canton of Schwytz, and such were the communes of the upper valleys of the Rhine and the Inn, which formed themselves into the three Leagues that, still later, united to form the canton of Grisons (Graubünden).
In the larger towns the commune becomes a municipality, governed by a council, which is elected, as a rule, for three years, and has complete control of city affairs. There is usually, as chairman of this council, a president or mayor, who, having little power, resembles an English mayor or Scottish provost rather than the more important mayor of America. In some places, however, certain executive functions are entrusted to him. Cities, like rural communities, enjoy a wide range of authority subject to general cantonal laws. Some of them have undertaken to supply water and gas or electricity, some own the tramways, Zurich leading the way in these municipal enterprises. Neither against councillors nor against officials are charges of corruption brought even in the largest cities which raise a considerable revenue. The councils are sometimes accused of trying too many experiments or of employing too large a staff, and now and then a little jobbing may occur; but the salaries are small, the work done is carefully supervised, and taxation is not excessive, though the debt tends to rise. It need hardly he said that Swiss thrift is even more characteristic of the rural than of the municipal administrators.
School teachers are elected by the people and usually for short terms 2 — a plan which has not been found to work well in Zürich. So in some Protestant cantons the law provides for the election of pastors for short terms.
In the cities elections are apt to be fought upon political lines, which, however, are seldom sharply drawn. Contests are sometimes avoided by conceding to each party a fair representation. In rural areas, which are seldom troubled with questions of general policy, such as those which divide individualists and the advocates of municipal socialism, politics are little regarded in the choice of officials, for there are not, as in the United States, office-seekers demanding rewards for their services.
Local self-government has been in Switzerland a factor of prime importance, not only as the basis of the administrative fabric, but also because the training which the people have received from practice in it has been a chief cause of their success in working republican institutions. Nowhere in Europe has it been so fully left to the hands of the people. The Swiss themselves lay stress upon it, as a means of educating the citizens in public work, as instilling the sense of civic duty, and as enabling governmental action to be used for the benefit of the community without either sacrificing local initiative or making the action of the central authority too strong and too pervasive.
The cantons, twenty-two in number — or rather twenty-five, for three are divided into half-cantons, each with its own government1 —are, like the States of the American Union, very unequal in size and population. Grisons has an area of 2773 square miles, Bern of 2657, Zug of 92. The population of Bern was (estimate of 1915) 665,000, that of Zurich 538,000, while that of Uri was 23,000, and that of Glarus 34,000. In fifteen German is the language almost exclusively spoken, in three (Neuchâtel, Vaud. And Geneva) French, in one (Ticino) Italian, in two (Valais and Solo thurn) each tongue claims about a half of the inhabitants, while in Bern German predominates, as does French in Fri-bourg. Three cantons (Unterwalden, Appenzell, and Basle) are split up into independent half-cantons, and in each the two halves, taken together, hold in the Federal Legislature the representation of one canton.
The rights and powers of a Canton correspond generally to those of a State in the American Union and in the Australian Federal Commonwealth, and are greater than those of a Canadian Province. It is sovereign in so far as it has not yielded up its sovereignty to the Confederation, so that in case of doubt as to which possesses any given power, the presumption is in favour of the canton. “The cantons are sovereign,” says the Constitution, “so far as their sovereignty is not limited by the Federal Constitution, and as such they exercise all the rights not delegated to the Federal Government.” These powers include taxation (except customs duties), education (subject to a certain measure of oversight by the Federal Government), industrial legislation, and so much of legislation on contractual topics (including trade and commerce), and on criminal law, as has not been taken over by the Federal Legislature in the exercise of its concurrent legislative powers.1 Thus their sphere, though, as we shall see, reduced in many respects by the increased legislative authority conferred on the National Government when the latter chooses to exert it, is still wide; and the hold they retain upon the interest and affection of their inhabitants is naturally strongest in the older and more conservative cantons.
In describing cantonal political institutions no more need be said about the forms democratic government has taken than is required to make its practical working intelligible, and to explain the nature of the political life which continues to flow in the old local channels.
The cantons, whose differences in detail are too numerous to be here dealt with, fall into two classes — those ruled by primary, and those ruled by representative assemblies. Four, viz. two whole cantons (Uri and Glarus) and four half-cantons, all of them small and all among the older cantons, have retained or returned to the primitive Teutonic system of government by a primary assembly, in which every adult male citizen can speak and vote.1 The assembly, called a Landesgemeinde, recalls the old English Folk Mot, the Thing of Norway and Iceland, the Homeric Agora, and the Roman Comitia; while its manner of doing business resembles that of the Town Meeting in New England. It meets once a year in the open air under the presidency of the annually elected Landamman, enacts laws or ratifies those previously passed by the Council, passes resolutions, settles current questions such as those that relate to finance and public works, and elects both the principal officials, including the judges, and (as a sort of standing committee) an Administrative Council. In cantons where the number who attend the Assembly is not too large to be reached by the voice, every one can speak, and can present a proposition.2 A smaller council, which manages the less important current business, is chosen by the citizens in local divisions. This is the oldest, simplest, and purest form of democracy which the world knows.
Of these four cantons, three, viz. Uri, the two Unterwaldens and the two Appenzells (especially Appenzell Inner Ehoden), are highly conservative in temper. (This is less true of Glarus in which manufacturing industries have sprung up.) They are agricultural or pastoral communities where men lead simple lives, no one rich, no one abjectly poor, all socially equal. They cherish the memories of their ancestors who won freedom for them centuries ago, and are content to abide in those traditions. The reader will have noted that both in the communes and in the cantons there is, except to some slight extent in the four Landesgemeinde cantons, where the annually elected Landamman is head of the State, no such thing as a single official head of the political community, nor indeed any other flavour of monarchy such as the Governorship in an American State. Authority is always vested in a Council, the chairman of which is a presiding officer and nothing more, with no wider opportunities of exerting authority than have his colleagues.
All the other cantons, including the half-cantons Basel Land and Basel Stadt, have each its own constitution or frame of representative government which its people have enacted for themselves, as prescribed by the Federal Constitution, and which they can change as and when they please, subject, however, to the assent of the Federal Government. In each a prescribed number of citizens can demand a revision, in which case the work is undertaken either by the Great Council or by a body specially elected for the purpose, and the draft is (as in the American States) submitted to the people for their approval. Particular amendments also require the approval of a popular vote, elected by all citizens, for manhood suffrage has been everywhere adopted.1 The elected legislature is in most cantons called the Great, sometimes the Cantonal, Council. Current executive business is entrusted to a smaller body, consisting of from five to thirteen members, and called in the German-speaking cantons the Administrative Council (Regierungs Rath) or the Small Council (Kleiner Rath). The higher judges are in most cantons appointed by the Great Council, but those of lower rank are elected by the people, and always for comparatively short terms. Police belongs to the cantons, which are bound to execute Federal as well as Cantonal laws.
This kind of government is, as already observed, everywhere rooted in a system of self-governing communes, where the inhabitants administer all their local affairs, and is as completely popular as can well be imagined. The Swiss having reduced to a minimum the powers of any single executive official, there is no official to whom a veto power could be entrusted. No one can disallow laws, except the people themselves by means of the Referendum, i.e. the right of the citizens to vote directly upon measures passed by the Cantonal Legislatures. To this right I shall presently return, as it is an institution applicable to the Confederation also. There are, moreover, seven cantons which permit the people, by a specified majority, to demand the dissolution and re-election of the Great Council as no longer truly representing popular sentiment. This resembles the American “Recall” to be described in a later chapter.1
The members of the Great or Cantonal Council are elected in districts and frequently re-elected on the expiry of their term, which usually lasts three or four years. The payment allotted to them is small. Everywhere in Switzerland, though most conspicuously in the smaller rural cantons, salaries are extremely low and offer no prize for ambition. This Council, which meets twice a year, is a body so much in the eyes of the people that it is not exposed to that distrust which has led to the restriction of the powers of American State Legislatures, nor has it favours to dispense such as lie in the gift of those assemblies.2 It exercises a general control of cantonal affairs, votes the budget, makes the laws, supervises the administration. Nearly half of the cantons (omitting those with a Landesgemeinde) entrust to it the choice of the Executive Council, while in the rest the more thoroughly democratic plan of giving that function to the people has been adopted.
The Small (or Executive) Council is legally subordinate to the Great Council, which can direct it how to act, or reverse its decisions; but its members are admitted to speak in the Great Council, and its position and knowledge secure for it great influence with that body. It reports, it submits measures, it drafts bills when required to do so. It has the strength which experience acquired by permanence in office, confers, for the persons who compose it are usually re-elected, term after term. This is, however, not invariably the case, because in some cantons the balance of parties oscillates, and an effort may be made to instal adherents of whichever party may happen to be dominant. Still, broadly speaking, the Executive Council is a business Board with little political colour; and good working relations between the two bodies seem to subsist equally where the Great Council and where the people elect the Executive. The fact that in the latter case the Executive holds by an independent title has not, as some predicted, encouraged it to resist the legislature. Though in nearly every canton one or more representatives of the minority or minorities find their way on to the Executive Council, despite the fact that the vote is taken by a “general ticket” over the whole canton, still, in order to assure the representation of minorities, several cantons have adopted systems of proportional representation, for every body feels that each important section should have its spokesman and its share of office.1 Switzerland is specially fitted for such a system, because nowhere are so many voters independent, some not reckoning themselves party men, and most of them disposed to please themselves rather than their party leaders. Opinion, however, has not yet finally declared itself for or against the plan. Some cantons have refused constitutional amendments framed to establish it, its opponents observing that it encourages minorities to put forward as candidates not the men, and especially the moderate men, whom general opinion will recognize as the best, but the keenest partisans who have worked hardest for the party. Without proportional representation, men of the former class would have been nominated in the hope of their drawing votes from the other side, but the latter sort can, under the proportional system, be made sure of election anyhow. Hence even those who admit the right of minorities to be represented have argued that this was attained in a better way under the present disposition of the majority to make room for good candidates who do not belong to their own party.
In comparing Swiss with American bodies one must always remember how great is the difference in size between the average Canton and the average State. In most Swiss cantons all the leading men are known to one another and to everybody else so it is easier for the voter to form a judgment on the merits of candidates. To serve the Canton has been regarded rather as a duty than as a privilege, and as in earlier days men were often compelled to accept public office, so now some cantons impose a penalty on citizens who neglect to vote. There has hitherto been in many cantons no sharp division between parties and but little party organization; and in the more backward rural cantons the representatives, coming largely from the less-educated class, are frequently chosen in respect not of the political doctrines they profess, but of their local reputation and influence. In so far, party counts for little in cantonal affairs. But there are also some cantons, such as Geneva, where the smallness of the area sustains the warmth of political life, and where the element of personal leadership comes more fully into play than it does in the Assembly of the Confederation. In these, and especially wherever the growth of Socialism has alarmed the conservative sentiment of the peasantry and the richer townsfolk, cantonal elections are fought with spirit upon party lines.
The Federal Constitution
The Constitution of the Confederation was enacted and can be changed by the people only, acting both as a Swiss Nation and as the peoples of the several cantons. The Legislature may, if both Houses concur, decide on a revision, and then proceed to make it, thereafter submitting it to a popular vote. If, however, only one House desires it, or if it is demanded by 50,000 qualified citizens, a popular vote is taken as to whether there shall be a revision, and if this is carried in the affirmative by a majority of citizens voting, then, after a new election of the Legislature, the two Houses proceed to amendment, and the amended Constitution is submitted to the people. If it is approved by a majority of votes of the citizens and also by a majority of the cantons, it goes into effect. Where no general revision but only a specific amendment is proposed, either by both Houses or by 50,000 citizens, the preliminary vote of the people is not required, but the amendment goes straight to the people for acceptance or rejection. The 50,000 may either propose their amendment in the form of a clause or merely state its principle and ask the Legislature to put their idea into proper shape. The Constitution of 1874 has been amended twelve times between 1874 and 1918, five amendments submitted between those years having been rejected.
The Constitution is a longer document than is the Federal Constitution of the United States, on which it is largely modelled, and enters more fully into details, some of which belong to the sphere of ordinary rather than to that of constitutional legislation. Three of its features deserve special mention.
First.— The distribution of powers between the National and the Cantonal Governments is generally similar to that of the American and Australian Federations. The National Government has the control of foreign relations, save that the cantons are permitted, subject to Federal approval, to make with one another and with neighbouring foreign States agreements regarding border and police relations, not being of a political nature.1 It declares war, makes peace, concludes treaties, manages the national army. (No canton may, without Federal permission, maintain a force exceeding 300 men.) It owns and works all the railways, except the Simplon-Loetschberg line from Bern to Domo d' Ossola, and some tourist lines running up the mountains. It administers all Federal property, takes charge of posts and telegraphs, of copyrights, of currency and national finance, of banking and of customs duties, controls water-power, and has a monopoly of gunpowder and of the production of alcohol. It legislates upon commerce (including bankruptcy) and upon contracts generally, except those relating to land, which are left to the cantons; and has now (as already observed) enacted a complete civil code. It determines questions as to the meaning and construction of the Constitution, including cases in which a canton is alleged to have transgressed that instrument. These are exclusive powers. It has also some concurrent powers exerciseable conjointly with the cantons, and can supervise the action of the cantons in certain fields, such as industrial conditions, insurance, highways, the regulation of the press and education, requiring the cantons to provide instruction which shall be compulsory, unsectarian, and gratuitous. When it exerts these concurrent powers its statutes prevail against those of a canton.
Secondly.— There is little in the nature of what Americans call a Bill of Eights, far less than in the Constitution of the United States. Trial by jury is not mentioned, but capital punishment for political offences is forbidden.
Thirdly.— The conflicts between the Eoman Church and the Protestant parties which so long distracted Switzerland have suggested various provisions relating to religion. Freedom of belief and the free exercise of worship “within the limits of morality and public order “are guaranteed throughout every canton. No one can be compelled to take part in any religious society or religious act, nor shall his civil or political rights be abridged by any ecclesiastical provisions, nor shall religious views absolve from the performance of civic duties, nor taxes be required from any one the proceeds of which are appropriated to a religious body to which he does not belong. No bishopric may be created without the consent of the Federal Government. Ecclesiastical jurisdiction is abolished; burial-places are to belong to the civil authorities; the right of marriage is not to be limited on religious or economic grounds. Neither the Jesuits nor any Order affiliated with them shall exist; the participation of their members in church or school work is forbidden, and the Federal Government may extend this prohibition to other religious Orders whose action endangers the State or disturbs inter-denominational peace. These provisions, however, do not inhibit a canton from maintaining what may be called a State establishment of religion, and some in fact so do, the civil authorities supporting by funds and to some extent guiding or controlling the ecclesiastical organization. This happens to a greater extent in several Protestant cantons than it does in Catholic, because the Roman Church has an organization and authority of its own.
The FrameofNational Government
The Federal Government consists of four authorities: (a) the Legislature, viz. the National Assembly (Bundesver-sammlung, Assemblée Fédérale), which is the supreme representative body; (b) the Executive, viz. the Federal Council (Bundesrath, Conseil Fédéral), an administrative body of seven members; (c) the Judiciary, viz. one Federal Tribunal (Bundesgericht)1 ; (d) the People of the Confederation, which, being the final authority and empowered to act by its direct vote, has the ultimate control of legislation, and through legislation, of the government as a whole.
The Federal Legislature
The National Assembly consists of two Houses: the National Council (National Kath, Conseil National) and the Council of States, i.e. Cantons (Stände Rath, Conseil d'États).
The National Council (corresponding to the American House of Representatives) is elected by the citizens of the cantons in cantonal districts and now (1919) by proportional representation. The smallest cantons and the smallest of the six half-cantons have each one member, while Bern has 32 and Zurich 25. The total number is now 189. All are elected by manhood suffrage,1 on the last Sunday in October, once in three years, a church being frequently the polling-place. Each Chamber sits for three years, there being no power of dissolution. It meets regularly four times a year,2 March, June, September, and December, choosing its President and Vice-President for each session, neither being eligible for the same office in the next consecutive regular session. Each member is paid twenty-five francs (about $5) a day for each day when he attends, besides his travelling expenses. The Chambers meet at 8 A.M. in summer, at 9 in winter, and the sessions seldom last more than three weeks.
The Council of States, corresponding to the Senate in the United States and in Australia, consists of two members from each canton, chosen by each canton according to its own laws, in most cantons by the people, in others by the Cantonal or “Great” Council. The term of service also varies, some cantons choosing councillors for one, some for three years, while Valais elects for two. Their salaries (nearly everywhere the same as those of members of the National Council) are paid by the cantons.
For some few purposes, such as the election of the administrative Federal Council and of its President, of the Chancellor, and of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and also of the Federal Tribunal, and also for the determination of legal questions, and the granting of pardons, the two Houses sit together as a National Assembly, the President of the National Council presiding.
The powers of the two Houses, legislative, administrative, and judicial, are equal, and (as in Australia, but not in the United States) the smaller House, which represents the cantons, is in practice rather the weaker of the two, men of energy and ambition preferring to sit in the National Council. There is no provision for deciding an issue on which the Houses may differ, but differences are neither frequent nor serious, because the Council of States is from its mode of choice practically no more conservative than the larger House. The ultimate control of legislation reserved to the whole people makes this omission unimportant. A member of one House cannot sit in the other also, but may hold any post in the government of a canton, even that of a judge.
Each House has what is called a Bureau, composed of the President and “serutateurs “(four in the National Council, two in the Council of States). They take the divisions, and, with the President, nominate the Committees (called Commissions), unless the House itself does so. These last are appointed pro hac vice, there being no standing Committees.
Members may speak in any one of the three languages, German, French, and Italian, and every public document is published in all three, though nearly all educated Swiss know both German and French, and the Italian members can usually speak the latter tongue.
The normal Swiss member shows just the qualities we associate with the Swiss character. He is solid, shrewd, unemotional, or at any rate indisposed to reveal his emotions. He takes a practical common-sense and what may be called middle-class business view of questions, being less prone than is the German to recur to theoretical first principles or than is the Frenchman to be dazzled by glittering phrases. Yet his way of thinking is, if not more philosophical, rather more systematic and more guided by general principles than is that of the American or English legislator.
“Within this general type a difference may be noted between the German-speaking and the French-speaking Swiss. These latter, who are by race partly Celtic, partly Burgun-dian, though differentiated from the more purely Celtic stock of East Central France through the larger admixture of Teutonic blood and the influence of Teutonic fellow-citizens,1 still remain swifter-minded, more excitable, more disposed to acclaim and follow a leader than is the Germanic Switzer, yet are therewithal also of a conservative temper, not theorists in their politics. The German-speaking or “Allemannic “Swiss of Eastern and North Central Switzerland consider themselves to differ materially from the South German Swabians north of the Rhine, though this difference need not be ascribed to the fact that there is a good deal of the old Helvetic (Celtic) blood all over Switzerland.
These qualities of the individual have given its peculiar quality to the Swiss national legislature. It has been the most business-like legislative body in the world, doing its work quietly and thinking of little else. Each session lasts from three to five weeks. There are few set debates and still fewer set speeches. Rhetoric is almost unknown; and it is at once a cause and a consequence of this fact that manifestations of dissent or of approval are rarely heard. Speakers are not interrupted and rarely applauded. If after a spirited peroration some cries of “Bravo “are heard, the phenomenon is noted as unusual. Every member has his desk, and though neither of the two halls is so large as to make hearing difficult, many members seem in both to pay little attention to most of the speeches, usually delivered in a quiet conversational tone and with little regard for finish of form. In the National Council members speak standing, in the Council of States from their seats.
There are no official stenographers, and the debates are but scantily reported, even in the leading newspapers, though now and then an important discussion is, by order of the Houses, reported verbatim and published.2 The alternation of speeches from German to French and back again reduces the vivacity of debate. The German speakers are said to be more long-winded than the French. Excellent order is kept; obstruction is unknown; and divisions are much less frequent than in the British Parliament or in Congress. In fact the proceedings, just because they are so business-like, because rhetoric is not in fashion, and men think rather of what they have to say than of how to say it, would be pronounced dull by a French Parliamentarian. There is in them little of that cut and thrust, that brisk repartee, that personal element of invective and countercharge which adds keenness and pungency to all debates, and in which members of other legislatures find their most constant source of interest.
The very aspect of each House suggests reasons for this. Each hall is semicircular, and members of the same party do not necessarily sit together: indeed they usually sit by cantons. There is no bench for a Ministry nor for an Opposition, since neither exists. The executive officials, those Federal Councillors who will be presently mentioned, have seats on a dais right and left of the President, but, not being members, they are not party leaders. Thus that strife for office and the sweets of office felt as always present in the background of debates in the assemblies of England, France, and other parliamentary countries, finds little place in the Swiss legislature.
Attendance is regular and punctual. A member absenting himself without strong reasons would be deemed neglectful, and unless he furnishes such a reason for non-appearance at roll-call, does not receive payment for the day. The city of Bern, where the legislature meets, presents few counter-attractions of business or pleasure to distract members from their duties; and rarely does it happen that any one is summoned by telegraph to a division.
Elections to the Federal Houses raise, for reasons to be presently stated, little popular excitement, and a member who seeks re-election is usually returned, for there is no great oscillation in the strength of parties, and the Swiss are the least changeful of all democracies, not lightly withdrawing a confidence once given. Neither do they worry their representatives, who might well be envied by French deputies or American Congressmen.
There are few constitutional limitations on the power of the legislature, except of course those that are involved in the very nature of a federation the component parts of which retain legislative power. Such limitations, not thought necessary when the Constitutions of 1848 and 1874 were framed, are deemed even less needed now, because the power of the people can, through the Referendum, be invoked to overrule the legislature. Moreover, just as the small size of the country, the small numbers in the legislative bodies, and the traditionally strict standard of honesty by which politicians are judged, combine to render needless provisions against the abuse of legislative functions for private ends, so public opinion would at once check any attempt by the Councils to extend their powers beyond the limits the Constitution prescribes.
The parties play a role far inferior to that of a party in France or England, because in the executive sphere the Houses cannot displace the Ministers, and in the legislative sphere the Houses have not the last word, since that belongs to the people. In both Chambers accordingly the parties have but a loose organization, for though each has a leader his functions and authority are slender. There are no whips nor any summonses like those which in England are daily issued to members of the party. A general concurrence of opinion upon leading principles suffices to keep each party pretty well together upon the graver issues raised in the Assembly; while upon points which do not involve party principles, a member votes as he pleases. The Constitution declares that the member is not a delegate to be fettered by instructions from his canton or his constituency, and neither colleagues nor constituents complain unless he can be supposed either to have sinister motives or to be practically renouncing the doctrines for which the party stands. When, however, offices have to be conferred by vote of the Houses, it becomes necessary that a party should meet in caucus to agree on the candidate it will support. These are important gatherings, since the seven Federal Councillors chosen every three years, and the twenty-four Federal judges, chosen every six years, are appointed by the two Houses sitting together.
To explain how legislation is cared for, though the duty and function of preparing and proposing it belongs neither to a party leader nor, as in the United States, to the Chairman of a Committee, let it be said that measures coming before the Chambers are of two kinds. Some are administrative, being such as the Executive in the course of its functions finds necessary. These are drafted and submitted by the Federal Council, one or more of whose members attend to explain and recommend them. Others, of wider scope, may be demanded by public opinion, or by the wishes of the dominant party. At the instance of any member a resolution may be passed requesting the Federal Council to address itself to the subject and prepare a Bill. When so drafted, a Bill goes on its way through the Houses, sometimes, if it is complex or if enquiry is needed, being referred to a Committee. Financial Bills are of course in a special sense the business of the Federal Council, which has charge of revenue and expenditure. No difficulty seems to be found in making legislation keep abreast of the wishes and needs of the people. Indeed, it more frequently goes ahead of than falls behind those wishes.
There are in the National Legislature few Bills of the category called “private “or “local “in England and America, partly because these matters largely belong to the cantonal legislatures or to the Communes, partly because nearly all the great railways have been taken over by the Federal Government, and any considerable new railway enterprise would be undertaken by it. Such concessions as remain to be granted, e.g. for those tourist railways up mountains which have wrought such mischief to the scenery of Switzerland, seldom offer a prospect of profits so large as to involve the dangers which the granting of concessions brings in some countries, and against which the British Parliament found it needful to provide by stringent rules. Thus a formidable source of corruption is absent. What has been said above regarding individual politicians may be said of the legislature generally. It is free from even the suspicion of being used for the purposes of private gain. “Lobbying” (if any) is on a small scale. It may be thought that the customs tariff would here, as in the United States, and to a less extent in some European countries, give an opening for the pressure of selfish interests applying sordid inducements. The Swiss tariff was till recently a low one, as compared with those of its great neighbours, and originally a tariff for revenue, since the Federal Government did not then levy direct taxes. Though agriculturists and manufacturers are said to have begun to press demands for higher protective import duties, neither section has as yet done so in an illegitimate way, nor have rich manufacturers made those large contributions to party funds which became a scandal in the United States. Nor could they, seeing that there are no party funds except the trifling sums raised for election expenses.
Had there been between 1874 and 1919 a strong and compact Opposition, instead of three weak Oppositions, only one of which was really keen, proceedings in the Assembly would have been more lively, and the ruling party itself would have been knit more closely together. But the comparatively loose order in which that party was wont to march, and its disposition not to monopolize offices or to try bold experiments, mitigated the criticisms of the three Oppositions. They did not set themselves to hamper the Administration, so the wheels of progress were not clogged as in most parliamentary countries. The habit of considering measures in a non-partisan spirit has been wholesome for the nation, and did much to allay the hotter party strife which went on in a few cantons.
Why did not the dominant party, being so large, break up into sections? Partly because there were few motives of personal ambition leading to the creation of groups following a leader; partly because the existence of a compact, though comparatively small, minority, held together by religious sentiment, made them feel the need for cohesion. In the background there was always standing the recollection of the Sonderbund War. Hence constant vigilance to hold in check any designs the Catholic hierarchy might form.
To-day — I have been speaking so far of Switzerland up to 1920 — one hears it remarked that the intellectual level of the legislature has been declining during the last twenty years, and that public life shows fewer eminent figures. Welti, Kuchonnet, and Numa Droz are cited as instances of leaders who have not left successors of equal mark. If this be so, it may be partly due to the fact that the Swiss, having settled the great constitutional and political questions which occupied them from 1830 till 1874, were living in quieter times not so fit to call out men's powers. Those who succeed a great generation which fought and suffered for high principles usually fall below its moral and intellectual level, as happened in England after 1660, and in Italy when the heroes of the Risorgimento had passed away. Nor is it to be forgotten that in Switzerland, as elsewhere, the development of manufacturing industries and of commerce and finance opened up careers which many men of talent and ambition find more attractive. This is one of the reasons which may be assigned for the decline in legislatures observed in most countries. Apart from this want of brilliance, neither of the two Houses is open to serious criticism. They do their work efficiently; they maintain a good standard of decorum and manners; they retain the respect of the people; they work harmoniously with the Executive.
The Federal Executive
The Federal Council (Bundesrath) is one of the institutions of Switzerland that best deserves study. In no other modern republic is executive power entrusted to a Council instead of to a man, and in no other free country has the working Executive so little to do with party politics. The Council is not a Cabinet, like that of Britain and the countries which have imitated her cabinet system, for it does not lead the Legislature, and is not displaceable thereby. Neither is it independent of the Legislature, like the Executive of the United States and of other republics which have borrowed therefrom the so-called “Presidential system,” and though it has some of the features of both those schemes, it differs from both in having no distinctly partisan character. It stands outside party, is not chosen to do party work, does not determine party policy, yet is not wholly without some party colour.
This interesting and indeed unique institution consists of seven persons, elected by the Federal Assembly for three years. One of the seven is annually chosen by the Federal Assembly to be President of this Council, and another to be Vice-President, and neither may be re-elected to the same post for the following year. Not more than one Councillor can be chosen from any one canton. Custom prescribes that one Councillor shall always come from Bern and another from Zurich; and one is usually chosen from the important French-speaking canton Vaud. One is also, again by custom, taken from a Roman Catholic canton, and (very often) one from the Italian-speaking Ticino. They cannot, during their term of office, sit in either House nor hold any other Federal nor any Cantonal post. To each member an administrative department is allotted, for which he is primarily responsible, but the Council meets constantly as a sort of Cabinet for the discussion of important business; all decisions emanate from it as a whole, as does the elaborate report which it annually presents to the legislature; and it speaks as a whole to foreign Powers. Its members appear, but do not vote, in both branches of the legislature. When business relating to a particular department is being there considered, the Councillor who manages that department attends, answers questions, gives explanations, and joins in debate.
The Councillor chosen President for the year has no more power than his colleagues, and is really only their Chairman. But he bears the title of President of the Confederation (Bundespraesident), is the first citizen of the nation, and represents it on all ceremonial occasions. His salary is 26,500 francs a year, that of each of his colleagues being 25,000 (about £1000, $5000).
Besides its general administrative (including financial) work, the charge of foreign relations and of the army, the Council supervises the conduct of the permanent civil service of the Confederation.
Another most useful function is that, already referred to, of drafting Bills to be brought before the Legislature. When a proposal suggesting legislation for a specified purpose is accepted, the Council prepares a Bill, and it frequently advises either House, at any stage, regarding the form or substance of measures submitted. It has also judicial duties, for since there are not administrative Courts, like those of France or Italy, such cases as arise regarding the behaviour of officials are not within the sphere of the Federal Tribunal, but are dealt with by the Council, subject, as a rule, to an appeal to the Legislature.1
The Federal Councillors are usually re-elected so long as they desire to serve. Between 1848 and 1919 there was only one exception to this rule, which had a good effect in sustaining friendly personal relations. Though they have been active politicians, they are chosen in respect of their capacity as administrators, not as speakers or tacticians. Since the National Assembly is the school of public business always before the eyes of the country, and in which men can show their ability to their associates, it is usually from among their own members that the Houses select. As there has been always (since 1891) one Catholic, so a Liberal has been frequently chosen, although the majority was Eadical from 1848 till 1919. Eloquence is neither needed nor sought for in a Federal Councillor. It is administrative skill, mental grasp, good sense, tact and temper that recommend a candidate. That selections are well made appears from the practice of re-election.1
Were it their function to initiate and advocate policy, this continuity would be scarcely possible. Policy, however, belongs to the Assembly; though in practice the Council by its knowledge and experience exerts much influence even on questions of general principle, while details are usually left to it. In foreign affairs it has a pretty free hand, but the scrupulously neutral attitude of the country on these questions has been so plainly prescribed by the geographical position of Switzerland between four great military neighbours that differences of opinion on that subject seldom arose.2 The bulk of its work is administrative, including not only the management of affairs distinctly Federal, such as the collection and expenditure of national revenue and the management of national undertakings, of which the railways are an important branch, but also a general supervision of the Cantonal Governments in order to secure that Federal law is adequately enforced everywhere. This task, always delicate and sometimes difficult, has been successfully performed because the Assembly supports the Council, and the Council has not only military force at its command, but can also reduce a canton to submission by withholding any subvention due to it from the Federal Treasury.
So important and multifarious is the work performed by the Council that visitors were, before the European War, 1914, surprised to find how small was the official staff attached to the several departments, and how limited the accommodation provided for the Councillors and their secretaries. Even the plainness of the arrangements that existed at Washington fifty years ago did not reach this austere republican simplicity.
A peculiar feature distinguishing this Swiss Executive from any other is that though the Council acts as one body, differences in opinion are permitted and allowed to become known. Its members occasionally speak on opposite sides in the legislature. Such differences rarely cause trouble, because if they turn on points of administration, these are compromised or perhaps settled in accordance either with the opinion of the Councillor in whose sphere the matter lies, or with what seems the wish of the Assembly, while if they touch legislation they are determined by that body. I have nevertheless heard it remarked that the need for compromise where views differ sometimes prevents a question from being dealt with on broad principles.
Not less surprising, to a foreign observer, than these internal relations of the Councillors, occasional dissidence with practically unbroken co-operation, are the relations of the Federal Council to the Assembly. Legally the servant of the Legislature, it exerts in practice almost as much authority as do English, and more than do some French Cabinets, so that it may be said to lead as well as to follow. It is a guide as well as an instrument, and often suggests as well as drafts measures. Nevertheless the Assembly occasionally overrules the Council, reversing its decisions or materially altering its Bills; and this makes no difference to the continuance in office of the Council nor to the confidence it receives, such is the power of usage and tradition in a practical people where public opinion expects every one to subordinate his own feelings to the public good, and where personal ambition has played a smaller part than in any other free country since 1848.
It is sometimes alleged that the influence of party has been visible in the tendency of the majority in the Assembly to support the Federal Council even when it may have gone astray. The Council has no power over that majority, for it cannot, like a British Cabinet, threaten a dissolution; nor has it the indirect control over members which the American Executive may exert by obliging or disobliging members in the matter of appointments, because appointments are few and not lucrative. The suggestion rather is that as the majority has chosen, and is therefore in a sense responsible for, the Federal Council, it feels bound to stand by it, right or wrong. The reluctance, however, to lower the authority of the Executive department by scolding it for a past error of judgment when it has turned into a new and safer path, is a pardonable and (within limits) even a useful tendency. Although a dominant party is usually the better for having a strong Opposition to confront it, there has been seldom any disposition in the Federal Council or the majority of the Assembly, to abuse their respective powers in pressing business through. The existence of the Referendum would anyhow prevent them from using those powers to pass measures against the popular will. But apart from that peculiar institution, one can hardly imagine a majority in Switzerland making itself a tyrant, since nowhere would public opinion more promptly interfere to protect a minority. The disposition to settle differences by arrangement is a noteworthy feature of the country.
In its constitutional position and working the Federal Council has been deemed one of the conspicuous successes of the Swiss system, for it secures three great advantages, specially valuable in a country, governed by the whole people.
It provides a body which is able not only to influence and advise the ruling Assembly without lessening its responsibility to the citizens, but which, because it is non-partisan, can mediate, should need arise, between contending parties, adjusting difficulties and arranging compromises in a spirit of conciliation.
It enables proved administrative talent to be kept in the service of the nation, irrespective of the personal opinions of the Councillors upon the particular issues which may for the moment divide parties, lien opposed to the main principles on which the Assembly desires the government to be conducted could not indeed profitably administer in accordance with those principles, for a total want of sympathy with the laws passed would affect them in applying those laws. But where differences are not fundamental, or do not touch the department a particular Minister deals with, why lose your best servant because he does not agree with you on matters outside the scope of his work? As well change your physician because you differ from him in religion.
It secures continuity in policy and permits traditions to be formed. The weak side of continuity and traditions is the tendency for administration to become “groovy “and so to fall behind new needs and neglect new methods. This is hardly a danger in Switzerland, where ministers are always accessible, and are in constant touch with the Assembly, while it is a real gain to avoid the dislocations which the arrival of new ministers causes, and to save the time lost while they are learning their duties.
To secure these two latter advantages is comparatively easy in countries like the (late) German Empire or Japan, where ministers hold office at the pleasure of the monarch rather than of the Parliament. They are to some extent secured in England and France through the existence of a permanent non-political head of each great branch of the Civil Service, whose experience illumines the darkness of the political minister who brings no previous knowledge, and perhaps nothing but fluent speech or (in former days) family connections, to his new functions. Switzerland is, however, the only democracy which has found a means of keeping its administrators practically out of party politics.
The Federal Judiciary
The Judiciary is in Switzerland a less important part of the machinery of Federal government than it is in the United States or in the Australian Commonwealth, and may therefore be briefly dealt with.
There is only one Federal Tribunal, consisting of fourteen judges appointed by the two Houses of the Legislature sitting together as a National Assembly. The term of office is six years, for in Switzerland democratic doctrine forbids extended grants of power, but the custom of re-electing a judge who has discharged his functions efficiently has established what is practically a life tenure. Though no qualifications are prescribed by law, pains are taken to select men of legal learning and ability, and while political predilections may sometimes be present, it is not alleged that they have injured the quality of the bench, any more than the occasional action of like influences tells on the general confidence felt in England and (as respects the Federal Courts) in the United States in the highest courts of those countries. The salaries, like all others in Switzerland, are low, £600 ($3000) a year, with an additional £40 for the President.
The Tribunal sits at Lausanne, a concession to the sentiment of the French-speaking cantons, since the Legislature has its home at German-speaking Bern. The jurisdiction of the Federal Court is less strictly defined by the Constitution than is the case in America or Australia, for the Legislature has received and used a power to extend it.1 Originally created to deal with cases to which the Confederation or a canton is a party, its competence has been extended to other classes of suits, and it may be resorted to, by the agreement of litigants, in cases where the sum involved exceeds a prescribed amount. It has criminal jurisdiction, with a jury, in cases of treason or of other offences against Federal law. Its power further extends to certain classes of civil appeals (where the sum involved is of a certain amount) from Cantonal Courts, and also to matters of public law and the rights of citizens under either the Federal or a Cantonal Constitution. There are no inferior Federal Courts, because the bulk of judicial work continues to be discharged by the Cantonal judges, nor has the Tribunal (as in the United States) a staff of its own all over the country to execute judgments, this duty being left to the Federal Council,2 acting (in practice) through the Cantonal authorities.
In two respects this Swiss Court differs materially from the Federal Judiciary of the United States. Those cases which are in continental Europe called Administrative, i.e. cases in which the application of administrative provisions is involved or in which Government officials are either charged with some fault or are sued by a private person for some alleged wrong, have been reserved for the Federal Council or Federal Assembly, whereas in the United States, as in England, they are dealt with by the ordinary courts.1 Secondly, the Swiss Tribunal cannot declare any Federal law or part of a law to be invalid as infringing some provision of the Federal Constitution. It may annul a Cantonal law as transgressing either the Federal or a Cantonal Constitution, but the Constitution expressly assigns to the Federal Legislature the right of interpreting both the Federal Constitution itself and all laws passed thereunder, so that it can put its own construction on every law which it has itself passed, without the intervention of any judicial authority to correct it. This principle does not commend itself to American lawyers, who hold that the powers of a legislature canuot go beyond those which the people have by the Constitution conferred upon it, and that there can be no security for the observance of that fundamental instrument if the interpretation of the people's intentions, as therein expressed, is left to be determined by the legislature which has passed a statute alleged to contravene the Constitution, because that would make the violating body the judge in its own case. This view, however, does not prevail in continental Europe, where republican Swiss and French, as well as monarchist German, lawyers have clung to the tradition which subordinates the judiciary to the executive and legislative powers. Two very high Swiss authorities, while admitting the American system to be more logical, observed to me that in Switzerland no harm had resulted, and that the rights of the people could not be seriously infringed, because they can be at any time invoked to protect themselves. If a law of the National Assembly is arraigned as a breach of the Constitution, a demand may be made forthwith under the Referendum for its submission to a popular vote, which will either reject or confirm the law. This remedy is, however, not available as regards those laws which the Assembly has declared to be either “urgent “or “not of general application.” In these the Assembly remains uncontrolled, save by public opinion. Constitutions are in Continental Europe not so strictly interpreted, nor constitutional provisions so carefully distinguished from ordinary laws, as has been the case in America, whose example has in this respect influenced Canada and Australia, but not Switzerland.
It may be added that as the judges of the Federal Tribunal are appointed for six years only, there is an objection to entrusting them with the power of disallowing legislation, which does not exist where, as in the United States National Government, the judges are appointed for life. The American judge is independent; the Swiss judge might conceivably be influenced by the wish to secure his own re-election.
Here let me return to the Cantons to add a few words on their judges.
The Cantonal Judiciary
In the cantons we find (except in the smallest) a Court of Appeals, Courts of First Instance, and Justices of the Peace. All are chosen either by the people voting directly (this of course includes the Landesgemeinde cantons) or by the Cantonal (“Great”) Council, never by the smaller or Executive Council. The salaries arc low, and though the term is short, usually three or four years, the custom of re-election prevails. There has been a controversy over the respective merits of these two modes of choice, some arguing that the Council can form a better judgment on the technical capacity of a candidate, others replying that the people are more likely to be free from personal favouritism or political bias. This assumes what is perhaps generally true in Switzerland, but would not be true in America, that the people will not be guided in their action by party organizations.1 The persons selected are described as being usually of high character and competent, some cantons requiring evidence of considerable legal attainments. If they are not always erudite, it must be remembered that less value is attached to professional learning and “scientific “law in Switzerland than in such countries as England, France, and America, not only because the bar holds a less important place, but also because the Swiss dislike technicalities and refinements, preferring a rough, simple, “practical,” or, as they say, “popular” (volksthiimlich) sort of justice. The inferior courts are expected to decide on the broad merits of the questions that come before them. Arbitration is largely used to avoid litigation. Unsatisfactory as the election of judges by the people for short terms has proved to be in the States of the American Union, it is not considered to work badly in the cantons, where it is argued that the Council might choose no better, that the people, not being influenced by political motives, have no interest except that of finding a trustworthy fellow-citizen to settle their disputes, that the vigilance which a small community exercises provides a safeguard for good conduct, and that there is no single high cantonal official, resembling the Governor in an American State, in whom the power of appointment could be vested with a certainty of making him responsible for its exercise. As an unfortunate choice can be remedied at the next election, displacement by such a method as impeachment has not seemed needful.
The institution of the jury, long prized in English-speaking countries, where it is a natural growth of the soil, is in Switzerland little used in civil cases except for those relating to the press, and in criminal trials for grave offences, but justice is made popular by sometimes appointing non-professional judges and by the practice of associating lay assessors with the regular judge and there are cantons in which it is administered gratis, or where legal advice and assistance are provided for the poor. Zurich tried to reduce the cost of trials by throwing the profession of advocacy open to all the world with no security for legal knowledge, but the experiment failed.1
The Swiss find no fault with their Cantonal judiciary. It may be, except in cities like Geneva or Basle, less learned than that of Germany, but it serves the everyday needs of the people. Its members are never charged with corruption, if sometimes with favouritism, nor are they below the level of the advocates who appear before them. Where a plaintiff (or a defendant) is a native of the canton where the suit is being tried, and the other party an outsider, the judge is said to be disposed to lean towards the native, because he fears to displease his fellow-citizens of the same canton. (In the United States, where the litigant parties belong to different States, a Federal Court can be resorted to.) The impression left on the observer's mind is that choice by the Great Council is safer than choice by the vote of the citizens, for the popularly elected judge may be influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the wish to avoid offending a prominent neighbour. Taking purity and promptitude, cheapness and certainty (i.e. the strict observance of settled principles and rules) to be (apart from judicial honesty) the four chief merits of any judicial system, the results of the Swiss system may be deemed as good as or better than those of England or of the United States as respects the three former of these requisites, although in point of legal science both of the latter may surpass the judges in the Courts of the smaller cantons.
The Civil Service and the Army
The Federal officials, both in the capital and throughout the country, are (except a very few of the most important which lie in the gift of the National Assembly) appointed by the Federal Council, and are dismissible by it for any dereliction of duty. Appointments to the higher posts are for a term of three years; but reappointment is so much the rule that the Civil Service may be described as practically permanent. Very rarely is any one dismissed for political reasons; nor do such reasons play any great part in selection, though there may be a tendency to prefer those who belong to the dominant party. Thus nothing resembling the Spoils System of the United States exists, a fact, however, attributable also to the meagreness of salaries and to the lack of the social importance which office bestows in France and Germany. Places are not worth struggling for, and public opinion would reprehend any attempt to appoint incompetent men for party reasons. Till the railways were acquired by the Confederation, the Civil Service, consisting practically of postal and customs officials, was small, and did not give, by demands for higher pay, the sort of trouble which has arisen in Australia among railway workers and in England among postal and telegraph clerks.
Before quitting the Civil Service, a word must be said of its relation to political life. Federal officials cannot enter the Federal Legislature, nor, as a general rule, can Cantonal officials sit in a Cantonal Legislature; but either set of officials can sit in the other, i.e. Cantonal officials can and do frequently sit in the Federal Legislature, Federal officials much more rarely (and, I think, only with the leave of their superior) in a Cantonal. There are, however, exceptions. In Zürich, Cantonal officials may sit in the “Great “or Cantonal Council, and there review the proceedings of their official superiors, the Executive Council, although the members of that Executive Council are not themselves eligible for election to the Cantonal (Great) Council, but can only speak in it as Ministers. Even the judges of the highest Cantonal Court are eligible for the Council of their canton, being excluded from voting only when their own report is under discussion. This is a singular departure from the principle of separating the legislative from the executive department, the function of administering from the function of supervising. But the Swiss are not meticulous, allowing many deviations from principle to happen when no harm results. Custom and public opinion keep things fairly straight.
Both Federal and Cantonal employees are permitted to take part in political agitation and to work at elections. They are not indeed expected, as has happened in the United States, to be foremost in canvassing and organizing on behalf of the party which has appointed them, nor have they the motive of personal interest which exists there, for they are mostly re-elected or reappointed after the expiry of a term of service, not for party reasons, but because it is not the habit to disturb an actual occupant. Participation in party work by officials would be pernicious in England and is pernicious in America. In this singular Republic, however, no great practical evil seems to have followed. Though the Federal Government employs a host of voters on the railways it has acquired, these did not for some years apply pressure to members in order to obtain a rise in wages, and gave no trouble otherwise. It must, however, be added that when the State purchased the railways it forthwith raised the wages, theretofore too low, and it has been suggested that the prospect of a rise influenced some of the votes by which the people approved that purchase. More recently representatives have, at the instance of railway employees, been pressing the Federal Council for higher pay.
Only in a few of the large cantons is there any considerable body of civil employees, besides, of course, the police and those engaged in collecting taxes or executing public works. What has been said of the Federal Civil Service applies generally to these also. Salaries are so low that there is no such competition for governmental posts as in France, and the Swiss aversion to whatever can be called “bureaucracy “prevents their multiplication. 1ST either is there such abuse of patronage for political purposes as exists in France or Canada or the United States. Appointments are made by the Executive Council of the canton, and in cities by the Municipal Council. Though some cantons prescribe qualifications for posts requiring scientific or legal knowledge, no great stress is laid on such knowledge. Popular sentiment does not favour pensions, partly perhaps because the Civil Service is not legally a permanent one, but some cantons offer their employees a subvention designed to encourage them to insure their lives. Taking the service as a whole, it is both competent and honest, though less highly trained than that of Germany.
The Army is an important branch of the national administration, and its organization has at times given rise to controversies. Every citizen is liable to serve from his twentieth to his thirty-second year in the regular effective force called élite (auszug), in which he is called out yearly for manoeuvres after having received a thorough initial training. At thirty-two he passes into what may be called the Reserve — Landwehr and Landsturm — until the age of forty-four. This universal obligation to serve which had come down from early days was never disputed, because the people felt that, standing between great military nations, they must be prepared to defend their neutrality, not to add that the tradition of service in foreign armies, which had lasted from the fifteenth century till forbidden by the Constitution of 1848, had made the career of arms familiar.1 The law of 1907, which now regulates military service, was accepted by the people on a Referendum. The cantons appoint the officers up to the rank of major, these being in some cantons elected. Officers of higher rank are appointed by the Federal Council. Complaints have been from time to time made regarding favouritism, personal rather than political, in appointments, but on the whole the army may be deemed efficient and popular. The peasants in particular enjoy their term of training, and Socialists willingly become officers. The total strength of the elite was (in 1919) about 140,000, and that of the Landwehr about 60,000. The total cost of the army was £1,772,000, about one-third of the whole expenditure of the Confederation.
Closely connected with the supreme need of a country's defence is the duty of so directing foreign policy as to maintain good economic relations with its neighbours. Switzerland is almost the only European State that has no temptations to increase its territory, for that would be possible only if the people of Vorarlberg, or of Tirol, asked to be admitted to the Confederation,1 or if France were to yield the part of Savoy which lies south of Lake Leman. Having no sea-coast, it depends for food and for coal upon the goodwill of Germany, France, and Italy, and needs access through them to the markets of the outer world. Thus, though the scope of Swiss foreign relations is limited to few subjects, and though its lines are prescribed by obvious needs, skill is required to enable a small State to hold its own between neighbours often grasping and always mutually jealous. Such skill has generally been found available, nor has courage been lacking to defend the right of asylum extended to revolutionist refugees driven from their own countries. Questions of foreign policy have seldom led to serious political controversies over principles; and even in criticizing the methods used and the particular steps taken, public opinion has been temperate. In respect both of defence and of foreign relations, two branches of government in which democracies are commonly supposed to be inefficient or unstable, the Swiss have shown themselves as consistent and firm as their difficult position permits. Their permanent attitude to the powerful neighbours is that of watchfulness tinged by suspicion. The Assembly has thought itself forced, by the protective tariffs of neighbour States and by the fear of being swamped by German competition in manufactures, to impose a tariff for the defence of what are taken to be the economic interests of Switzerland, which holds in this respect a position towards Germany resembling that which Canada holds towards the United States.
The actual merits and defects, or what may be called the everyday quality of the administration of a country, cannot be judged by a stranger, who is obliged to gather as best he may the sentiments of the inhabitants, and to gauge from their complaints the amount of dissatisfaction that exists. The Swiss, like the Germans, are not querulous, and their administration is so completely popular, so absolutely their own creation, reflecting their own qualities, that to blame it would be to blame themselves. Anyhow, as they do complain less than either Englishmen or Americans or Frenchmen, though equally free to speak their mind, one must conclude that they are well satisfied, not only with the purity of their Civil Service, which is unquestionable, but with its competence and its diligence.1 This is the more noteworthy because they are, especially in the German cantons, not deferential to officials. The right of the individual to personal freedom and immunity from interference by the State is not so fully safeguarded by law as in England or America, though this blemish is less conspicuous in Switzerland than in other parts of continental Europe where the Eoman law had more power. The Switzer is less “governed “or “regulated “than his neighbours in France and Germany. He holds himself more erect in the presence of authority. Indeed the word “bureaucracy” (Beamtenthum) and “centralization “rouse such antagonism that whoever proposes to extend the functions of government must at the same time protest that he hates the bureaucrat and desires that whatever has to be done should be done locally and not from the capital, and as far as possible by the people themselves. The Swiss set no great store upon the technical training of officials, and their public service stands on a lower level of skill than does the Prussian, and draws into its ranks less of the talent of the country. Regarded as a career, it is unattractive; regarded as a hierarchy, it is not perfectly organized and disciplined. But it is in touch with the common man, and in no wise a caste, while at the same time it suffers less from the influences of political party than does the civil service in the United States or in France.
Two merits strike all foreign observers. One is the cheapness of the administration. Finances have been carefully managed both in the cantons and (except during the recent war) in the Confederation, current administrative expenses being kept down. The Confederation grew richer with the growth of the country, and the rise in indirect taxation was filling its treasury when the expenditure needed for the force that was to defend the country's neutrality piled up a heavy debt. Economy must now again be its first care, and may be expected, for the people are not only thrifty, but inquisitive, applying to public expenditure a rigorous standard such as that which regulates a peasant household.
Purity, the other conspicuous feature, if partly due to the absence of those temptations which richer countries sometimes present, is none the less creditable.1 The Cantonal governments, like the Federal, are practically free from corruption, for scandals, though they occur as in all countries, are rare; and when they occur, the guilty person, however strong his position had been, must quit public life forthwith. In the United States, or in Canada, such a culprit might have held his place, or recovered it after a few years. It may be thought that in the small communities of Switzerland virtue is easier because detection is more certain. But there have been small communities elsewhere, in Spanish and here and there in British and French colonies also, in which venality almost ceased to be disgraceful.
Lest the shadows that fall upon parts of the landscape should seem to have been forgotten, it is proper to enumerate, before closing this sketch of the legislative and executive machinery, some of the faults which the Swiss themselves find in it. I give those which I have heard from men entitled to speak, without venturing to estimate the extent to which the alleged blemishes exist, and the harm they do. Some are not serious. But the duty of an enquirer, especially when he prosecutes his enquiries among a rather taciturn people, is to ask for the worst that can be said against the existing system.
1. The plan of granting subventions from the national treasury to the cantons is alleged to be wasteful, injurious to the cantons in impairing self-helpfulness, and liable to be perverted for political purposes. The dominant party can, it is said, strengthen itself by these gifts, and bring a small canton too much under Federal influence. Against this it is argued that the power of withholding a subvention is an engine for securing the enforcement of Federal law by a canton disposed to be insubordinate. No great mischief has resulted so far, but the practice has its risks. Local subsidies have been lavishly bestowed, and misused for political ends, in the United States and in Canada.
2. Through recent extensions of the sphere of government, as well as through the growth of the country, the Federal Council has been loaded with more work than it can overtake and has little time for studying large questions of policy. There are but seven Ministers, each with a small staff. A well-paid and highly competent official, resembling the permanent Under Secretary of the great English departments, is badly needed. But the people are slow to move. They rejected in 1898 a law providing pensions for Federal employees. The peasants, when they come to Bern, shake their heads over the handsome flight of steps which leads up to the legislative chambers. So the Assembly has hesitated to spend more money on the hard-worked administration. Economy, rare in democracies, is characteristic of a country where the vast majority of the citizens not only pay taxes, but know and feel that they pay.
3. The Federal Council is alleged to have been influenced in the exercise of its patronage by party considerations, appointing, or promoting, persons who are recommended by members of the Assembly as having served the dominant party, and the steady increase in the number of administrative boards steadily increases its patronage. Such cases doubtless occur in the case of small offices, but seldom with regard to important posts, such as those in diplomacy, in the higher ranks of the home service, or in the professors of the famous Polytechnikum at Zurich. Occasional abuses of patronage must be expected in every country, unless it selects officials by competitive examination, and that method is not easily applied to promotions in the higher ranks. The evil is not frequent enough in Switzerland to lower the tone and efficiency of the public service generally. More serious was the complaint that the army suffered from having too many officers who owed their position to their local influence or political affiliations rather than to military aptitude. This defect, for which the Cantonal authorities, who appoint the lower officers, were largely responsible is believed to have been cured by the legislation of 1907. The management of the army is however still criticized, some holding that it is too costly, others that it does not secure thoroughly skilled officers.
4. When, as often happens, the Federal Government appoints a Commission, perhaps consisting of members of the Assembly, to investigate and report upon some pending matter, such as a question of undertaking, or estimating the cost of, some public work, those who conduct the enquiry are sometimes accused of needlessly protracting the sittings in order to increase the compensation they receive for their trouble, which is fixed at thirty francs per diem, plus travelling expenses.
5. Another charge, which affects not the Federal but the Cantonal and Communal Governments, is of wider scope. There is said to be much petty jobbery and demagogism in the towns, especially the smaller towns, and in some rural areas. Sometimes by their talent for intrigue, sometimes by plausible speech, men with more ambition than merit push themselves to the front, become wire-pullers in local elections, get small contracts for their friends, and perhaps end by securing a local post for themselves,1 for even a pittance means something to the class of men, usually tradesfolk or the humbler kind of lawyers, who practise these arts. One finds a concurrence of testimony upon this point; nor is this surprising, for such things must be expected in any community (not composed of angels) where offices, too poorly remunerated to attract able men, are bestowed either by popular election or by Boards each of whose members is practically irresponsible.
Such place-hunting would exist even if there were no parties. It tends, however, to become involved with party action. Every party needs men, especially young men, who will undertake troublesome unpaid work, such as that of organizing meetings, looking after elections, propagating party doctrines. Though there is less of such work in Switzerland than in most democracies, some there must be, and it is natural for those who render such service to expect a reward in the shape of an office, natural that men of ambition, but no strong convictions, should join a party which has something to give, natural also for those who have been closely associated in political agitation to think first of their acquaintances when they have a post to bestow. This tendency to work politics for the sake of offices goes, in some places, hand in hand with the efforts of the Freemasons to advance their friends. Here, as in other parts of the European continent, this order is associated with radicalism. It is supposed to be strong in Switzerland, but all secret societies are, like the Jesuits, apt to be credited with more power than they possess. The proneness to push one's friends and reward adherents by office, though most often charged on the Swiss Radicals because they have had more opportunities, is nowhere stronger than in the Ultramontane canton of Fribourg.
The extent of this evil is differently estimated in Switzerland itself by different observers, who here as elsewhere can go on disagreeing, since the materials for a fair and exact judgment are unattainable. A stranger is led to believe that the malady, perhaps most evident in days when there are no great issues bringing the best citizens to the front, is more widespread here than in England (a few boroughs excepted), or in Holland, or in Norway, or in the Australasian British colonies, but less common than in France, and far less common than it has been in the United States. Happily for themselves, the Swiss never contracted the American habit of turning out employees to make room for others who have “claims on the party.”
direct legislation by the people: referendum and initiative
So far we have been studying those parts of the Swiss system which it has in common with other constitutional countries, viz. representative assemblies and an executive responsible thereto or to the people. Now, however, we come to an institution almost peculiar to Switzerland, one which deserves full examination, because it has profoundly modified Swiss government and has begun to influence opinion throughout the world. This is the method of Direct Popular Legislation, i.e. law-making by the citizens themselves and not through their representatives. Nothing in Swiss arrangements is more instructive to the student of democracy, for it opens a window into the soul of the multitude. Their thoughts and feelings are seen directly, not refracted through the medium of elected bodies.
Wherever in the early world we find a people governing itself, its power seems to have found its expression in the direct action of a primary assembly of the whole community, whether as tribe or as city.1 Of the primitive Germans Tacitus says, “De minoribus principes consultant, de maiori-bus omnes.” Such an assembly has, as already observed (see p. 337), maintained itself in some Cantons of Switzerland, and has parallels in other parts of the world, even among the Kafirs of South Africa.2 In the Middle Ages these primitive gatherings died out, as large nations were formed out of small communities, so constitutional freedom, when evolved out of the feudal polity, passed into the form of representative assemblies. Only the Swiss Landesge-meinde kept up the ancient tradition and practice, and made the idea of direct action by the people familiar. Even the oligarchical governments of cities like Bern and Zurich occasionally referred questions of exceptional gravity to the communities over which they ruled, inviting their opinion,1 and in Geneva (not till last century a member of the Confederation) the whole people exercised their right of enacting laws in the Conseil Général.2 Rousseau, who argued that no government was truly popular unless the people acted directly and not through delegates, was doubtless influenced by the recollections of his own city as well as by what he had heard of the Landesgemeinde in the old Forest Cantons. He must, as a child, have accompanied his father to a meeting of the General Assembly of the Genevese in which the citizens voted on the laws submitted by their legislative authorities. The Swiss practice was seldom referred to by the constitution-makers of France from 1789 onwards. But it had impressed Napoleon.3 In his treatment of the country he came as near to allowing himself to be influenced by sentiment as in any other part of his career, and he established in 1803 a Constitution for the whole country, then for the first time officially described as Switzerland, which lasted till his fall.
When the flood of change induced by the French Revolution had passed, and the Landesgemeinde were re-established in the mountain valleys which had known them from old time, their example, coupled with the new theories of popular rights which France had diffused, and perhaps also with the example of the American States, began to tell upon the minds of the larger cantons. In the period of change which lasted from 1830 to 1848, the new constitutions which the cantons adopted were submitted to the people and enacted by their votes, as a Federal Constitution had been submitted but rejected in 1802. Again, in 1848 it was the peoples of the cantons that accepted the new Federal Constitution. The direct action of the people having thus become familiar, the practice extended itself from constitutions to other enactments. As early as 1831 St. Gallen adopted a scheme by which communes could vote to reject a law passed by the Assembly of the canton; and this so-called “veto” in one form or another was adopted by other cantons, till at last a system developed itself under which the people obtained in every canton but one (Fribourg) the right of accepting or refusing a law submitted to it by the Legislature. This is the so-called Referendum, a name drawn from the usage in the old Confederation by which the delegates to the Diet from a canton were entitled to withhold its assent to a resolution of that body till they had referred it to their own canton for assent or rejection.1
Concurrently with the process by which the people asserted their final voice in legislation, there appeared another by which they secured the power of themselves proposing legislation over the head and without the consent of the representative Assembly. In 1845 Vaud inserted in its Constitution a provision giving 8000 electors the right to require that the Cantonal Council should submit to popular vote any question of enacting or repealing a law, and other cantons followed by degrees. When the Federal Constitution was, after long and vehement controversy, revised in 1874, power was given to 30,000 voters to require that a Bill passed by the Legislature should be submitted to the people. This created the Federal Referendum. The possession by the people, since 1848, of the right to demand, by a petition signed by 50,000 voters, that the Constitution should be amended, suggested a new clause, enacted in 1891 and now in force, enabling that number of citizens to put forward a specific amendment to be submitted to the vote of the people. This is the so-called Popular Constitutional Initiative. These two institutions, Referendum and Initiative, represent an effort to return from the modern method of legislation by representative assemblies to the ancient method of legislation by the citizens themselves. In the Hellenic world the area of each republic was so small that the citizens could meet for debate, as they now do in the small Landesgemeinde cantons. Such oral debate being impossible in the Confederation and the larger cantons, the citizen can in these exercise his rights only by delivering his note on paper.
Premising that there are also cantons in which communes, too large to determine issues by a popular vote in the communal meeting, send these issues to be voted on at a poll of the commune, and also some large cities in which municipal matters are similarly submitted to a popular vote of all the citizens, we may proceed to the more important and more instructive procedure employed for popular voting in the Confederation and in the Cantons, examining, first, the arrangements governing the employment of the popular vote by Referendum and Initiative in the Confederation and the Cantons; secondly, the figures recording the use made of it; thirdly, the actual working of the system; and lastly, the arguments used to recommend or disparage it, winding up with the conclusions regarding it at which Swiss opinion has arrived. It will then be possible to judge how far the example Switzerland sets is fit to be followed in other countries.
The arrangements now in force, complicated at first sight, become easier to follow when we consider separately A the Referendum and B the Initiative, and when in considering each of these we distinguish the application of each (a) to the Confederation and (b) to the cantons respectively, and also in both Confederation and Cantons (1) to Constitutions and (2) to laws respectively.
A. The Referendum
(a) In the Confederation the Referendum (i.e. the submission to popular vote, for approval or rejection, of a measure passed by the legislature) exists:
1. For all changes whatever in the Federal Constitution. This approval must be given not only by a numerical majority of the citizens voting, but also by a majority of the cantons.
2. For all Federal Laws (i.e. statutes), and for all Resolutions (Beschlüsse, arrétés) (being of general application and not having been declared by the Legislature to be “urgent”), whenever a demand for such submission to popular vote is made by either aeast 30,000 citizens or by at least eight cantons.
(b) In the Cantons the Referendum exists:
1. For all changes in the Cantonal Constitution.1
2. As respects laws and resolutions passed by the Cantonal Legislature,
In eight cantons for all laws and resolutions. (This is called the Obligatory Referendum.)
In seven cantons where a prescribed number of citizens of the canton (the number varying from canton to canton) demand its application. (This is called the Optional or Facultative Referendum.)
In three cantons there is a distinction drawn between different classes of laws, the Referendum being Obligatory for some and Optional for others.
In one canton (Fribourg) there is no Referendum for laws.
In cantons, governed by a Primary Assembly of all citizens (Landesgemeinde), there is no need for a Referendum, since that Assembly legislates.
It thus appears that the Confederation does not go so far as do the cantons, for it submits laws to popular vote only where 30,000 citizens (or eight cantons) ask for the submission, whereas all cantons but seven require either all laws or all laws of a prescribed character to be so submitted. It is of course easier and cheaper to take a popular vote in a small community than over the whole Confederation. Only five cantons have more than 200,000 inhabitants, a number less than the population of some American congressional districts.
What Resolutions are to be deemed “urgent”? This is a question which has raised much discussion, and as it has been found impossible to frame a satisfactory definition, the matter has been left to be decided by the Federal Assembly in each case as it arises. Broadly speaking it is only enactments of a temporary character or framed for some particular emergency that are deemed “urgent,” 2 and so withheld from submission to the popular vote. Treaties have not so far been submitted (save in the very exceptional case of that by which Switzerland entered into the League of Nations constituted by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919), but the question whether they ought to be is to be presently determined by a popular vote. Xeither is the annual budget submitted, nor decisions of a merely administrative character.
B. The Initiative
The Initiative (i.e. the right of a prescribed number of the citizens to propose the passing of an enactment by popular vote) exists:
(a) In the Confederation —
For changes in the Constitution when a demand is made by at least 50,000 citizens. They may make it either by sending up to the Assembly a specific amendment, which the latter then forthwith submits to the people, or by demanding that the Assembly shall prepare an amendment embodying a certain principle which they lay before it. In this latter case the Assembly first submits to the people the question: Shall the Assembly prepare such an amendment as is desired? If this is carried the Assembly prepares it, and a further popular vote is then taken on the amendment so prepared and submitted.
(b) In the Cantons —
1. In all the cantons (except Geneva)1 a prescribed number of citizens (varying in the different cantons) may either demand a general revision of the Constitution, or propose some particular amendments to it.2
2. In all the cantons except three (Luzern, Fribourg, and Valais) a prescribed number of citizens may either propose a new law or resolution, or submit to the Cantonal Council the principle on which they desire a new law to be based, asking the Council to frame the law desired. In the latter ease the Council puts to the people the question: Shall a new law such as is desired be prepared? and if the people answer affirmatively, the Council prepares the law and it goes before the people to be decided on a second vote. If, on the other hand, the proposal as already drafted by its promoters goes straight to the people, the Council may oppose it, or may themselves draft an alternative new law on the same subject, to be voted on by the people along with the measure proposed by the demanding citizens.
The broad result of these arrangements is that in the Confederation, the wide area of which makes a frequent reference to the people troublesome, popular voting in the two forms of Referendum and Initiative is used for three purposes, viz.:
(α) For changes in the Constitution proposed by the Assembly.
(β) For changes in the Constitution proposed by 50,000 citizens under the Initiative.
(γ) For ordinary laws where 30,000 citizens, or eight cantons, make the demand under the Referendum.
In the Cantons, since they are smaller, it is natural to find it used more freely, viz.:
(α) For Constitutional amendments proposed by the Cantonal Legislature to the people.
(β) For Constitutional changes proposed by a prescribed number of citizens by way of Initiative.
(γ) In most cantons as respects Laws— (1) For all laws proposed by the Legislature (Referendum); (2) for laws proposed by a prescribed number of citizens (Initiative).
Where a revision of the Constitution is proposed by the citizens, the Cantonal Council is entitled to submit its own amendments also, and if the popular vote decides that there is to be a general revision, the work of making it is performed either by the Council or by a body (resembling the American Constitutional Convention) created for the purpose.
It will be observed that while the Confederation restricts the Initiative of citizens to changes in the Constitution, the cantons are less conservative and permit it to be used for changing the ordinary laws. There is, however, no recognized test for determining what is a constitutional change, i.e. for distinguishing constitutional amendments from ordinary laws. In this absence of a clear line between the two kinds of enactment the Initiative has been often used, both in the Confederation and in cantons, to pass under the guise of a constitutional amendment what is really an ordinary and not what lawyers or historians would deem a constitutional law.1
The procedure applied in the Confederation, as respects a Referendum on laws or resolutions, is the following. Every law when passed is published in the official journal and sent to the cantons to be circulated through the communes. Ninety days are allowed to pass before it can take effect. Within this period either eight cantons or 30,000 citizens may demand its submission to the people. The method of demand by cantons being rarely used, the opponents of the Bill proceed to collect signatures. If it excites little popular interest they must work hard to secure the requisite number, and organizations are sometimes formed for the purpose. Where the population is Roman Catholic, the clergy can give effective help; where it is Protestant, action by the pastors if they care to act (which they seldom do) is less efficient, attendance at their churches being less regular. Sometimes, but by no means as a matter of course, party organizations take the matter up. Agents may even be sent out to collect signatures, and paid ten or twenty centimes per signature.1 Where this happens, the signatures are not always above suspicion, and thousands of names have in some instances been struck off, either because written in the same hand or for want of the proper official attestation by the president of the commune to which the citizen belongs. The Federal Council has decided that illiterates can sign by a mark, but the right of signing, since it is a part of citizenship, depends on Cantonal law. When the number sent in has been recognized as sufficient by the Federal Council, it informs the Cantonal Councils, publishes the law all over the country, and fixes a day for the voting, not less than four weeks after the publication and distribution of the law is sent to each voter, but no official explanatory memo-to the importance attached to the law and to the interest which the political parties, as parties, take in it. A copy of the law. Then an agitation begins, greater or less according random accompanies it, the Federal Assembly having considered that it would be hard to secure an impartial one.2 Meetings are held at which members of the legislature and others advocate or oppose it, and the press is full of articles on the subject. Nevertheless not every citizen is perfectly informed, for the debates in the Federal Assembly are so scantily reported that the arguments pro and con cannot be easily gathered from them. However anxious a man may be to discharge his civic duties, he may possess, especially if he lives in an isolated spot among the mountains, no adequate data for judgment on matters perhaps technical or otherwise difficult. This may be one of the reasons why the vote, when it comes, has been often disappointingly small.
The arrangements for voting are in the hands of the cantonal authorities, though the ballot-papers and the copies of the law are supplied by the Federal Government. The voting, which always takes place on the same day over the whole country, and on a Sunday, is quiet and orderly, nor are complaints heard of bribery or of fraudulent counts. As the law has to be printed in German, French, Italian, and Romansch, and more than 600,000 copies are needed, the cost of taking the opinion of the people is considerable.
The cantons employ a procedure generally similar to that described for the Confederation. In most of them also a discretion is left to the Council to exempt from the Referendum resolutions which are temporary in their operation, and some nominations to office and resolutions of an administrative nature are also exempted. Appropriations of money beyond a certain sum (even if not of permanent operation) are in some cantons required to be submitted. In nine and a half cantons where the Referendum applies to all laws, there is of course no preliminary stage of collecting signatures. So soon as the law or decree (not being of an urgent nature) has been passed, or (in some cantons) at the end of the legislative session, notice is given of the day on which the popular vote is to be taken, and a copy of the law is (usually) sent to each citizen. In these cantons a sort of message or document explaining each law is prepared by the Cantonal Executive Council and delivered to each citizen with his copy of the law. Such messages are usually recommendations of the measure, but it seems that in one canton (Thurgau), where the Executive Council, being directly chosen by the people, is independent of the Great or Legislative Council, the former body has been known to criticize the law adversely.1 Before a Cantonal, as before a Federal, voting there is plenty of public discussion, followed by the people with great interest, at least in the towns and in the more educated of the rural districts. The press, too, is alert. It is often accused of misrepresenting the issue; but newspaper misrepresentations, dangerous in the sphere of foreign relations, are less harmful in domestic affairs, where the topic is more familiar and corrections can be promptly made. No European country has so many journals in proportion to its size as Switzerland, and no shade of opinion lacks its organ. Some cantons direct that public meetings for debating the law shall be held before the voting. In some, abstention from voting is punished by a small fine.
Where, as in seven and a half cantons, the Referendum is Optional, i.e. is taken at the demand of a prescribed number of citizens, the Cantonal Council may itself, without waiting for a demand, decide to take the opinion of the people on some particular measure which it has passed, and in some cantons a prescribed minority of the Council may require the measure to be so submitted. In Schaffhausen an official memorandum explaining the law is circulated to the people. In Fribourg the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, powerful there, show no desire to introduce it.
In cantons where every law must be submitted to the people, an active legislature may lay a heavy burden upon the citizen. Most cantons fix one or two occasions in the year for taking a popular vote on the batch of laws passed at the last preceding sittings of the Council. Zurich has a regular spring and a regular autumn voting, but frequently adds a third, so its citizens are kept pretty busy. In Zurich, moreover, and also in Aargau, a law may (when the Cantonal Council so directs) be voted on in sections, so that the people can reject one part and adopt the rest, a useful provision in an intelligent and painstaking people. One canton (Basel Land) used to require for the acceptance of a law an absolute majority of the qualified citizens, but this requirement has been abandoned, since it often caused the loss of a measure, because a sufficient number of citizens had not come to the polls.
The procedure followed in the cantons where a law comes before the people by way of Initiative resembles (mutatis mutandis) that applicable to the Referendum where demanded by a prescribed number of voters. Copies of the proposed law are distributed to every citizen before the day of voting arrives, and in some cantons the arguments advanced by the proposers are also circulated at the public expense. The Cantonal Council can express its opinion on the project or put forward an alternative plan. The law, if and when passed, may like any other cantonal law be declared invalid by the Federal Legislature if they conceive it to transgress the Federal Constitution.
Some other features of the cantonal Initiative systems deserve to be mentioned.
Proposals for changes in the Constitution and those which submit ordinary laws may be differently treated. In the former case the work of revision is sometimes entrusted to a special body chosen for the purpose (resembling the American Constitutional Convention),1 but more frequently the Cantonal Council undertakes it after its next re-election, and where the people have to vote, first whether there is to be a revision, and thereafter upon changes proposed, a prescribed interval must elapse between the two votings.
In Bern, when the suggestion for a revision comes from the Cantonal Council, a two-thirds majority in that body is required.
Some cantons permit the Council to advise the people against a general revision demanded by Initiative as well as to express its opinion upon particular changes proposed.
Since no sharp distinction is drawn in the cantons any more than (as already observed) in the Confederation between matters fit to be placed in a Constitution and those which belong to ordinary legislation, a Constitution may be loaded with provisions which do not affect the general frame of government and cannot be deemed Fundamental. This is inconvenient as well as illogical, but it has been found practically impossible (as in the States of the American Union) to define what properly belongs to a Constitution. In cantons where the people can initiate changes in the laws as well as in the Constitution there is less temptation than in the Confederation to propose what is really an ordinary Law in the form of a Constitutional amendment. It may be useful to give a few figures showing how these arrangements have worked.
In the Confederation the popular votings between 1874, when the Referendum was introduced, and 1898 have been as follows: —
A. Votings on Constitutional Amendments, 10. Of these amendments, 7 were accepted and 4 rejected.
B. Votings on Laws and Resolutions passed by the Legislature, 25. Of these enactments, 7 were accepted and 18 rejected.
A. Between 1905 and 1919 the figures were: —
Votings on Laws and Resolutions passed by the Legislature, 3. Of these, all were accepted.
In all these cases the vote taken by cantons agreed with the decision of the popular vote.
The signatures demanding a Referendum ranged from 35,000 to 88,000 (in 1907).
It is convenient to give here the figures relating to constitutional amendments also, in order to compare the results when the Legislature proposes and when the citizens propose.
Proposals made since 1874 by the Legislature, 25. Of these 19 were accepted and 6 rejected.
Proposals made by 50,000 citizens, 12. Of these 5 were accepted and 7 rejected.1
The number of votes cast in both forms of popular voting naturally varies with the amount of interest evoked by the particular measure submitted. It has fallen so low as 30 per cent of the total number of qualified citizens, and has risen as high as 74. The average seems to be about 55 per cent. The number of signatures obtained for a demand for the submission of a law seems to be no index to the vote which will be ultimately cast against it. The largest number of signatures for a constitutional amendment was 167,-000 (in 1908) in support of an Initiative for prohibiting the sale of absinthe. The proposal was carried by 241,000 against 138,000.
From these figures two things may be gathered.
One is that the power of demanding the submission to the people of a law passed by the Legislature is not abused. Within the forty-four years from 1874 to 1919 less than one law in the year was so submitted; and in the last fifteen the popular vote, only thrice demanded, affirmed each law. The cases in which attempts were made to obtain submission but the requisite number of signatures could not be collected, were not numerous.
The other is that the proportion of rejections to approvals between 1874 and 1898 shows that cases occur, even in this highly democratic government, in which the legislature does not duly represent popular sentiment.1 This is of course no news to practical politicians. Even in Great Britain Bills are sometimes “jammed through “the House of Commons by a Minister, though everybody knows that the bulk of the nation dislikes them. I recall at least one case where even the majority that was supporting the Ministry was reluctant to pass its Bill, though it obeyed.2
Some examples may show how the people use their power. As the Swiss put into their Federal Constitution matters better fitted to be dealt with by ordinary legislation, we may consider together the cases in which constitutional amendments have been voted on, as they must be in every instance, and those in which a Referendum has been demanded on a particular law.
The people rejected twice a law making uniform the qualifications for the suffrage in Federal elections, with the result that this subject remains in the sphere of Cantonal regulation. This was due to a Cantonal sentiment averse to extension of Federal power.
They rejected several laws relating to banks and to patents which, not quite understanding the details, they thought faulty, and also a Federal resolution anent patents. This latter had been submitted along with a law on epidemic diseases, making vaccination, already compulsory in some cantons, compulsory over all Switzerland. The proposal evoked strong protests and was rejected by a large majority, and the harmless Patents Resolution, discredited by its neighbour measure, shared that neighbour's fate. They rejected a proposal for enlarging the powers of the Federal Government in educational matters, partly because it was denounced as “bureaucratic” and anti-religious, but even more because it might have led to a secularization of the schools. Both Roman Catholics and many of the more conservative Protestants were intensely hostile, while the zeal of the (possibly more numerous) party that favours purely secular instruction was not active enough to overcome this resistance.
They rejected, by a large majority, a law providing pensions for Federal employees, the peasantry seeing no reason why these veterans of public service should have any better treatment than they had themselves. A reluctance to try experiments or enlarge Federal powers led them in 1891 to reject the proposed purchase of the Central Railway of Switzerland, yet seven years later they accepted a scheme for buying up all the lines of the country.
Other laws rejected had the following purposes: an increase in the expenditure upon the representation of Switzerland abroad; the creation of a Federal monopoly of the sale of lucifer matches, especially with a view to the sake of prevention of disease among the workers; the establishment of a State bank; alterations in the administration of the army so as to bring it more under Federal control; amendments in the military criminal law; a guarantee upon the sale of cattle (requiring such guarantee to be in writing); the creation of a system of compulsory insurance against sickness and accidents. In this last case it was apparently not so much the principle as the details that excited criticism, while the various private insurance societies organized opposition, and there were suspicions lest the Federal Government should use the scheme for party purposes. So 1903 saw the defeat of an amendment altering the constitutional provisions regarding the Federal alcohol monopoly, and of a law directed against newspaper incitements to escape the obligation of military service.
On the other hand, they accepted the following measures: A law making civil marriage compulsory and at the same time facilitating divorce. The former provision was so largely approved (though it provoked opposition among Roman Catholics) that it is believed to have secured the acceptance of the latter provision, notwithstanding some Protestant as well as Catholic dislike to a relaxation of the divorce law. The number of divorces rapidly increased.
A measure amending the factory laws and fixing eleven hours as the maximum day's labour.
A general bankruptcy law for the Confederation.
A Constitutional amendment empowering Federal legislation regarding insurance against sickness and accidents.
A law granting a large subsidy to the Gothard railway, coupled with power to subsidize Alpine lines in Eastern and Western Switzerland.
Two tariff laws, successively raising import duties.
An amendment to the Constitution removing the prohibition to the cantons to impose the penalty of death which it had contained.
An amendment (1885) to the Constitution giving the Federal Government a monopoly of the production of distilled spirits, and a subsequent law (1887) framed in pursuance of the power so conferred.
A law for the regulation of railway accounts.
Constitutional amendments extending the supervision of the Federal Government over forests, and empowering it to legislate regarding foodstuffs and other articles of prime necessity in the interests of public health (both by large majorities).
Constitutional amendments (1898) enabling the Federal Assembly to prepare a uniform code of civil and another of criminal law for the Confederation. These long steps towards centralization were accepted by majorities exceeding two-thirds of the citizens voting (264,933 against 101,-820, 206,713 against 101,712).
A Constitutional amendment empowering the Federal Government to grant subventions to schools in the cantons.
An amendment submitted by popular Initiative, and voted on in 1920, for the suppression of public gaming resorts.
A measure for the purchase and working by the Federal Government of all the great railway lines. This bold new departure, though notably enlarging the sphere of Federal administration, was carried by 386,000 votes against 182,-000, the heaviest vote ever cast.
This list has been made full in order to convey to the reader the kind of questions which come before the Swiss people. Since in many instances the English or American reader has no means of judging whether or no the people erred, some remarks on the motives which seem to have influenced their action in Confederation votings may be useful.
The first question that rises to the mind will be as to the part played by political organizations in influencing the action of the people. In most democratic countries, and certainly in Britain,1 it is hard to imagine a popular voting which would not be worked by the political parties. In Switzerland party sentiment seldom dominates the minds of the citizens. It is chiefly where a religious issue or a socialistic issue is involved that such sentiment tells, and then chiefly in Catholic districts. The Swiss voter, always independent, is most independent when he has to review the action of his Legislature. Still there are instances in which displeasure at the conduct of a party seemed to create a prejudice against measures it had put through the Assembly. In 1884 the Referendum was demanded on four laws passed shortly before,2 none of which would probably have been required to run the gauntlet but for the irritation created in the minority parties by what was then deemed the rather high-handed behaviour of the ruling majority in the Assembly. All four bills were rejected, although two at least of them 3 were unquestionably, and one at least of the other two probably, beneficial. but the sequel was the oddest part of the affair. Immediately after these votings there occurred a general election, and the citizens returned to the Assembly a scarcely diminished majority of the same party which they had just censured by rejecting their bills. One would have expected the exact opposite, viz. that the innocent measures should be passed and the offending men dismissed. But the Swiss, who dislike changing their members, took their own way of expressing displeasure, and the majority profited by the warning. Cases occur in which the party dominant in the Assembly having by some law or by some executive act offended a large section of the citizens, this section engineers the rejection of some law submitted to it rather as a rebuke or manifestation of its anger than because it dislikes the law itself. This furnishes a convenient relief for the angry feeling, after the satisfaction of which things resume their normal course, and the people, having delivered their souls, can proceed on the next election to choose the same legislators whom they have just before rebuked.
So sometimes a law is defeated, not because the bulk of the people condemn it, but because the favour of the larger number is so much fainter than the hostility of a smaller that the latter bring up not only all their own voters but a percentage of the indifferent, while the less zealous majority poll less than their proper strength. As often happens, intensity wins against mere numbers. This is one of the ways in which minorities can make themselves into majorities.
Though now and then a harmless measure suffers from being put to the vote simultaneously with one which rouses opposition still, broadly speaking, each proposal is dealt with on its merits. Distrust of the men who have proposed it does not necessarily disparage it; and as a party cannot count on getting its followers to support its measures at the polls, so neither does it suffer damage from their rejection.
Independence, then, is the first quality of the citizen which the working of the system reveals. A second is Parsimony. Like the Scotch, the Swiss are not more avaricious than their neighbours, but they are more thrifty, and in public matters positively penurious. The Swiss peasant lives plainly and is extremely frugal. Averse to anything which can increase taxation — and all pay some direct tax — he does not understand why officials should be paid on a scale exceeding what he earns by his own toil. So laws involving an expenditure which would in England or France be thought insignificant in proportion to the results expected have been frequently thrown out by the votes of those who measure public needs by the depth of their own purses, and lack the knowledge that would fit them to judge financial questions.
A third tendency or motive is the dislike of officials and officialism. It has repeatedly led to the failure of bills for strengthening the administrative departments, and although such bills were sometimes needed, their failure checked for the moment the progress of what is called étatisme, i.e. State Socialism.
A fourth is jealousy of the interference of the Central Government with the cantons. Several instances have been given above. Yet the instances of the railways and the adoption of codes of law for the Confederation show that it is not always operative.
The quality we call good sense, the quality most important in a legislating nation as in a legislating assembly, is compounded of two things: judgment and coolheadedness, the absence of passion and the presence of intelligence. Now in the Swiss, a fighting people, but not (except the Italian Ticinese) a passionate people, long experience has formed the habit of voting in a calm spirit. They are an educated nation; nearly everybody not only can read but does read. They have solid rather than quick minds, and their best minds are more sagacious than imaginative. If few possess the knowledge needed to form an opinion on much of the legislation that comes before them, many have that consciousness of ignorance which is the beginning of wisdom. Hence their attitude towards a difficult or complicated measure is guarded or suspicious. Omne ignotum pro pericw loso. Unless they have such confidence in the Assembly that passed the law, or in the advisers who recommend it, as to supply what is wanting to their own judgment, they are disposed to reject rather than to approve.
This is the explanation of what has been called the “conservatism “of the Swiss. They are cautious, not easily caught by new schemes, little swayed by demagogues, preferring, when something rouses their prejudice or eludes their comprehension, or points to dubious future developments, to vote “No.” As the average voter has a slower and less instructed mind than the average legislator, who is always more or leas a picked man and trained to his work, new ideas take longer to penetrate the voter's head. Study or debate convinces the legislator that some reform is needed, and he passes a law to effect it. But when the law comes before the voter, his attachment to old custom, unenlightened by study though partially enlightened by discussion, prompts a negative. This happens chiefly in the rural and especially the mountain cantons, much less in a manufacturing population such as that of Zürieh or Basle, in which legislation is more active. Thus an intricate law, or one covering more than one subject or introducing new principles, is apt to be rejected on the first voting, yet subsequently accepted.
Under these conditions some laws are delayed, and some lost. But it is far from true to say that the citizen “in the long-run votes' No' to every proposal.” 1 He votes “No” sometimes because he dislikes the proposal on the merits, sometimes because he does not understand it, sometimes because he does not see where it will lead him. But of mere blind aversion to change there is little evidence, as appears from the instances cited in which sweeping measures have been adopted.
But though dogged conservatism is not the note of the Swiss voter, he is frequently more short-sighted than his representative in the Assembly. Wider views of policy would have sanctioned compulsory vaccination, reforms in the military administration, proposals for the better support of foreign legations and for pensions to Federal officials. Here it was parsimony and the want of an imagination that could realize conditions outside the voter's range that caused the mistakes. The former fault is so rare in democracies as to be almost a merit; the latter is inevitable when questions are addressed to a multitude of peasants and artisans who obey neither a party nor a leader. In Switzerland, however, no serious mischief has followed, for most of the laws rejected have been either afterwards adopted in a better form, or recognized to have been premature, because not sure to have behind them the popular sentiment which makes enforcement easy.
The working of Popular Voting in the cantons can be but briefly treated, because the data have never been fully collected, even in Switzerland itself, and could be collected only by a long enquiry in the several cantons themselves. So far as can be gathered from the records of voting in a few of those larger cantons whose experience has been described by Swiss writers, the general conclusions to be drawn do not substantially differ from those which the Confederation furnishes. Zürich, which I take as one of the most important, has had an Obligatory Referendum since 1869; i.e. all laws passed by the Cantonal Council have to be submitted to the people, who, in the words of their Constitution, “exercise the legislative power with the assistance of the Cantonal Council.” Between 1869 and 1893 the people voted on 128 proposals submitted by the Council, whereof 99 were accepted and 29 rejected. Between 1893 and 1919 (inclusive) there were votings on 126 laws and decrees and 12 constitutional amendments submitted by the Council, and there were also votings on 15 proposals made by popular Initiative, 14 for laws, 1 for an amendment to the Constitution. The average percentage of voters is estimated at 74,1 but the use of proxies and the fact that in some communes abstention is punishable by fine makes Zürich exceptional. When a Referendum vote coincides with an election to the Legislature, the average rises to 79. The highest percentage of votes cast to qualified voters I have found is 87 per cent in 1891, and the percentage seldom sinks below 60. Some measures aiming at useful objects have been rejected, as, for instance, laws for extending and improving education and the position of teachers, for limiting factory work to twelve hours a day and checking the employment of children, for establishing a system of compulsory insurance against sickness. The Council in these cases seems to have gone ahead of the general opinion. But when some of these proposals were subsequently submitted they were accepted, because better understood. Thus a law fixing ten hours as the maximum time for the labour of women in shops and certain domestic industries was carried by 45,000 votes against 12,000. Many other valuable measures have been similarly accepted, and according to the Swiss writers who have treated the subject, possibly biassed in favour of their peculiar institutions, no permanent harm has followed rejections; the reforms really needed are ultimately carried, and usually in a better shape than they at first wore.
Anxious to disprove the charge of undue conservatism, the writers just referred to point to the fact that Zürich enacted a progressive income-tax which bears heavily on the rich. Such a measure, which would in some countries be cited to support a very different charge, was enacted in Vaud as a Constitutional amendment proceeding from the Legislature. It deserves to be remarked that although the people of Zürich are sometimes penny-wise in their dislike of expenditure, they have renounced the function of fixing the salaries of officials, vesting it in the Cantonal Council, and that they approved a proposal to spend three million francs on University and other new educational buildings in the city and canton. As an eminent and fair-minded citizen observed to me: “Reform would no doubt have moved faster without the Referendum. Yet the people are less stupid than we thought, when it was introduced, that they would show themselves. They reject some good laws, but fewer than we expected. Even prejudice and parsimony do not prevail against proposals whose utility can be made clear.”
The general results of the use of the popular vote in the cantons, taken all together, show that the Referendum is used temperately in those cantons where it is compulsory.
Where it is optional, the demands for it are not numerous, and are particularly few in the French-speaking cantons, Vaud, Neuchâtel, and Geneva.1 This fact seems to show either that there is no disposition to use the right of demand in a factious and vexatious spirit, or else that the legislatures of these cantons are in such full accord with the general sentiment that there is no occasion for an appeal to the people. It may also imply that the cantons which submit all laws do so rather in conformity to democratic theory than because there is any greater disposition in them than in others to distrust the legislature.
The proportion of voters who go to the poll is rather smaller than in the Confederation, especially in cantons where all laws are submitted. In Bern it has been as low as 30 per cent, and in Basel Land and Solothurn the average does not exceed 50 per cent. Religious issues call out the largest vote; laws involving increased expenditure, especially in the form of increased salaries, are those most frequently rejected.
The system of Direct Legislation excites so much interest in other countries, and has been so often recommended as an improvement on the parliamentary frame of government, that it is worth while, even at the risk of some little repetition, to enumerate and examine the arguments for and against it which Swiss experience has suggested. Its adoption and wide extension may be traced to two sources.
One is the theoretic doctrine of the Sovereignty of the whole People, which, as a theory, is of French rather than Swiss origin,1 and found its first concrete application in Europe in the submission to the whole French nation in 1793 of the Constitution of that year, a Constitution never in fact brought into force. This suggested the similar consultation of the Swiss people in 1802.
The other source is the practice of the small Alpine communities. As the whole people had voted their laws in primary assemblies, it seemed conformable to ancient usage that when the number of citizens grew too large to be reached by one voice, they should be allowed to express their individual wills by voting at the spot wherein they dwelt. Men felt the independent personality of the citizen to be thus recognized in the wider, as well as in the narrower, compass. The law is his law, because he has taken a direct part in enacting it. As the direct control of the people has worked well in the sphere of local government it ought to prove equally sound in the canton and in the Confederation.
A third ground for introducing the system, strongly pressed in the United States, was little dwelt upon in Switzerland, viz. dissatisfaction with representative bodies as failing to embody and express the popular will. Few complaints were made that the Swiss Legislatures were perverting that will, and no one charged them with corruption or other sinister motives; but it was urged that the citizen knows better than his representatives what is for his own benefit, and that a law cannot but carry fuller moral authority and command more unquestioning obedience if it comes straight from the ultimate fountain of power. Here, it was said, is a proper counterpoise to that extension of the sphere of the Central Government which gives rise to disquiet, here is a safeguard against the influence which railway companies and other great commercial or financial interests may exert over the Federal Legislature.
To these arguments, which prevailed in 1874, others, drawn from the experience of the years that have passed since, have been added.
The frequent rejection by the people of measures passed by the Assembly shows that the latter does not always know or give effect to what has proved to be the real will of the people.
While the Assembly has not suffered in public respect, it has been led to take more pains to consult public sentiment, to anticipate objections, to put bills into the shape most brief, simple, and comprehensible by the average citizen. The citizen is supposed to know the law. Give him the best chance of knowing it.
A further benefit is secured for the people. Their patriotism and their sense of responsibility are stimulated, for they feel themselves more fully associated with the work of legislation, formerly left to a class which professed to stand above them, and they are the more disposed to support the law they have shared in making.
As the political education of the masses is thus promoted, so also that class in whose hands the conduct of government has mostly rested is brought into closer contact with the masses and can do more to familiarize the latter with political questions.
The influence of party is reduced, for a measure is considered by the people on its merits, apart from the leaders who have proposed it or the party in the Assembly that has carried it. Its approval by the people does not imply a strengthening, nor its rejection a weakening, of general legislative policy. Neither the Federal Council nor the Assembly is shaken because a Bill fails to become law.
Though some measures bear a party stamp and rouse party resistance, though displeasure at the action of a party may discredit the laws it has passed and lead to their rejection, though those who are accustomed to vote for candidates belonging to one party in the Assembly are predisposed to vote for the laws that party has passed, still, as the comparative weakness of party organization in Switzerland has permitted the habit of giving a popular vote “on the merits “to grow up, measures are more likely to be judged irrespective of those who advocate them than could well happen in any representative assembly where party leadership exists. In an assembly party solidarity and the hope of gaining party advantage disturb the minds of legislators. But the People have no gain or loss to look for save what the law itself may bring.
In a representative democracy there ought to be some check upon the legislature. The Swiss Constitution does not, like the American, give a veto to the Executive, and the two Chambers do not sufficiently differ from one another in composition and type of opinion to constitute their possible disagreement an adequate restraint on hasty action. Thus the only check available is that of a popular vote.
Finally, there must somewhere in every government be a power which can say the last word, can deliver a decision from which there is no appeal. In a democracy it is only the People who can thus put an end to controversy.
These considerations have not entirely removed the objections which a very few Swiss as well as some foreign critics continue to bring against the Referendum. Among such objections, which I state in order to present both sides of the case, the following, applicable to its use in the cantons as well as in the Confederation, may be noted.
The status and authority of a legislature must suffer whenever a Bill it has passed is rejected, for the people become less deferential. Its sense of responsibility is reduced, for it may be disposed to pass measures its judgment disapproves, counting on the people to reject them, or may fear to pass laws it thinks needed lest it should receive a buffet from the popular vote.
The people at large are not qualified, no not even the people of Switzerland, to form and deliver an opinion upon many subjects of legislation. “Imagine,” said Welti, a famous leader, once President of the Confederation, “a cowherd or a stable-boy with the Commercial Code in his hand going to vote for or against it.” 1 They may be ever so shrewd and ever so willing to do their duty, but they have not, and cannot have, the knowledge needed to enable them to judge, nor can the pamphlets distributed and the speeches made by the supporters or opponents of the measure convey to them the requisite knowledge. How can a peasant of Solothurn in a lonely valley of the Jura form an opinion on the appropriations in a financial Bill. Is the object a laudable one? Is it worth the money proposed to be allotted? Can the public treasury afford the expenditure? The voter cannot, as he might in the Landesgemeinde of Uri, ask for explanations: he must vote “Yes “or “No “there and then. The arguments advanced in the Legislature have taught him little, for its debates are most scantily reported. If it is said, “Let ignorant voters take the advice of their more instructed neighbours,” that is an admission that the notion of referring these matters to the decision of the average individual who cannot judge for himself is wrong in principle, for it is the voter's own opinion, not some one else's, which it is desired to elicit.
The number of abstentions at Referendum votings is large enough to show that many a voter either cares little for his civic duties, or knows his unfitness to perform them. As the proportion of these abstentions to the number of qualified voters does not seem to diminish, has not the gain to the political education of the people been less than was expected?
The results of a popular vote cannot be always deemed a true expression of the popular mind, which is often captured by phrases, led astray by irrelevant issues, perplexed by the number of distinct points which a Bill may contain, and thus moved by its dislike to some one point to reject a measure which, taken as a whole, it would approve. No amendments are possible. The vote must be given for the Bill and for the whole Bill. Or again, a laudable measure may be rejected because it has been submitted at the same time with another which displeases a large section of the voters. Having first voted against the one he dislikes, the less intelligent citizen goes on to negative that which comes next, unregardful of its contents.
Frequent Referenda, not to speak of their cost, lay too heavy a burden upon the voter, who relapses into a wearied indifference or gives an unconsidered vote. This happens in those cantons which, claiming to be progressive, pass many laws. The citizen has other things besides politics to attend to, and the unrest and agitation produced by constant appeals to the people by Referenda as well as at elections disgust the quiet solid man.
When a law has been carried by a small majority, its moral authority may suffer more than would be the case had opinion been nearly equally divided in the Assembly. In countries where the legislature rules, a law passed is accepted because it comes in the regular way from the usual organ of the people's will, and few enquire what was the majority that passed it. But when it has gone to a popular vote, a section of the citizens are arrayed against it. They become its opponents, and feel aggrieved if they are overridden by only a few votes.1
The most comprehensive but also the vaguest argument adduced against the Referendum is that it retards political, social, and economic progress. This objection made some noise in the world when currency was given to it by Sir Henry Maine in 1885.2 It particularly impressed Englishmen, of the class which had been wont to associate democratic rights with an aggressive radicalism. To find conservatism among the masses was to them a joyful surprise. The Referendum appeared as a harbour of refuge. On the other hand, some advocates of social reform, in Switzerland as elsewhere, complain that State Socialism and Labour legislation do not advance fast enough. To estimate the truth there may be in these opposite views would require a careful examination, not only of the intrinsic merits of each rejected law, but also whether in each case the law was seasonable, suited to the sentiments of the people, and therefore fit to be forthwith applied with general acquiescence. Space failing me for such an examination, it is enough to observe that although prejudice or undue caution has in some cases delayed the march of economic or social reforms which the Assembly proposed, the best Swiss authorities hold, and hold more strongly now than thirty years ago, that no general harm has followed. Every system has its defects. Those who, knowing England or France, compare the legislation of those countries with that of Switzerland since 187-i will find in the two former instances in which progress has suffered from the pressure exerted upon members of the legislature by classes or by trades whose interests were allowed to prevail against those of the nation.
Some of the arguments here summarized are, like that last mentioned, not supported by Swiss experience. Some apply to the action of the people when they elect representatives hardly less than when they vote on laws, because an election is often (though less in Switzerland than in Britain or America) an expression of opinion on political issues as well as on the merits of the candidate. To others weight may be allowed. It is true that there are laws on which the bulk of the voters are not qualified to pass judgment, true also that demagogues might use the Referendum as a means of attacking a legislature or its leaders, true that the less intelligent voter is sometimes led away from the merits of a law by extraneous considerations, such as party spirit or religious prejudice, or even the prospects of the crops, which may have put him in a bad humour. Abstentions are so numerous that some cantons have imposed penalties, and of those thus driven to vote, many drop in a blank paper, having no opinion to express.
Here let me revert to the part which the system of Popular Voting plays in the constitutional scheme of Government. It disjoins the Legislative from the Executive Department more completely than any form of the representative system can do, because it permits not only the Executive Council (Federal or Cantonal as the case may be) but also the Legislative body, which in the Confederation both chooses and directs the Federal Council, and which in some cantons chooses, and in all directs or influences the Executive Council of the cantons, to continue its normal action whether or not its legislation is approved. Where the function of ultimately enacting the law has been transferred from the representative body to the people, the people become the true Legislature, and their representatives merely a body which prepares and drafts measures, and which, in conjunction with the Executive Council, carries on the current business of the nation. Thus it follows that neither the Executive Council nor the Legislative Assembly need be changed because a law submitted by them is not passed. The people reject the law, as a merchant may reject the plan for a business operation which his manager suggests, but they do not dismiss the Assembly any more than the merchant dismisses his manager. The function of administering the laws continues to be smoothly carried on by the same set of officials, so long as their personal character and capacity makes them trusted.
Under the French and English system this does not happen, because the defeat of an important Bill which the Ministry has proposed means the displacement of the Ministry, while under the American system, although the President and his officials who administer public affairs cannot be ejected by the majority in Congress, yet since they have (through the President's veto) a share in legislation and are closely associated with one or other of the great parties in Congress, they practically share the fortunes of the parties, and cannot expect re-election when the party has incurred popular displeasure by its legislative errors or omissions, whereas the Swiss system tends to reduce party feeling because it makes legislation a matter by which a party need not stand or fall.
Neither in the Confederation nor in the cantons is it now proposed to abolish the Referendum on laws, nor has any canton discarded it, though some have specifically excepted financial laws. Statesmen who would like to restrict it to some classes of laws admit both the practical difficulty of defining those classes, and the objections to leaving discretion in the hands of a legislature. The people as a whole value the privilege. The party which long held a majority in the Assembly, though sometimes annoyed at its results, were and are debarred by their principles from trying to withdraw it; while the Conservative and Roman Catholic Oppositions, less fettered by theory, sometimes found the Referendum useful as a means of defeating Radical measures. The institution has become permanent, not only because the people as a whole are not disposed to resign any function they have assumed, but also because it is entirely conformable to their ideas and has worked in practice at least as well as a purely representative system worked before or would be likely to work now. There are differences as to the extent to which the principle should be carried, but although the Obligatory form has been adopted in most cantons, the opinion of some experienced statesmen prefers the Optional form because the constant pollings which the former involves weary the citizen, and make him less careful to give a well-considered vote. In the Confederation the objections to obligatory submission of every bill seem graver, for this would throw a heavy burden on the voters, producing more trouble and unrest than does the agitation needed to obtain signatures to the few demands for submission.
On a review of the whole matter the foreign observer will probably reach the following conclusions.
Any harm done by the Referendum in delaying useful legislation has been more than compensated by the good done in securing the general assent of the people where their opinion was doubtful, in relieving tension, providing a safety-valve for discontent, warning the legislatures not to run ahead of popular sentiment.
It has worked particularly well in small areas, such as Communes (including cities) where the citizens have full knowledge of the facts to be dealt with.1
There is nothing to show that it has reduced the quality of the members of the Assembly or Cantonal Councils or tended to discourage capable men from seeking a seat thereon.
It has served to give stability to the government by disjoining questions of Measures from questions of Men, and has facilitated the continuance in office of experienced members of the executive and the legislature. Taking its working over a series of years, it would seem to have reduced rather than intensified party feeling.
It has helped not only to give to the governments of the Confederation and the cantons a thoroughly popular character, obliging each citizen to realize his personal share in making the law he is to obey, but, so far from “atomizing “the nation into so many individuals, has rather drawn together all classes in the discharge of a common duty, and become a unifying force giving democracy a fuller self-consciousness.
It has shown the people to be, if not wiser, yet slightly more conservative than was expected. But their aversion to change has been due to caution, not to unreason, and seldom to prejudice.
In recognizing the success of the Referendum we must never forget how much the conditions of Switzerland favour its application. It is specially suited to small areas, and to small populations not dominated by party spirit.1
Working of the Initiative
The working of the Initiative, i.e. the right of a group of citizens to propose measures to be enacted by a vote of the people, needs to be considered apart from the Eefer-endum, for though its theoretic basis is the same, the conditions of its application are different.
It claims to be the necessary development of the idea of Popular Sovereignty. The people, it is held, cannot truly rule if they act through representatives or delegates. The individual will of the citizen cannot be duly expressed save by his own voice or vote. His representative may, consciously or unconsciously, misrepresent him. The Referendum doubtless secures him against being bound by any law on which he has had no chance of expressing his own will. But the opportunity of exercising his volition against a law submitted confers a right of Negation only. He needs also the Positive Right of framing and placing before his fellows the law which expresses his own will and mind. Only thus is the freedom of each citizen secured.1
Abstract theory has been reinforced by the argument that since representative assemblies are apt to consist of one class, or to be dominated by class interests, they cannot be trusted to bring forward and lay before the people the measures which the people desire. As the Referendum protects the people against the legislature's sins of commission, so the Initiative is a remedy for their omissions. Individuals may propound excellent schemes and recommend them at meetings and through the press without affecting an indifferent or hostile legislature. If the People is really to rule they ought to have their chance of going straight to the People. This argument has force in those American States where great corporations know how to “take care of a legislature.” But the Swiss advocates of the Initiative have been moved chiefly by abstract principles. Their strength lies in the universal acceptance of Popular Sovereignty as a dogma, whereof the Initiative seems the logical result.
We have already seen that in the Confederation, where it exists only for proposals to amend the Constitution, the Initiative has been demanded only eight times and amendments proposed by it only twice carried. These cases are worth noting. They included a law to forbid the killing of animals without first stunning them by a blow. This, though proposed in the guise of a desire to prevent cruelty to animals, was really a manifestation of the anti-Semitism then rife in Continental Europe. It was carried against the advice of the Federal Assembly, and although a similar measure had, when passed by the Cantonal Councils of Bern and Aargau, been quashed by the Federal Council and the Assembly as inconsistent with the guarantees of religious liberty provided by the Federal Constitution.1 Some cantons enforce it, but the Federal Assembly has never passed an Act imposing penalties for its breach. This was an inauspicious beginning. The next two constitutional amendments proposed by the popular Initiative were one declaring the “right to labour,” another proposing to distribute the surplus of the Federal customs revenue among the cantons in proportion to population, two francs for each person. Both were rejected in 1894, the former by a vote of three to one, the latter by a majority of nearly three to two; and a like fate befell two other proposals made by Initiative in 1900, one to introduce proportional representation in the election of the National Council, and the other to choose the (Executive) Federal Council by popular vote, as well as one similarly made in 1903 to exclude resident foreigners in computing population for the purpose of determining the number of representatives to which a canton is entitled. But in 1918 an amendment introducing proportional representation was carried. This is the most noteworthy instance of a large constitutional change effected by the Initiative method against the will of the majority of the legislature.
In the cantons, where the Initiative has been much more freely used, it has held its ground, but does not seem to make further way. It has not been the parent of any reforms which might not have been obtained, though not so quickly, through the legislature, while it has sometimes placed unwise laws on the statute book. Zurich, where it can be demanded by 5000 citizens — a small number for so large a canton — has resorted most frequently to it. Sometimes the prudence of the Cantonal Council, dissuading the people from the particular plan proposed and substituting a better one, averted unfortunate results,1 while in the case of an ill-considered banking law the Federal authorities annulled the law as inconsistent with the Federal Constitution. Several times the people have shown their good sense in rejecting mischievous schemes proposed by this method. Not very different have been the results in St. Gallen, Bern, and Aargau. The French-speaking cantons use it less.
When the conditions under which the Initiative works are compared with those of the Referendum we are not surprised to find that the opinion of statesmen was for a long time less favourable to the latter. Its opponents argue that whereas a law submitted to the people by Referendum must have already been carefully considered by the Federal Council which drafted it, and by both Houses of the National Assembly, a Bill proposed by Initiative emanates from a group of more or less intelligent and instructed citizens, having never run the gauntlet of independent critics, possibly hostile, certainly competent by their knowledge and experience. It may be crude in conception, unskilful in form, marred by obscurities or omissions. It will often suffer in practice from the fact that it has not proceeded from those who will, as the Executive, have the function of administering it, and are thus aware of the practical difficulties it may have to overcome. It might be dangerous if applied to agreements made between cantons or with foreign States; and it would render the course of normal legislation more or less provisional, because it may suddenly cut across existing laws, its relation to which has not been duly considered. These objections, which the early history of the Initiative tended to support, would not be conclusive if it could be shown to be the only remedy against the prejudices, or the class selfishness, or the subjection to private interests, that may prevent a legislative body from passing measures which the people deliberately, and not merely by a sudden impulse, desire to see enacted. There have been times in England, as in other countries, when a legislature refused to pass laws which a majority of the adult male population, perhaps even of the registered electors, seemed to desire. Does such a state of things exist in Switzerland or in any of its cantons? If so, why do not the electors when choosing their representatives make known their wishes, and insist that the legislature shall carry them out forthwith? It is doubtless possible that parliamentary obstruction, or corrupt influences applied to members, or the pertinacity of a leading statesman who dominates his party and holds it back from some particular measure, may delay the gratification of the popular will. But (excluding large-scale corruption, unknown in Switzerland) such cases must be rare; such causes can have only a temporary operation. The Initiative has in recent years begun to be more frequently demanded in the Confederation,1 so that men, noting that virtual effacement of the distinction between Constitutional Amendments and Laws which now permits all sorts of proposals to be submitted under the guise of Amendments to the Constitution, have begun to ask why the right of Initiative should not be extended to Laws. The requirement of 50,000 signatures might be retained for Laws because the number of Swiss citizens has risen greatly since 1891, and a larger number, say 80,000, might be required for the proposal of an Amendment. As things stand, the people, though they cannot propose a law when it is called a “law “can propose what is really a law by calling it an Amendment, and can repeal an existing Law by enacting an Amendment which overrides it. The change in form would not increase the volume of direct popular legislation, while it might help to preserve for the Constitution that character of a Fundamental Instrument which it is fast losing.2 The critical period of a threatened strife of classes which has arrived for Switzerland as for other countries may suggest that the time is scarcely ripe for a final judgment on the system of Direct Legislation. But I must add that, revisiting the country in 1919, I found the opinion of thoughtful men much more favourable to the Initiative than I had found it in 1905. Many held it to be valuable as checking the undue power of any party which should long command a majority in the legislature: few dwelt upon the danger present to the mind of statesmen in other countries, that it may offer a temptation to irresponsible demagogues seeking by some bold proposal to capture the favour of the masses.
The foregoing account will have shown that such success as has been attained in Switzerland by the method of direct popular legislation is due to the historical antecedents of the Swiss people, to their long practice of self-government in small communities, to social equality and to the pervading spirit of patriotism and sense of public duty. No like success can be assumed for countries where similar conditions are absent. A popular vote taken over wide areas and in vast populations, such as those of Great Britain or France, might work quite differently. The habits and aptitudes of the peoples may not have fitted them for it. In Switzerland it is a natural growth, racy of the soil. There are institutions which, like plants, flourish only on their own hillside and under their own sunshine. The Landesge-meinde thrives in Uri; the Referendum thrives in Zurich. But could saxifrages or soldanellas gemming a pasture in the High Alps thrive if planted in Egypt? As, however, the plan of Direct Popular legislation has been tried on a large scale in the States of North-Western America also, a general judgment on its merits may be reserved till its working there has been examined.
EXTRACT FROM AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BY THE FIRST CONSUL (BONAPARTE) IN 1801 TO THE SWISS DELEGATES
“Songez bien, Messieurs,” disait Bonaparte, “à l'importance des traits caractéristiques, c'est ceux qui, éloignant l'idée de ressem-blanc avec les autres Etats écartent aussi la pensée de vous confondre avec eux. Je sais bien que le régirae des démooraties est accompagné de nombreux inconvénients, et qu'il ne soutient pas un examen rationnel: mais enfin il est établi depuis des siécles, il a son origine dan le climat, la nature, les besoins et les habitudes primitives des habitants; il ist conforme au génie des lieux, et il ne faut pas avoir raison, en dépit de la nécessité, quand l'usage et la raison se trouvent en contradiction, c'est le premier qui l'emporte. Vous voudriez anéantir ou restreindre lee landsgemeinde, mais alors il ne faut plus parler de démocratic ni de républicans. Les peuples libres n'ont jamais souffert qu'on les privat de l'exercice immédiat de la souveraineté. Ils ne connaissent ni ne goûtent les inventions modernes d'un système représentatif qui détruit les attributs essentiels d'une république. Je vous parle comme si j'étais moi-même un Suisse. Pour les petits Etats, le système féderatif est éminemment avantageux. Je suis moi-même né montagnard; je connais l'esprit qui les anime.
“D'heureuses circonstances m'ont placé à. la tête du gouvernement français, mais je me regarderais comme incapable de gouverner les Suisses. II vous est déjà difficile de trouver un landamman; s'il est de Zurich, les Bernois seront mécontents et vice-versa; elisezvous un protestant, les catholiques feront opposition.
“Plus j'ai réfléchi sur la nature de votre pays et sur la diversité de ses éléments constitutifs, plus j'ai été convaincu de l'impossibilité de la soumettre à un régime uniforme; tout vous conduit au fédéralisme. Quelle différence n v a-t-il pas, par exemple, entre vos montagnards et vos citadins! Voudriezvous forcer les cantons démocratiques à. vivre sous le même gouvernement que les villes, ou bien songeriez-vous à, introduire dans celles-ci, à, Berne, par exemple, la démocratic pure?
“La Suisse ne ressemble à aucun autre Etat, soit par les événements qui s'y sont succédés depuis plusieurs siecles, soit par les differentes langues, les différentes religions, et cette extrême différence de moeurs qui existe entre ses différentes parties. La nature a fait votre Etat fédératif, vouloir la vaincre n'est pas d'un homme sage.”
In 1803 Napoleon wrote to the Swiss as follows:
“Une forme de gouvernement qui n'est pas le résultat d'une longue série d'événements, de malheurs, d'efforts, d'enterprises de la part d'un peuple, ne prendra jamais racine.”
The stability and consistency which have marked general policy as well as legislation in Switzerland are often ascribed to the predominance since 1848 of one political party. The causes of this fact, as well as the other circumstances that affect the party politics of the country, need some explanation. Nowhere in Europe might there appear to be more abundant materials for the emergence of many parties and for their frequent regroupings or transformations, for where else can be found so many diversities of racial character, of religion, of speech, of forms of industry and of the conflicting economic interests to which such forms give rise? Yet nowhere has the ship of state been so little tossed by party oscillations.
Switzerland had her War of Secession in 1847. Seven Roman Catholic cantons who had withdrawn from the Confederation to form a federation of their own, were brought to submission in a short and almost bloodless struggle which was followed by no revenge. The Constitution of 1848 sealed the reunion of all the cantons and created closer ties between them. The Liberals of that day who framed the Constitution held a large majority in the country, and long held it. After a time, however, differences of temperament and opinion divided the party. The larger section is now known as the Left or Eadical party, and the much smaller and less advanced section has retained the name of Liberal, though it is often called the Centre. Meantime the Catholic minority of 1846-48, the men of the Sonderbund, kept together and were ultimately consolidated by the political disputes which arose over the dogma of Papal Infallibility adopted by the Vatican Council of 1870. They form a third party variously described as Catholic or Clerical or Ultramontane. There were thus three parties. After 1880 Marxian doctrines began to spread in the industrial centres, and a Socialist party arose which, though strong only in a few populous areas, increases in numbers and is extremely active. Its growth has been favoured by the large immigration of German working-men. More recently some advanced members of the Radical Left detached themselves from it and became known as the Democratic Group, but they did not remain a distinct section. There were thus four or five parties; but that which was once the advanced wing of the Liberal party and is now the Radical party commanded in 1918 more votes in both branches of the National Assembly than did all the other parties taken together.1 The League of Peasants party which has since appeared does not act as a political group except for the protection of agricultural interests, and it is not yet clear what its relations to the other parties will be.
It is a singular fact, and a fortunate one for the country, that the lines of party do not coincide with those of race and language. Though the strength of the Radicals lies in the German-speaking and Protestant cantons, it draws support from French-speaking areas also, such as Yaud and Geneva, while the Clericals find adherents equally in German-speaking Luzern and in French-speaking Fribourg. The Socialists are strongest in Zurich, and, to a less extent, in Aargau, Thurgau, and St. Gallen. The Old Liberals, also called Democratic Liberals, a small rank and file with able officers, come almost entirely from Protestant districts, and some have been returned to the Assembly in respect of their personal eminence, not because they had a popular majority in the districts for which they sit. This willingness to find room for men of distinction is an idyllic feature of Swiss politics without parallel elsewhere. In France and in English-speaking countries there is a cry of triumph when a party leader is defeated at the polls: in Switzerland his opponents take pains to provide against such a contingency.
It was in ecclesiastical, rather than in language or in class distinctions, that the foundations of these parties were laid. Ever since the days of Zwingli, religion has been a cause of division. It nearly broke in pieces the old Confederacy of Thirteen Cantons. But to this must be added the difference that everywhere exists between men of a cautious mind and conservative temper, and those who are more prone to change or more disposed to trust the masses of the people. The latter are the Radicals, the former either Catholics or conservative Liberals. Rich men are in most countries apt to belong to the former category, but in Switzerland the line of party division does not coincide with that of class. There are plenty of Conservatives among the peasants, plenty of Radicals among the educated and well-to-do. The Socialists are, broadly speaking, a class party, but they include not only many of the minor and poorly paid Government employees, but also some few philosophic democrats not belonging to the ranks of Labour; and though standing outside the churches, they find some sympathizers among Roman Catholic and also among Protestant pastors. Swiss Socialists are rather non-Christian than anti-Christian, most of them less anti-Christian than are those of France, and Swiss Radicalism is hostile only to Clericalism, not to Christianity.
The Radicals correspond broadly to the Liberal party in England, to the Left Centre and Democratic Left in France, and to the Liberals (now the National party) in Australia. Many shades of opinion may be found among them, but they are sharply distinguished from the Ultramontanes by their hostility to sacerdotal claims and less sharply from the Liberals by their greater readiness to extend Federal authority and to use it for promoting schemes of social reform. Despite their name, they have, like all parties which have long enjoyed power, a good deal of administrative conservatism. A Radical who has arrived is not the same thing as a Radical on the road.
The Liberals, who would in England be described as Moderate or Conservative Liberals, have lost ground in recent years, but are still influential by their intellectual distinction and social weight. Clinging to the orthodox economics and laissez faire principles of last century, they are effective critics, strong for resistance, furnishing a counterpoise to the Socialists and others who would accelerate the process of change and extend the functions of the State. In the past, when more largely represented in the Assembly, they furnished the Federal Council with many admirable members, highly qualified for administrative functions.
Political life, generally tranquil in the Confederation, is more active, and occasionally more troubled, in the cantons. In the mountainous and agricultural regions, which are largely Catholic, it is chiefly local questions that occupy the people. Things move slowly and quietly, except in the excitable Italian population of Ticino, where the struggle between priestly influence and revolutionary ideas has sometimes led to outbreaks of violence. In manufacturing cantons like Zürich, Thurgau, Aargau, and Basle parties are more active because the issues that arise are more various and stirring, but these issues are so numerous, one canton differing from another, that it is impossible to give a general description of cantonal politics. The parties are not necessarily the same as in the Confederation. They do not always even bear the same names. In Geneva, for instance, those who in Federal politics are called Liberals describe themselves as Democrats. National organizations have had no such all-pervasive power as in the United States or in Australia, so Cantonal elections are usually fought on Cantonal, not on National issues, yet similar influences and tendencies are visible, and the same types of opinion appear. The Catholic is ready to rally to his Church. The Socialist complains that labour gets less than its due, and urges that the canton or the commune should undertake new work and extend its grasp further and further over the means of production and the methods of distribution. Meanwhile the somewhat stolid peasant landowner and the respectable middle-class shopkeeper or banker's clerk look askance at these novelties, much as the same kind of man does in rural France and rural Germany.
Except in urban manufacturing communities, where new ideas and schemes are afloat among the workers and municipal elections are fought by the Socialists, party politics have roused little heat. In some cantons, Eadicals are scarcely distinguishable from Liberals; in others, as in Geneva, Radicals may for election purposes work along with Socialists. Some of the older rural cantons are so purely Roman Catholic that one can hardly talk of any other party, while in others Radicalism has had practically no opposition to confront. In both sets of cantons there were slight oscillations affecting the complexion of the Cantonal Legislature, while the representation in the LTouses of the Federal Assembly was varying little from one election to another.
Returning to the Confederation, let us note the questions on which controversy is most active. It is seldom perceptible as regards foreign policy, for this is prescribed by the general sense that a neutrality friendly to all its neighbours alike must be preserved. Even during the war of 1914—18 the strong sympathy felt all over French-speaking Switzerland for the Western Allies, and that extended by a part of the German-speaking population to the Central Powers, disturbed the country only for a few moments when the action of some military authorities, and, more rarely, that of the Federal Executive, was impugned. There is, as in nearly all Federal Governments, a division of opinion between those who favour the extension of Federal power and those who cling to cantonal rights, and this has grown more evident here since the Radical majority have leant towards Etatisme, i.e. an extension of the functions of government.1 On the whole, the Radicals are Centralizers, the Ultramon-tanes and Liberals Cantonalists. A combination of these two latter parties, coupled with the conservative instinct of a large section of the rural Radicals, procured the rejection, at several votings by Referendum, of proposals for the assumption of new powers by the National Government, yet in the case of the acquisition of the railways this instinct yielded to the prospect of economic advantage.2 In matters of social reform, each scheme is considered on its merits, and the cautiously progressive policy of the Radicals has been generally approved, though the Socialists and the small group of Radical Democrats desired to quicken the pace.1 Economic issues have fallen into the background since a protective tariff was adopted: it is only some of the older Liberals who cast longing, lingering looks behind at the days of free trade. Religion, especially where it affects denominational teaching in the schools, excites more feeling. The leaders of the Radicals favour purely secular instruction, as do the Socialists, while the Clericals and most of the Liberals stand on the other side. As, however, the control of elementary schools is primarily a matter for the cantons, this battle is fought chiefly in those cantons where Roman Catholics and Protestants are fairly balanced. Almost the only question contested on purely party grounds, i.e. with a view to the effect which its determination may have upon party strength, was that of the representation of minorities. The dominant Radicals believed that Proportional Representation would weaken the hands of government both in the legislative and the executive departments by multiplying sections in the legislature and reducing the majorities needed to give stability. The Socialists, as well as the Ul-tramontanes and the Liberals, sections whose representatives in the National Council are smaller than their strength in the constituencies entitle them to, expected to secure by it an increase in their respective numbers. As already observed, it was carried in 1918 and put in force at the elections of 1919. Among other proposals for constitutional change the most prominent is that of transferring the choice of the Federal Council from the National Assembly to a vote of the whole people. Advocated as a logical development of the principle of popular sovereignty by the Socialists and more democratic Radicals, and by the ITltramon-tanes as a means of securing for them a better representation in the Federal Council, it is resisted by the bulk of the Radical party as tending to disturb that confidence and cordial co-operation which has enabled that Executive Council to work well with the Legislature. This is not the only matter in which the two extremes of Clericals and Socialists, sometimes reinforced by the Liberals, have stood together against the Radicals. Both these extreme parties favour female suffrage, both expecting to gain by it, for the Clericals count on the influence exerted by the priesthood upon women. Where there are several Opposition minority parties, there is always a likelihood of their joining forces against the majority. The same phenomenon has sometimes been seen in France, and it was seen in the British Parliament when in 1885 the Irish Nationalists united with the English Tories to turn out the Liberal ministry of that day.
The spirit of party being weaker here than in most democracies, and the questions that divide the nation rarely rousing passion, one is not surprised to find political organizations less tightly knit and less actively worked than in England or the United States or Australia. Only the Socialists have in their well-defined positive programme, in their Labour Unions, and in their propagandist zeal, both the motive and the means for building up a compact and militant system. These Unions constitute a network of associations and committees always available for political action. The sentiment of class solidarity and the hope of winning material benefits, coupled with the power of setting the whole voting machine in motion by pulling a few strings, give to this party, as they have given to the Labour party in Australia, a closer cohesion and stricter discipline than the other parties possess. It has moved like one man. Few internal dissensions have hitherto impaired its combatant efficiency but a divergence has recently (1919) appeared between the more and the less extreme wings. It puts forward its programme at every kind of election, National, Cantonal, Municipal, Communal, and requires its members in the legislatures to give an account to the party of their action there.
Next to it in this respect stand the Clericals. Supported by the church organization, with priests in every commune and bishops giving directions from behind the lines, Ultramontane Fribourg has been the chief headquarters, while Luzern, though less clerically minded, is a not less reliable centre for the action of Catholic laymen. The Eadical party, with its stable majority in the Confederation, was not equally impelled to strengthen itself by a system of local Committees for enrolling adherents, selecting candidates, and stimulating popular zeal. However, its general congress of delegates, chosen in each canton by the cantonal party authority, declares the policy of the party; and appoints a central organ of thirty-two persons to give effect to the resolutions they pass. There is also a Central Committee and (in nearly all cantons) a Cantonal Committee, with its small Executive Committee, for handling current business and keeping touch with the cantonal organizations, as well as local Committees in the large towns and the more populous rural areas. The Liberals have Committees in some cantons, but in others are feebly represented, and sometimes divided among themselves.
To an Englishman, and still more to an American, the most conclusive evidence of the comparative insignificance of party organization is the absence of party funds. Politics is run in Switzerland more cheaply than anywhere else in the world. Were there any serious amount of regular work to be done in organizing, in canvassing, in getting up meetings, in diffusing literature among the voters, money would be needed. Even the active propaganda of the Social Democrats involves little special expenditure, for their Labour organizations, created for other purposes, do what is needed in the way of instruction, drill, and electioneering campaigns. This remarkable contrast with the phenomena of the United States is easily explained by the absence of the motive of personal profit. It is not worth anybody's while to spend money on party work except for some definite public purpose. Nobody in Switzerland has anything to gain for his own pocket by the victory of a party, for places are poorly paid, Federal places do not change hands after an election, Cantonal places are not important enough to deserve a costly fight, nor could the expenditure of money at an election escape notice in these small communities. Only where there is a public aim, rousing for the moment keen public interest, must funds be raised.
To complete this brief view of the influence of party in Switzerland, let us see how that influence works in the several modes and organs through which the people conduct the government of their country. These are (a) popular elections, (b) action by the Legislatures, (c) the action of the people voting directly on proposals submitted by Referendum and Initiative, and (d) the action of the Executive, which in the Confederation is the Federal Council, in the Cantons the Small Council.
(a) Elections are the matter with which British, Trench, and American parties chiefly occupy themselves. It is at and through these that they make their appeals to the citizens, arraign their adversaries, proclaim the benefits they propose to confer on the community.
In Switzerland elections are more numerous than in England or Canada, and quite as numerous as in France, though not so numerous as in sorely-burdened America. Terms of office are short, and many posts which in other countries are filled by the nomination of the executive or the legislature, are here in the direct gift of the people. In the Confederation the members of the National Council are chosen for three years; those of the Cantonal Great Councils usually for the same term. In many cantons the smaller or Executive Council and the judges, as well as some other officials, are elected by the people, and for short terms. There are also communal elections. This frequent invocation of the citizen has a good side in keeping his interest alive, and a less good side in exhausting that interest by making the exercise of civic rights occur so often that he may cease to scrutinize the merits of the candidates. One hears it said, “Our frequent voting tires the peasant and the workman: he cannot even have his Sunday for recreation.” Judicious observers wish to see the number of elections reduced, but they admit that the evil is reduced by the habit of re-electing the occupant of a post.
The extent to which the interest of the voter is maintained can be gauged better in Switzerland than elsewhere by the percentage of the citizens who cast a vote, seeing that the parties (except the Social Democrats) seldom work hard to bring them up to the polls. Allowing for the absence of this factor, and remembering that with manhood suffrage the percentage of persons actually voting must be expected to be a trifle lower than where the suffrage is restricted to the slightly richer and less migratory part of the population, Switzerland stands well. The proportion of actual to possible votes is rather larger than the average of Great Britain or Australia, and as good as that of the United States; and it is said to be better now in cantons where all offices are filled by direct popular voting than it was or is under the old system of voting only for representatives. In Zurich the percentage now ranges from 70 to 80, whereas in former days it sometimes sank to 20. This, however, is a canton where proxies are permitted, where political life is comparatively strenuous, and in some of whose communes there are penalties for neglect.1 In Appenzell failure to attend the Landesgemeinde (without reasonable excuse) is punished by a fine of ten francs, and some other cantons endeavour to compel voting by the imposition of fines for omission. Such provisions may seem to indicate indifference; yet they also indicate the high standard democratic theory sets up. Everywhere there will be “slackers,” but no people shows so widely diffused and so constant an interest in the exercise of its political functions.
The rational will which the citizens are expected to possess and to express by their votes may be perverted in three ways: by Fear, when the voter is intimidated; by Corrupt inducements, when he is bribed; by Fraud, when the votes are not honestly taken or honestly counted. In Switzerland none of these perversions exists to an appreciable extent. Intimidation is unheard of. There are practically no landlords, and nowadays it would be impossible for employers to put pressure upon their workmen, and rarely possible for priests to drive in their flocks.2 Neither do mobs terrorize the quiet citizen, for the polls are quiet and orderly. Only in one or two cantons have officials been occasionally charged with such interference as is common in France. Bribery is, if not unknown, yet uncommon, confined to some very few cantons, and that for three reasons. Few candidates could afford it. It is not worth a candidate's while, because there is no money and little glory to be had out of politics. It could hardly be kept secret in communities so small as nearly all the Swiss constituencies are; and when it became known, the briber would be punished by public anger and the bribed by public contempt.
The elections are by universal testimony fairly conducted. I have heard of a case in which persons were brought in and hired to give votes, and of another in which ballot-boxes had been tampered with and the election annulled on that ground. But such instances are extremely rare.
The cost is small. All those expenses which in England are called “official,” viz. the provision of polling-places, boxes, clerks, etc., are borne by the State, and the candidate pays hardly anything for the hire of rooms, for agents, or for advertisements. Before 1918 a candidate for one of the large county divisions in England was legally entitled to pay almost as much to get returned to Parliament as all the candidates for the National Council taken together would pay at a General Election over all Switzerland.
Note that the practice of “nursing “a constituency, by spending money in it some while before an election, or by giving large subscriptions to local purposes, generally charitable or otherwise directly political — a practice which has during the last thirty years become common in England — is unheard of in Switzerland. To be in politics costs nothing beyond the loss of time involved in absence from a man's home work. Neither is a member expected to render those services which are demanded from a deputy in France. There are no decorations to be procured for constituents by voting in support of Ministers. And just as no candidate or member gains favour with his constituents by getting favours for them, so there are no titles or other marks of distinction by which the party dominant in the Federal or in a Cantonal Legislature could reward either the fidelity of its supporters or any pecuniary service rendered to its organization.
(a) The functions of a party in an election begin with the choice of a candidate. This gives less trouble than it does in Britain and has long done in the United States, and though any citizen may present himself to the electors uninvited and unrecommended by an organization, this is unusual and might be deemed unbecoming, so the local party Committee selects a person whom they think suitable, and submits his name to a meeting, which, albeit open, will be attended only by members of the party. Precautions to exclude other persons are not found needful. At such a meeting other names may be proposed, but in general the nominations made by the Committee are adopted. Among the Social Democrats, who are thoroughly, and the Clericals, who are (in most places) tolerably well organized, the recommendation of the Committee is followed as a matter of course. As regards the two other parties, things are in much the same condition as they were in Britain before the new system of representative party Committees began to be created between 1870 and 1890. The process is all the smoother in Switzerland, because the habit has been formed of re-electing for a fresh term the member of the legislature, or official, or judge whose post becomes vacant. He can thus easily observe the etiquette which prescribes that a member wishing to speak on politics should do so in some other constituency than his own. Rarely is a member desiring re-election rejected by the Committee, unless either his personal character or his general fidelity to the party has been seriously impugned. Barely is he rejected by the electors unless some marked change has occurred in the political sentiments of the constituency. “Semel electus, semper electus” is, broadly speaking, the principle observed.
In selecting a candidate, a local resident, or at least a man connected by family with the locality, is preferred. Very seldom does a citizen of one canton become a member of the National Council for a constituency situate in some other, and of course no one but a citizen of the canton would be chosen for the Council of States. But localism, though stronger than in England or Australia, seems less strong than in the United States. Every party tries to select good candidates, for the voter is more independent than in America or France, and values the man more than the label he bears.1 One whom his neighbours respects for his character and attainments will often have the support of those who do not agree with his politics. Sometimes, when an election is at hand, the leaders of the chief parties, holding it right to give every section of opinion a fair representation, will agree upon a list of candidates, and though this is mostly settled on the basis of the voting strength each party commands, it may happen that eminent citizens are put on the list and carried who could not have been elected on a regular party vote. The difference between Switzerland and the countries where issues are fundamental and party spirit runs high is best shown by the large number of uncontested constituencies. There have been years in which more than half the seats in the National Council were not fought. Sometimes, because one party has a large and permanent preponderance, sometimes because no issue is acute, the voters care more to be represented by their best citizens than by those most exactly in accord with their views. Being in Zürich in 1905, I found that there were in the Executive Council of the canton three Radicals, three Liberals, and one Social Democrat, though the Radical vote was decidedly larger than the Liberal, and the Socialist vote was not then strong enough to have carried its man. All had been elected without a contest. So at the same time there was in the city of Zurich a Council consisting of four Liberals, two Radicals, and three Socialists, all chosen practically without opposition:1 and the two other parties had joined in electing a Social Democrat to the Supreme Court of the State from the feeling that it was only fair to let that section of the inhabitants have one of themselves on the bench.
Sometimes — I have known it happen in Zurich — Radicals and Liberals agree to support one another's lists in Cantonal elections, and in Federal elections combine, under the name of the Freisinnige Partei, to issue a joint list. The proportion of the voters who remain outside any party organization is larger than in England, and far larger than in America, yet this does not necessarily make the result of contests unpredictable, for these unattached voters change their attitude very little, and usually support the sitting member.
(b) We now come to party action in the Legislature. Up to 1918 the Radicals held a majority in both the National Council and the Council of States, smaller in the latter body (in 1918 it was 25 against 19), because some of the less populous cantons always return Roman Catholic members. But, as already noted (p. 409), the elections of 1919 changed the situation, giving no party an absolute majority, though the Radical party with its sixty members was the largest. The preponderance of one party, as well as the fact that when several parties unite in desiring to defeat a Bill this is best done by attacking it on a Referendum vote, had tended to keep party feeling at a low temperature. Things may now be different. When a question arises on which it is thought proper that the party should act together, the nominal leader does not issue a command but calls a meeting of the “fraction “(as it is called), to settle how its members should vote. Measures are, as a rule, discussed on their merits, with little regard (except on questions of constitutional change) to their effect on party interests, seldom deeply involved, since the last word rests with the people if the stage of submission by Referendum is reached. The general absence of passion has tended to make things move gently and facilitated compromise. It was chiefly when offices were in question that party motives came into play, as for instance when a vacancy in the Federal Council had to be filled, and then (as already observed) the Radicals, while keeping a majority, recognized the claims of the minority parties. Other posts filled by the vote of the two Houses sitting together are the chancellorship, the headship of the army (when a general commanding-in-chief is needed),1 and the seats in the Federal Tribunal. In these cases party feeling may affect, without necessarily determining, the selection.
(c) The Executive Federal Council is said to be sometimes influenced by party proclivities in making civil or military appointments, but the daily conduct of its business seems little disturbed thereby. Though discharging most of the functions of a Cabinet, it lacks that solidarity of opinion (professed if not always existent) which is the note of French or British Cabinet Government. Its members are expected to work together, and do work together, whatever their differences of view. The opinion of the majority is the opinion of the Council, even if councillors should speak discrepancy in the Legislature.1
(d) The action of the People exercising their legislative power in voting on questions submitted by Keferendum or Initiative has been already dealt with. Where the nature of the subject permits, the parties use their influence, and if the question raises issues either religious or socialistic, it may prove effective. Yet even on these questions a popular vote does not necessarily test the respective strength of the parties, for the Swiss voter not only thinks for himself on the merits of the issue, but has also, and especially in rural areas, an aversion to novelties. When in doubt, he prefers to “stand upon the old paths.”
These remarks, however, apply much less to the Socialists, who, being well organized, cast a solid vote both at elections and in Eeferenda, and rather less to the Catholic Conservatives than to the other parties in which party allegiance is less strong.
What has been said finds an application to cantonal party politics, subject, however, to the qualification that party feeling is warmer in most of the cantons than in the Confederation. Leaders are apt to exert more influence, being better known personally, and in closer touch with the people. As a small kettleful of water boils more quickly than a large one, so the temperature of public sentiment rises faster in small communities, and the issues, being more frequently affected by local or personal considerations, make a more direct appeal to the people. Since national issues do not prevail everywhere, as in the United States or Canada, cantonal parties are more changeful, cantonal elections more uncertain. Elections call out a heavier poll than does a Eeferendum, because the issue has usually more interest for the average citizen.
As respects the Communes and municipalities, national or cantonal issues count for little, local issues and the merits of individual candidates for a great deal. The Socialists can, however, deliver a solid party vote, because their platforms are largely applicable to communal policies. In Swiss, as in nearly all Canadian, in Scottish, and in many English cities, there is a practical good sense which prevents national political partisanship from warping the mind of the citizen who desires capable administration.
Why Party is not a Strong Force
The comparative weakness in Switzerland of that party system by which government is worked in all other modern democracies makes it worth while to sum up the causes which have made it here and here only a secondary force.
First.— For half a century or more there have not been before the nation any vital issues, such as was that of Monarchy v. Democracy in France, or that of Slavery in the United States. The form of government has, in its outlines, been long well settled, the bed-rock of democracy reached. There are no questions of colonial, hardly any of foreign policy.
Secondly.-— There has been little discontent with existing economic conditions. Such resentment as the spread of socialistic doctrines reveals, does not (as in some countries) spring from poverty, much less from misery, among the workers, but mainly from theoretic considerations, and the wish to distribute more equitably the products of labour. Being fairly satisfied with their lot, the bulk of the people have been disposed to let well alone.
Thirdly.— The old ecclesiastical antagonisms, if not effaced, for the Catholics complain of the treatment accorded to the religious orders, are not very acute. In the Confederation religious equality reigns, subject to the provisions of the Constitution regarding bishoprics and religious orders. As the cantons may (subject as aforesaid) regulate ecclesiastical matters, Catholic cantons can do what they please, so long as they do not transgress any guaranteed right, and no Protestant canton thinks of interfering with its Catholics.1
Fourthly.— Class hatreds have been absent. Differences of wealth exist, but there are no millionaires, nor any such displays of wealth as excite envy in countries like France or America. The desire to equalize conditions and instal the “proletariate” in power has created an aggressive party, but less bitterness has been aroused than is seen in other parts of Europe.
Fifthly.— Personal ambition and personal leadership in public life are less conspicuous than in any other free country. The Swiss seldom acclaim or follow individuals. They respect ability and they trust one whom they have long known as honest and courageous, but enthusiasm and hero-worship seem foreign to their natures. The national heroes are far back in the past. No statesman has ever created a party called by his name. JSTo Pitt, no Gladstone, no Gambetta, no Deak, no Jefferson or Clay or O'Connell or Parnell.
Sixthly.— That “sporting instinct,” as one may call it, which in the English-speaking peoples stirs the members of a party to fight for it because it is theirs and they want it to win, the same instinct which goes to wild lengths in baseball matches or athletic competitions, is faint among the Swiss. Politics are a serious matter, a business matter, not a game.
Seventhly.— The prizes which public life offers to the individual member of a party are few and hardly worth striving for. Public service has not the attraction of social importance which counts for much in France, nor the pecuniary rewards that dangle before American politicians of the lower type.
Eighthly.— The graver questions of policy are settled in the last resort by popular vote, so that the dominance of any one party in the Legislature or in the Executive Council (be it in the Confederation or in a canton) is a secondary matter, and can but rarely involve any great benefit or harm to the country.
Ninthly.— For two generations one party commanded so decided a majority in the Confederation that the other parties, instead of trying to dethrone it, confined themselves to resisting such of its particular measures as they disliked. As it seldom provoked them by abusing its strength — for this would have endangered its own position — their resistance was conducted with moderation.
Lastly.— Patriotism, a patriotism which puts the interest of the nation above all domestic differences, holds all the Swiss together. In Britain and America, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, there were during last century no foreign neighbours to fear, so party spirit could disport itself freely. Here the pressure of four great military Powers keeps compact a people composed of the most diverse elements.
Taken together, these considerations explain why party feeling, which in some democracies can swell to a raging torrent, has in Switzerland been since 1848 no more than a rippling brook.
Absence of “Professional Politicians”
That the absence of acute partisanship in the legislative and executive authorities should make the daily movement of legislation and administration steadier and smoother than in countries where it is the function of a parliamentary Opposition to criticize and arraign, sometimes even to obstruct, the action of the ministry,—- this is a natural and obvious result over which a people may rejoice. But in Switzerland it shows another result, which distinguishes it from France and from some English-speaking countries. In no other democracy (except perhaps Norway) is there so small a class of professional politicians. Hardly any persons are occupied in working the non-official political machinery. The class who in Britain are called “political agents,” employed either by party organizations, central or local, or by sitting members, or by prospective candidates — a class which, though still small, has increased in recent years — is scarcely noticeable. In the United States there exists a vastly larger class which busies itself not only with the manufacture of public opinion, but with the forming and working of local committees and the selection of party candidates for all elective offices, and the conduct of elections, National, State, and Municipal. Neither is that class to be found in Switzerland, although the number of cantonal and communal offices which lie in the direct gift of the people is large in proportion to the population. Two facts already mentioned account for the difference. In Switzerland the offices are not greatly sought for vacancies are few, owing to the practice of re-election, and the average voter is but slightly influenced in his choice by the coincidence of a candidate's politics with his own. Even in elections to the legislature he regards personal merit as well as party profession, for in small areas such merit can be known and judged. Thus one may say that in Switzerland there are few “politicians “in the American, French, and English sense of the word, except the members of the legislative bodies, Federal and Cantonal.
Character of the Members of Legislature
How stands it, then, with these members? Is politics for them a career? From what classes and occupations do they come? How do they commend themselves to the electors? What standard of intelligence, knowledge, and uprightness do they reach?
As political life is not in the pecuniary sense a profession, so too it is hardly a career. There is practically nothing to be gained from a seat in the Legislature, for a man of the average member's talents would earn more in a profession. The Federal offices which it gives a prospect of obtaining are few in the Confederation, being virtually confined to places in the Executive Council and in the Federal Tribunal. Though these posts are legally held only for three years and six years respectively, the habit of re-election makes vacancies so few that the chance for any given member is scarcely worth regarding. Nobody, therefore, embarks in politics as a lucrative calling. What able man would enter a legislature for the sake of twenty shillings a day during sixteen weeks in the year? In the cantons the phenomena are fairly similar, though in some there are more opportunities than the National Government offers for using a seat in the Legislature for personal advancement. A lawyer may increase his practice either by showing his talents for speaking or by becoming a person of some local importance; a business man may improve his standing in the business world; and there are posts which, though scantily remunerated, may be worth having when other plans break down or other careers are closed. It remains true, however, that politics, by itself, is not an avocation. Practically every legislator has his own business or profession, and lives by it. The motives which lead him into public life are much the same as those one finds in England. There is an interest in public questions, and a desire to serve the causes he cares for: there is an ambition, which the sternest moralist will hardly condemn, to make effective such abilities as he possesses and win distinction by them: there is the longing for some sort of power, and among some few there is the hope of turning a public position to account in the world of business or, more frequently, in winning social estimation, for in Switzerland the position of a deputy, though carrying no sort of rank, witnesses to the respect which fellow-citizens have accorded, seeing that the Assembly has always stood high in the esteem of the people.
All classes are represented in it, but the large majority are well-educated men, about half of them lawyers or cantonal officials who have received some legal training. The old nobility, such as the Junkers of Bern, do not offer themselves, and might not be returned if they did, either in the cities which they ruled as a patrician oligarchy, almost till within living memory, or in most of the rural areas. But in some few cantons, such as Uri and Schwytz and Grisons, the ancient noble families who have been associated with the history of the canton for four or five centuries continue to enjoy great respect, sometimes even political influence, and their descendants are still chosen to fill the highest cantonal posts or returned as members to one or other Federal House. Broadly speaking, though wealth may sometimes aid a candidate and rank may sometimes expose him to suspicion, neither makes much difference. A man is elected on the strength of his local standing, his character, and his capacity. Nowhere in Europe, except perhaps in Norway, where there was never any ennobled class, and in Bulgaria and Serbia, where, while the Turk still ruled, everybody was a peasant without civil rights, is social equality so complete as in Switzerland, complete enough to need no asserting. In cities the families of ancient lineage cherish their traditions in silence, and the newer well-born families of mercantile origin have also a certain pride of ancestry, but both (speaking broadly) stand apart from public life. These excepted, the members come from all classes, though in the National Assembly there were, till the Socialists arose, no working-men, and hardly any peasants. Rich men do not eschew politics, as in Australia, or find that difficulty in getting a seat which is experienced in America, but they are usually too much occupied by their business as manufacturers or hotel proprietors to give attendance in Bern while the Assembly is in session. The large majority are men of moderate means and simple life, fair specimens of the upper middle class of the nation, with its characteristic shrewd sense and plain way of living. The Assembly is equal in knowledge and capacity to the French and English legislatures, though without the oratorical brilliance of the former.
Both in the Confederation and in the cantons members are respected and trusted. Imputations of corruption or of the grosser forms of jobbery have been rare, and convictions still more rare, except perhaps in two or three cantons, which it would be invidious to name. The term “politician,” though a Bernese Junker might use it with the sort of scorn for a parvenu which the patrician Catilina showed for Cicero,1 carries no faint tinge of such suspicion as it awakens in France and in some States of the American Union. This holds true of the official class also, including the judges of the upper courts. If a man has been proved to be dishonest, his public career comes to a perpetual end.
The so-called “tone of public life “is best conveyed by comparing it with that of other countries. When the visitor enters the halls in which the Federal Assembly meets, and watches the proceedings and talks with the statesmen, he notes the absence of that air of pomp and ceremony which custom and tradition have preserved in France and England and Hungary. Few forms are observed: little appears of the dignity with which the historic greatness of a country invests the men who guide its destinies, whatever their personal worth. All is plain almost to bareness. As in earlier centuries the courtiers and diplomatists of France and Austria disparaged the republican manners of Holland and Switzerland, so one notes a blunt homeliness and want of external polish which censorious tongues would call roughness. But there is less acridity, less unfairness in controversy, less of wounding insinuation than in the Chambers of France, less commonness and rudeness, sometimes descending to vulgarity, than in those of America and Australia. One feels in Switzerland the presence, along with a sort of rustic simplicity, of a natural rough-hewn dignity, the product of a long tradition of national independence and individual freedom, and rooted in a sense of equality which respects itself without disparaging others. The observer finds nothing in the proceedings or externals of the Swiss Chambers to touch his imagination, as the imagination of American students is touched by features of the British Parliament so familiar to the Englishman that he fails to mark them. But the visitor's judgment is impressed. He sees solid thoughtful men, with strong and cool heads, trying to do their best for the country which is the first love of their hearts. There is an atmosphere of reciprocal respect. Representatives do not inveigh against their colleagues. They trust the Federal Councillors. The people trust both. Taking the country as a whole, the tone of public life in the Confederation, in most of the cantons, and in the communes, is healthier than what one finds in France, Italy, or Brazil, or many States of the American Union, and provinces of Canada, and not inferior to that of Britain, of Australia and New Zealand, of Holland, Norway, and Chile.
If this be so — for a stranger fears to dogmatize on a subject to which even the inhabitants find it hard to apply positive tests — the soundness of Swiss public life is, as must always be the case, mainly due to the vigilance of public opinion.
The public opinion of a people is the expression (as applied to politics) of the intelligence and taste, the temper and the moral feelings of the individual citizens. In trying to understand Swiss opinion we must therefore begin from the Swiss citizen.
How are we to form any general estimate of character of a nation composed of very different elements? Race differences go deep: we see that in Spain. Religious differences go even deeper: we see that in France, where they divide the stream of opinion at its source. Nevertheless in countries where racial distinctions are so marked as in Great Britain, and even in a vast country like the United States, in the northern, southern, and western parts of which men live tinder widely diverse economic conditions, there may be a general and pervasive opinion which expresses the national thought and purpose, creating out of the various elements that temper one another a real and fruitful unity. This is the case in Switzerland. The majority of the people are of Teutonic stock, the minority of Celtic or Italic. There is a Protestant majority and a Roman Catholic minority, with the recollection of an acute conflict only seventy years behind. Yet religious antagonisms have softened, and racial differences cause no enmity, but may even seem to give a greater variety and breadth to the character of the people. The Allemanic or German-speaking part of the population has a steady and persistent German thoroughness, with rather less sentimentality and certainly more independence than characterize the typical Middle German, as, for instance, the Rhine-lander or Thuringian or Saxon. The French-speaking population has a Burgundian strain, which gives it less mobility and vivacity than one finds in natives of Southern and West Central France. Still, though the contrast between the French-speakers of Vaud and Geneva and the German-speakers of Zurich and Luzern is less marked than is the unlikeness of the German of Cologne to the Frenchman of Lyons, a certain contrast remains. In turning from a journal of a German city like Basle to a journal of Lausanne one perceives a difference deeper than that of language, a difference in mental habits and attitude.1 Each element does of course modify the other, but apparently less by personal contact than through and by literature. This was to be expected. What is more remarkable is that the new cantons, French and Italian, have appropriated the historical traditions of the original cantons, which were all Germanic. The children of those who two centuries ago were held as subjects have inherited the glories of those who ruled their forefathers. This is a fruit of Liberty and Equality.
Let us see now what all Swiss have in common, whether through the influence of history, institutions, and literature, or from any other source.2
They are all alike imbued with the spirit of liberty, not only in the sense of civil, religious, and political liberty, but in the sense also of individual independence. The peasant or workman stands on bis own feet and goes his own way. He may be led, but he will not be driven. He has also learnt the two first lessons freedom ought to teach, respect for the rights of others and the correlation of Duties with Eights. Thus he is generally tolerant of opposition, not hurried into violence, open to argument, ready to consider a compromise. Nowhere so fully as here (except perhaps in the United States) has what may be called the fusing power of free institutions shown itself so powerful. Diverse as are the human beings in other respects, they have been, for the purposes of politics, melted together in one crucible and run into one mould.
Another spirit common to both sections of the nation is the spirit of rural conservatism. A large majority of the French-speakers, a considerable though diminishing majority of the German-speakers, live by agriculture or by pastoral pursuits. The habits of such a life, secluded and touched by few new ideas, make men averse to change, and resentful of any attempt to hustle them. This quality, combined with the tolerance already referred to, produces a cautious moderation of temper which would be stolid if it were stupid. The Swiss peasant, however, though less intellectually alert than the Italian, is slow rather than stupid. His views may be narrow, like the valley whose steep sides pen him in. But he can think, though it may take some time to set his thoughts going in the direction desired. Alpine climbers, British and American, have often noted the intelligence of their guides, sometimes well-read men, from whom one can learn much in conversation.
That taste and capacity for local self-government which began with the old rural cantons has passed into the whole nation, strengthening independence, intelligence, and the sense of civic duty. They have formed the habit of judging everything upon its merits, and this has contributed to reduce the influence exerted by individual leaders. Though it has produced some remarkable statesmen, the history of the country is the history of the people, not of its foremost figures, and could not be written in a series of biographies, as one might write the history of England or Scotland or France. No single man since Zwingli has exerted any decisive influence on the fortunes of the nation or become a great European figure. Geneva was not in Calvin's time, nor in Rousseau's, a member of the Confederation, though in close relations with it. No one has been even so much of a hero as Ferdinand Lassalle was to the German Socialists forty years ago. This feature of Swiss character, taken along with its coolness and comparative insensibility to rhetoric, makes the country no good field for the demagogue. A few such have occasionally figured in Cantonal, but none in Federal politics. They would be discounted. If sweeping economic changes come, it will be by appeals made to self-interested cupidity or to the doctrine of human equality in its extreme form, not through any personal fascination or oratorical arts that may be used to recommend them.
Social Equality has been long established, and the attachment to it has become a part of national character. It is, as already observed, compatible with a respect for ancient lineage, and does not make the peasant or workman aggressively hostile to the richer class, as the latter is in France to the so-called “bourgeois.” There is neither subserviency nor self-assertion: each man is taken for what he is worth, not in money, but as a citizen. Life is plain and frugal in all classes. The ostentatious luxury of the rich foreigners who flaunt themselves at Luzern or Zurich would be censured in a native Swiss.
How, then, does Social Equality affect the relations of the people to the politician? Does he play down to them by an affection of rustic simplicity, as often happens in the United States? Do they distrust him if he is better off or better educated? Do the compliments paid to the “practical common-sense “and “great heart “of the people, usual in all democratic countries, give them a conceit of their universal competence and extinguish any deference to special knowledge or long experience?
There is something of all this, but less than might be expected in a country so pervaded by the spirit of equality, for the practice of self-government seems to have worked to temper the theory of popular sovereignty. The citizen has so long been accustomed to the former that the strong wine of the latter does not go to his head. He has perhaps too little sense of the value of technical knowledge, especially when he is asked to pay for it, does not realize the intricacy of modern economic problems, cares little for shining qualities and might resent any assumption of superior capacity. But he knows the worth of good men, desires his community to retain their services, respects the opinion of those who impress him as honest and thoughtful. A Swiss professor 1 once told me that having delivered an address in a village on some current question that was to come before the people for their decision, an old farmer came up to him after it was over and said, “Don't suppose that we agriculturists think poorly of you learned men. We like to see you and to hear you: you have things to tell us we don't know.”
All classes are less prone to be moved by abstract ideas than either the French or the Germans. Though Rousseau was a Genevese, his doctrines were making more impression in France, and even in North America, than his own city, till its government, with genuinely oligarchic folly, ordered the Contrat Social to be publicly burnt. In the first years of the French Revolution Geneva saw a popular outburst, which overwhelmed the aristocracy and spread into West Switzerland. But this was due rather to the contagion of France than to Rousseau's teaching; nor has any subsequent dissemination of ideas ever lit such a blaze. The Socialism of German-speaking Switzerland is comparatively recent and due to the Marxian propaganda from Germany, strengthened by the immigration of German working-men, most of whom, however, have not become citizens. A like immigration from France and Italy has had a similar, though less marked, effect in the western cantons. More prudent than the Americans, the Swiss are chary in admitting aliens to full civic rights.1 They are, moreover, not of a speculative turn of mind. They have produced great mathematicians like Euler, great moralists and critics like Vinet, but no first-rate metaphysicians or political philosophers. Nevertheless the dogma of popular sovereignty, coinciding with the love of equality and the practice of local self-government, has counted for more in recommending the Referendum and Initiative than have any actual grievances those institutions might have served to abate.
As the habit of following public affairs with personal interest is more widely diffused in Switzerland than in other European countries, so it seems probable that they fill a larger space than they do elsewhere in the mind of the average citizen. This is partly due to the small size of governmental areas, the Commune, the Canton, the Confederation itself, but something may be attributed to the comparative absence of sources of interest present in other countries. Commerce, manufactures, finance have been on a small scale, except in a very few urban centres. Athletic sports do not occupy the thoughts of the youth as in England and America. Competitions in rifle-shooting rouse some interest, but this, from its connection with the army, is a form of patriotism. Among the richer people there are hardly any devoted, like so many Englishmen, to some form of “sport,” hunting, shooting, horse-racing; nor has amusement become a passion among the less affluent. Life, though it grows more strenuous, is more sedate, and the eagerness for new sensations less acute, than in the cities of France, Germany, or America. Even gaiety takes quiet forms. There is some leisure for thinking, and some perception of the relative importance of public duty and private self-indulgence.
Let us see how far these features of national life and character tinge, or are reflected in, the opinions of the people on political subjects.
They are averse both to centralization and to State socialism, yet willing to take a step in either direction when a tangible and tolerably certain benefit is set before them. Cantonalist feeling seems almost as strong as State feeling was in the United States before the Civil War, and rather stronger than it is there now.
They are parsimonious, unlike in this respect to all other democracies, except those of the two South African Republics in their days of independence. Life has been hard for the peasant, his income small, his taxes, light as they are, an appreciable part of his expenditure. Proposals which could raise taxation are prima facie repellent, except to those Socialists who regard progressive taxation as a step towards communism. Religious partisanship exists, but in a mild form, milder than in any other country (except Hungary) where there is a strong minority of one faith opposed to a majority of another. Protestant hatred of the Jesuits and fear of other religious orders is a dislike of what may become a political power working in secret, rather than an expression of intolerance. Nevertheless the instance of the Initiative vote against the Jews in 1893 (see above, p. 403) shows that it is possible to arouse and play upon religious or racial prejudices.
The humanitarian sentiment characteristic of modern democracies led to the abolition of capital punishment by the Constitution of 1874, but was not strong enough to prevent the Constitution from being so amended as to permit a canton to restore that penalty, some shocking cases of murder having induced a reconsideration of the subject. Few cantons, however, have availed themselves of the permission. The tolerant spirit of “Live and let live “is exemplified in the scantiness of compulsive legislation, even as regards intoxicating spirits, though there exists a strong temperance party. One discovers no signs of that Tyranny of the Majority which Tocqueville discovered in America and which J. S. Mill feared as a probable feature of democracy everywhere. On the other hand, there is a willingness, surprising to English observers, to allow to the Executive, for the maintenance of public order and for dealing with suspected offenders, larger powers than English practice has shown to be sufficient.
In judging public men — and this is, after all, the most important of all the functions public opinion has to exercise — the Swiss are shrewd and on the whole fair and just. Confidence is not lightly given nor lightly withdrawn. The qualities most valued are those which characterize the nation — balance, caution, and firmness, coupled of course with integrity. The judgments which the people render are moral rather than sentimental. Newspaper criticism of leading politicians can be stringent, but it is more temperate than in any other democratic country, except perhaps Holland and Norway.
Here let the meed of praise be noted which foreign observers agree in bestowing on the Swiss press. It is well conducted, intelligent, tarnished neither by blackmailing nor by personal virulence. Four of the chief dailies, two published in French, two in German, are among the best in Europe. They do much to guide opinion and to sustain the level of political thinking. All classes read. In no European country are there so many journals in proportion to the population. No single paper, however, seems to exercise a political power such as some have done in Australia and as several now do in Argentina and Brazil. Some are keenly partisan, but none seems to be owned by, or devoted to the interests of, any particular statesman.
How far, then, for this is the point of moment, are we to say that public opinion governs Switzerland, and what relation does it bear to that method of direct legislation at the polls in which the popular will finds its most direct expression?
It might be unsafe to treat a vote on a Referendum or Initiative as exactly reflecting the popular mind, for, although it gives a better means of judging opinion than is found elsewhere in Europe, one must always allow for the influence of party, which can compress into a definite channel the wandering waters of half-formed notions and impressions. Many people can be made to vote, even in Switzerland, who do not contribute to the real opinion of the nation. When a conservatively minded peasant votes u No,” he may mean only that he is not yet prepared to say “Yes.” Views embodied in votes tell us less than we desire to know as to the trend of thought, but views publicly expressed have the effect which belongs either to the authority of the person they proceed from or to the intensity of conviction which will fight to make them prevail. Thus there are times when a skilled observer can discover that an opinion is already or may soon be dominant, though it does not secure a majority at the polls. It is nevertheless true that the Referendum comes nearer than any other plan yet invented to a method of measuring the public opinion of the moment, for it helps the statesman to discern what is passing in the popular mind. It supplies sailing directions by which he may shape his course, warns him off submerged shoals, indicates better than an election how far the education of the public mind upon a given subject has progressed.
The popular vote by which the people in May 1920 accepted the proposal of the Legislature that Switzerland should enter the League of Nations excited an unprece-dentedly and thoroughgoing keen discussion all over the country, and the voting upon it was the largest ever known, exceeding in six cantons 80 per cent of the qualified citizens.1 Both the earnestness with which the people approached their duty and the result of their thought on the subject were of good omen.
concluding reflections on swiss political institutions
The interest of a general survey of Swiss institutions in their constitutional framework and in actual operation consists not only in the unlikeness of these institutions to those of other modern States, but also in the fact, that their daily working has produced results that could not have been predicted from their form. This has been due to two causes. One is the growth of usages which have essentially affected and come to govern that daily working. The other is the comparatively small influence exerted by the power of political party.
Both of these are visible in the Swiss habit of handling their Constitution. That instrument is less precise in its distribution of powers between the National Government and the Cantonal Governments than are the Constitutions of other Federal States. It grants concurrent powers over many branches of legislation, and it permits the National Government to disallow cantonal laws. Controversies may be raised regarding doubtful points of interpretation which in most Federal countries would give rise to friction. In America they would be brought before the Judiciary, there an independent power, which can by judgment raise issues susceptible of final determination only by an amendment of the Constitution. In Switzerland, however, comparatively little trouble has arisen. The Legislature endeavours to adjust matters, keeping as much as possible in general accord with the provisions of the Constitution, where these are clear, yet in such wise as to mollify the canton concerned or the interest affected, and find a solution which will work smoothly all round. Thus a laxity which Americans or Australians would not put up with gives little trouble in Switzerland, and a deviation from the sound principle that no legislature should be allowed to be the judge of the constitutionality of its own action becomes harmless, because every one knows that the Assembly would not abuse a power whose misuse could be promptly corrected by the people.
The frame of National Government creates a Legislature with a term of only three years, and an Executive of seven persons chosen by that Legislature with the same term. These executive officials have not, like the British Cabinet, the advantage of being members of the Legislature, though they can address it. Such a scheme would seem calculated to produce constant changes in men and in policy, as well as to weaken the authority of a Ministry short-lived and dependent on a short-lived Legislature. But neither of these things has happened. Owing to the habit of re-election, the Federal Council stands practically unchanged from one three-year period to another. So, too, the composition of the Legislature itself has hitherto changed little. It is in close and friendly touch with the Executive, profiting by the latter's counsel and administrative experience, leaving minor affairs to it, but in large matters directing its course and taking responsibility for the conduct of business, while within the Federal Council custom has established the rule that each of its members accepts the decision of the majority, or, if the matter has gone to the Assembly, the decision of that body. Because it is not a party body, this Federal Executive of seven is a virtually permanent Cabinet, and the nation gains by retaining the services of its most experienced administrators, though it is perhaps too apt to shift them from one department to another. These benefits are due to a practice or convention not embodied in any provision of the Constitution, but formed by usage, and commended by the results. It is an interesting illustration of the extent to which the legal provisions of a Constitution are modified in their working by what Professor Dicey1 has called the “Conventions of a Constitution,” usages which are worked by a sort of understanding arrived at between politicians and so well settled by practice as to become virtually, though not legally, imperative. Such “understandings “generally grow up in oligarchical rather than in democratic Governments. It was largely by them that the extremely complicated constitution of the Roman Republic, in its legal aspect a mass of apparent contradictions, was worked. It was by them, as they were formed under the oligarchic regime of the eighteenth century, that the British Constitution was, and is to some extent still worked. Such conventions fare well so long as their moral authority lasts, but in the long-run break down when unduly strained. They broke down at Rome because ambitious leaders, in a period which was becoming revolutionary, disregarded them, and having military- force at their command pushed to an extreme the powers which the letter of the law gave to a magistrate. They have largely lost their force in England, because parties in the Legislature, under the influence of passion, have disregarded them and have exerted to the full the powers which majorities in a ruling legislature possess. Switzerland is a remarkable instance of a government in which they grew up after it had become democratic, for though there were doubtless plenty of such non-legal usages among the oligarchies in cities like Bern and Zürieh before 1848, the new Constitution did not take them over, as the purchaser of a business takes it over as “a going concern.” It was the Liberal statesmen of 1848 who created them for their own use.1 The absence in Switzerland of the friction between the Houses of the Legislature, so common in two-Chambered Governments, is, however, due not to conventions or understandings but chiefly to the fact that for many years the same party held a majority in both Houses, the members of both being, moreover, drawn from the same class, elected, either directly or indirectly, by manhood suffrage, and neither House having any special interests, economic or ecclesiastical, to defend. Their differences are only such as naturally arise between any two bodies of men debating apart, though holding opinions and guided by motives substantially the same.
“What has been said of the Confederation seems generally true of the cantonal governments also. There is less smoothness in the working of the latter, because in few has any one party a permanent majority in the legislative Great Council, and because in some cantons the Executive Council is chosen not by the Legislature but directly by the people. Nevertheless, as party oscillations are seldom sudden or violent, and as those executives which are chosen by the people are usually chosen at the same time as the legislatures, these two authorities get on well together. In the cantons, as in the Confederation, the suspicion that power may be abused has prescribed the assignment of all business to Boards.1 Nowhere is there what Americans call a “One Man Power,” not because the Swiss, like the Greek republics, dreaded a possible Tyrant, but because they love equality, and have not been compelled to secure responsibility to the people by fixing it upon a single man who can be held to strict account more easily than can a Board.2 In these small communities representatives and officials all stand near the people and work under the people's eye. Public opinion controls everybody. The Legislature, moreover, though legally the centre of all power, is thought not to need those constitutional checks which the American constitutions impose, because its action can be reversed by the Eeferendum or superseded by the Initiative. Thus the system of government by Executive Councils in touch with Legislative Councils has worked well. The people are, at any rate, contented. Some changes have indeed been proposed. There are those who would assimilate the Federal system to that of the more democratic cantons by transferring the election of the (Executive) Federal Council from the Assembly to the people, a change which while it would on the one hand give more of independent power to the Council, might on the other make it, under the plan of proportional representation, unable to work as effectively as heretofore. Others again would make the Eeferendum applicable to all cantonal laws in every canton, and would extend the application of the Initiative in the Confederation to laws as well as to Constitutional amendments. Some foreign observers, weary of the perpetual strife which troubles their own politics, will be disposed to ask: “Why try further experiments merely for the sake of giving fuller extension to direct popular sovereignty, considering how wide are the powers the people already exercise? Why disturb a system which has worked usefully, with an absence of friction which other countries admire? Might not a warning from the oracle which bade the people of Camarina leave well alone be sometimes serviceable?”
The merits which such observers discover in the government of Switzerland as compared with other full-fledged democracies, ancient and modern, may be stated as follows:
Its stability, remarkable in the Confederation, not so complete, yet pretty general, in the cantons also.
The consistency with which its policy has been directed to the same broad aims.
The quality of the legislation it produces, steadily progressive in the Confederation, more irregular, but on the whole sound and useful, in the cantons also, and in both, be it more or less progressive, a genuine expression of the popular will.
An administration, economical beyond all comparison, and generally efficient.1 The economy is a part of the efficiency, for the close scrutiny of expenditure induces care to see that money's worth is got for money spent.
Ample provision is made, except in a very few cantons, for all branches of Education.
Public works are not neglected. The roads are excellent, considering the difficulties of a mountainous country, liable to landslips and to floods from melting snows. Order is well preserved. Justice is honestly, and above all cheaply, administered, though with less technical perfection than in some other countries.
Municipal government is pure and usually efficient.
Adequate provision is made for national defence, and the citizens recognize their duty to render personal service in arms.
The liberty of the individual is respected. The tone of public life is maintained at a high standard, and politics is not tainted by corruption. The strong sense of civic duty is seen in the large amount of unpaid public service rendered in cantons and communes.
To these let us add certain other points in which Switzerland is to be commended, and which, though not directly attributable to the form of its government, have at any rate grown up and thriven under that government.
Social as well as civil equality exists, and is accompanied by good feeling between the richer and the poorer. Nowhere is the sense of national unity stronger.
There are no marked inequalities in wealth, and wealth, per se, is not an object of hatred. Its power is less felt in legislation than in any other modern country except Norway.
There has been for seventy years little party passion and little religious bitterness.
There are no professional politicians, and comparatively few local demagogues.
Rings, Bosses, Caucuses are rarely discernible, and where visible, just sufficiently so to make their rarity noteworthy.
Except in one political group, growing, but not yet large, contentment reigns. Contentment is not always a good sign, for it may be a mark of apathy, indicating that men have not awakened to the possibility of bettering their conditions and developing their faculties. But no one can call the Swiss apathetic.
The last preceding pages have embodied the impressions formed during a visit to Switzerland in 1905. When I revisited the country in 1919 shadows from passing clouds were beginning to fall upon parts of the landscape. Apart from the shock which there, as elsewhere, had been given by the Great War to hopes of the peaceful progress of the world, the Swiss were realizing their especial dangers from powerful military neighbour states, from the influx of immigrants who were strangers to their own traditions, from the rise of prices, from labour troubles — a formidable general strike having been only just averted by the energetic promptitude of the Government — from the contagion of poisonous foreign influences, from a load of debt incurred during the war, from defects in the governmental handling of economic and administrative problems the war had raised. Cautious persons were alarmed by the spread of communistic doctrines, as well as by the tendency to centralization, and by an extension of bureaucracy which seemed to threaten cantonal rights and local self-government. Some, while admitting the force of the arguments for proportional representation, feared that it might enfeeble government by breaking up the legislature into groups, and might make it difficult for the Federal Council to maintain the harmony and general continuity of policy which had proved valuable in the past. Nevertheless there was among thoughtful men more cheerfulness than one could find in 1919 in any other European country. Faith in the good sense and good temper of the people, and in the patriotism which gave unity to them, made them believe that whatever troubles might be in store, patriotism and good sense would deliver Switzerland out of all the troubles that might await her, as they had often saved her before. The visitor was reminded of the persistent optimism of the Americans. Optimism has sometimes lulled democracies into a false security; yet a people's faith in itself may be a well-spring of vital energy.
Against these advantages which the country enjoy, what defects are we to set on the other side of the balance-sheet? Perfection is not to be expected in any government, however popular, nor does one find the Swiss claiming it for their own. They admit that the doctrine of equality is pushed too far in disregarding the value of special knowledge and skill in officials. Some think that in certain cantons the rich are overtaxed, and indeed so overtaxed as to drive wealth, or the industries which capital is needed to maintain, out of the canton.1 Others regret the existence of petty political cliques with selfish aims, of the habit of place-hunting, of local jobbery in the giving out of contracts, and abusing, for some personal end, the position a man holds in a Cantonal Council or as a Cantonal official. Favouritism has been alleged to exist in the granting of commissions in the army to persons who have what is called in America “a pull.” As such evils must be expected in every country, doubtless they exist here; but exactly how far they exist in the cantons chiefly impugned it would be hard even for a Swiss investigator to determine.
Being in Bern in 1905, after expressing my surprise at the excellence of the government of the Confederation, I asked a well-informed and judicious Swiss friend to tell me frankly what he thought were its faults. “You must have some faults,” I said, “and you can afford to let me know of them.” After a little reflection he replied: “We have a practice of referring a difficult question on which legislation is desired to a Committee — like one of your Royal Commissions or Parliamentary Committees in England — which is charged to enquire into and report on the subject. Such a Committee frequently chooses to conduct its investigations at some agreeable mountain hotel during the summer months, and lives there at the public expense longer than is at all necessary. This may not often happen, but we consider it a scandal.” “If you are not jesting,” I replied, “and this is the blackest sin you can confess, then think of Paris and Montreal, Pittsburg and Cincinnati, and, in the words of our children's hymn, bless the goodness and the grace that have made you a happy Swiss boy.”
To what causes may be ascribed the exemption of this Republic from the evils that have afflicted many others? Some causes have been already indicated. The course of Swiss history has formed in the people an unusually strong patriotism and sense of national unity, creating traditions of civic duty which have retained exceptional strength. Those traditions, fostered and made real by the long practice of local self-government, have become part of the national mind. The practice of self-government has also given the best kind of political education, teaching men to associate duties with rights, to respect one another's convictions, to subordinate personal feelings to the common good, to prefer constitutional methods to revolutionary violence. The country has been poor; and though here as well as elsewhere money can tempt virtue — and money coming from abroad used to count for much in old Switzerland — the domestic tempters have been few and have had little to offer. The largest element in the nation consists of peasant proprietors, interested in guarding their own rights of property, and averse to large or sudden changes. Wealth is more equally distributed than in any of the great European countries, and those who have wealth owe it more often to their frugal habits than to large industrial or financial operations.
Much is also to be ascribed to some features of national character. The people are not impressionable, not of an impulsive temper, not open to the charms of thrilling eloquence or of a fascinating personality. Though the grandeur of the scenery that surrounds them has inspired poets liko Schiller and Coleridge and Byron, they are themselves not an imaginative people, and it is patriotism, not the splendour of nature, that stirs their hearts. They have, moreover, some qualities specially valuable in politics,— shrewdness, coolness, that hard clear perception of the actualities of life which it is the fashion to call “realism.” Even the French-speaking part of the people show these qualities when one compares them with the Celts of Ireland, for instance, or with the Slavs of Poland or Serbia. The Romans, far inferior to the Greeks in artistic gift, had a greater aptitude for politics and law.
Another question follows. How far do the successes of democracy in Switzerland entitle us to hope that other peoples may by following like methods attain a like measure of stability and prosperity? “Will Swiss institutions bear transplanting; or will the peaceable fruits of righteousness they have borne ripen only under the conditions of their native home?
Where an institution has succeeded with one particular people and in one set of economic conditions, the presumption that it will suit another people living under different conditions is a weak presumption, and affords slight basis for prediction. Similarly, if an institution works well because it has been worked on certain lines fixed by custom, one must not assume that it will work equally well in a country where a like custom could hardly be created. There are cases in which the custom has become a part of the institution. Strip it away and the institution is not the same.
It is sometimes asked, Is it to men or to institutions or to surrounding conditions that the success attained by a nation is due? These three things cannot be separated. The conditions do much to make the men, and the men learn how to use the conditions; the institutions are the work of the men, and become in turn influences moulding the characters of those who work them.
Among the governmental institutions of Switzerland there are at least two which might furnish a model fit to be studied by other free governments, and ought to be considered by some of the new States that are now springing up in Europe. One of them is the vesting of executive power in a small Council, chosen for a short term and not part of the legislature, instead of in a single President (as in the United States and the Spanish-American Republics), or in a Cabinet composed of members of the legislature (as in France, Britain, and the British self-governing Dominions).
The Federal Council has worked efficiently in this small country with a small legislature, where the leading men are familiarly known to a large proportion of the citizens, and in this poor country where there are no millionaires or gigantic joint-stock companies greedy for benefits which governments can bestow. Would such a Council succeed in the United States or in a German republic? The advantages which the Swiss scheme has displayed largely depend upon the habit of re-electing its members every three years, the legislature which elects being itself little changed from one election to another. This habit of re-election has in its turn depended upon the predominance of one party in both Houses of the National Assembly, on the small size of constituencies, and on the comparatively low temperature at which partisanship stands in the country. Could the advantages which the Swiss scheme yields be looked for in France, where for many years past no party has commanded a majority and party divisions cut deep % As a former President of the Confederation observed to me, “The plan fits a small State where party feeling does not run high. Would it work well elsewhere? “and he added: “Where grave decisions on foreign policy have to be suddenly taken, would a Council composed of men of different tendencies be able to take them effectively?”
Even in Switzerland is it certain that the conditions which have favoured the Council will endure? Were the smaller parties in the Assembly to become bitterly antagonistic to the Radicals, still the largest, or should the Radicals themselves be divided by the emergence of new issues into various sections, it would be hard, perhaps impossible, to prevent the (Executive) Federal Council from becoming either a purely party body, to which men were elected for party reasons and in which they acted on party lines, just as Cabinets do in England and Australia, or else an ineffective body, living by a series of compromises, unable to pursue a decided and consistent policy, as heretofore? I was told that when the Municipal Council of Zurich contained one member of a party fundamentally opposed to his colleagues the situation became very difficult.1 Nevertheless the Swiss example ought not to be forgotten by those who in England complain that a man who has shown eminent capacity for finance or for the conduct of, let us say, foreign or colonial affairs is displaced when his party loses its majority in the House of Commons. Still more does it deserve regard in America, where the disconnection of the President's Cabinet from Congress makes it possible for him to obtain the ministerial services of those who do not belong to his party and need not possess the gifts of speech.
The other Swiss institution which can be, and has already begun to be, imitated in other countries is the direct action of the people in voting by Referendum and Initiative. Here again let us note the circumstances which in this particular country have given to the Referendum such success as it has attained. Chief among these is the small size of the community called upon to vote. The largest canton has a population smaller than that of Lancashire or Rhode Island. The Confederation has little more than half the population of Australia, one-fourth of the population of New York State, one-tenth of the population of Great Britain; and even in Switzerland the popular vote does not often exceed 60 per cent of the citizens, though the level of political knowledge and interest stands higher than anywhere else in the world. Add to this that the influence exercised by the parties has been slighter than is to be expected in any of the three countries above named, so that the Swiss people deliver a judgment less likely to be perverted by party affiliations or partisan representations. Would the Referendum work equally well if Party were to become a stronger force in the Confederation than it has been since 1874? This season of fair weather may not last. There have been periods in other countries when the light breezes of party sentiment that were scarcely ruffling the surface of politics suddenly rose into a succession of gales, which tossed the ship of State for many a year. Should the Socialist party, already eager and active, develop its organization further, the other parties might be obliged, as lately happened in Australia, to create organizations fit to cope with the young antagonist. Or, again, schisms might arise to divide the party now dominant, and one of its sections might form an alliance with another party which would change the whole situation.
Are there any other matters in which other nations may profit by Swiss experience?
To look elsewhere for geographical and physical conditions which would produce economic and social phenomena resembling those of Switzerland would be idle. To create the moral and intellectual conditions that have formed the political character of the people would be, if possible at all, a difficult and extremely slow work. It is related that an American visitor, admiring the close, smooth greensward of the Fellows' Garden at Trinity College, Cambridge, enquired how the college came to have such a lawn. The answer was: “We have been watering and mowing and rolling it for three hundred years.” Six hundred years have gone to the moulding of the political thought and habits of the Swiss. Nevertheless there are points in which other States may learn from Switzerland. The habit of re-electing to the Legislature or to official posts, irrespective of their party ties, men who have given good service, might usefully be imitated in the States of the American Union, so that the influence of national parties should be removed from local elections with which national issues have nothing to do. Party has its value, and is in some branches of government inevitable; but in Britain and France, as well as in America, it has been worked to death.
Both Englishmen and Frenchmen would do well to note the absence in Switzerland of any grants by political authorities of titles and decorations, ribbons, medals, and other such marks of distinction. To reserve these honours for persons who have really deserved them has, both in France and in England, been found impossible. When they lie in the gift of a party chief, they are sure to be used for party purposes, and therewith they not only lose their value as rewards of good service, but become instruments of a sort, of corruption. Canada has done well to deprecate their introduction into its public life. In a free community the truest — and a sufficient — honour any one can win is the respect of his fellow-citizens.
The constant teaching in the schools of civic duty and the inculcation of the best traditions of national history is a wholesome feature of Swiss life. In no country does one find that the people know so much about and care so much for their historic past. Englishmen have overlooked this side of education so far as regards the masses of the people; and among the educated class it has been frequently turned, as sometimes in America also, to the service of a vainglorious Jingoism from which Switzerland is exempt.
The sense of citizenship finds expression in the willing acceptance of universal military training as a national obligation. If the peace-loving peoples of the world are condemned to endure in the future the same apprehension of attack by aggressive military States as has afflicted the hearts and drained the resources of Europeans during the last two generations, they may have to impose a similar obligation.
Two other things which have greatly contributed to the excellence of government in Switzerland may be commended to the attention of British and French, and indeed also of Spanish-American statesmen.
Great Britain has long admitted, but has also long neglected to fulfil, the duty of trying to divide large estates so as to create a race of small landowners cultivating the soil they dwell upon. It is this class which furnishes the most stable element in the population, now swollen by a mass of new immigrants, of the United States and Canada. It is a class hardly to be found in Argentina and Mexico, and not sufficiently numerous in Germany, Spain, and Italy.
France, and Britain also, have done too little to extend and develop a system of local self-government, especially in rural areas. Jefferson saw that in the presence of such a system lay the political strength of New England, in its absence the weakness of Virginia.1 It is the foundation of all that is best in the political life of the Swiss democracy.
It may be asked: “If the success Switzerland has attained in creating a government which has escaped the evils from which other democracies have suffered be due to a singular concatenation of favouring conditions not existing elsewhere and unlikely to be reproduced elsewhere, of what value is her experience for other countries?”
Its value is to have shown that merits may be attained by a government genuinely popular which those who have followed the history of other governments meant to be popular might have dismissed as unattainable. Citizens may be more animated by a widely-diffused sense of public duty, legislators and officials may more generally resist temptations offered by self-interest, party feeling may be kept within safer limits than has been heretofore found possible elsewhere. A government by the whole people which shall honestly aim at the welfare of the whole people, win their confidence and create in them a sense of contentment with their institutions, is not a mere dream of optimists, not an unrealizable ideal. To have established and worked such a government, even if not perfectly, is to have rendered a real service to mankind, for it cheers them with hopes, putting substance into what those who have followed the hard facts of political history have been wont to dismiss as illusions.
The scanty attention which Swiss institutions have received, and the inadequate recognition of their value to students of political philosophy, seem largely due to the unexciting and what may be called the prosaic humdrum character of Swiss political life. There are no sensational events to draw the eyes of the outer world; no Cabinet crises, as in England; no brilliant displays of oratory, as in the French Chamber; no dramatic surprises, as in the huge national nominating conventions of the United States. Most readers of history find their chief enjoyment in startling events and striking personal careers, however quiet their own lives and however pacific their tempers. They are thrilled by feats of strategic genius like those of Hannibal or Belisarius or Marlborough, and by political conflicts where defeat is suddenly turned into victory by brilliant oratory or resourceful statesmanship. In reading of these things few stop to think of the sufferings war brings, the bitterness and waste of effort that accompany internal strife; and many dismiss as dull the pages that record the steady progress of a nation in civil administration along well-drawn lines of economic progress. So the achievements of modern Switzerland, just because they do not appeal to imagination or emotion, have been little regarded, though directed with unusual success to what ought to be the main aims of government, the comfort and well-being of the individual, the satisfaction of his desire for intellectual pleasures, the maintenance of peace and kindly relations between social classes. The virtues of Swiss government, clad in plaingrey homespun, have not caught the world's eye. But the homespun keeps out cold and has worn well.
The future of Switzerland opens up a dim and distant vista of possibilities. Her fate lies not entirely in her own hands, for she cannot but be affected by the great nations that dwell around her. The next decade may be for her people, as for the rest of Europe, a stormy time, testing institutions and character as they have not been tested during the last two generations.
There were moments in the later Middle Ages when it seemed probable that the “Old League of Upper Germany “as it was called in the fifteenth century,1 would extend itself so widely to the north by the addition of new cities as to grow into a power stretching from the Vosges to the Upper Danube, and perhaps including the western communes of Tirol. How different would European history have been had a league of republics covered the south-western Germanic lands, and had a like power arisen out of a strengthening and expansion of the league of Hanseatic cities in the north! Dis aliter visum. Things might have been better than they have turned out, or they might have been even worse, though it is hard to imagine anything worse than the Thirty Years' War or than that war whose miseries Europe has just been bearing. Things do not always turn out for the best, as some historical philosophers have vainly preached: there have been many calamities redeemed by no compensations. But of Switzerland as she is now can we say less or hope less than this, that a people which has so learnt to love freedom in its truest sense, that has formed such lofty traditions of patriotism and has cultivated through them a pervading sense of civic duty,— that such a people is as well armed against future dangers as any small people can be? To this people may fitly be applied, with the change of one word only, the lines which Wordsworth, in whose mind England and Switzerland were constantly associated as the two ancient homes of liberty, wrote of his own country in her hour of gravest peril: —
There are in English several histories of Switzerland, and several useful descriptions of the constitutional system, but there does not seem to be any systematic account of the practical working of that system, presenting a picture of the current political life of the nation. The sketch which follows is based on personal enquiries made in Switzerland by myself in 1905 and 1919.
A succinct and lucid account of these events is given in Mr Coolidge's valuable article “Switzerland “in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, vol xxvi
The Sonderbund was the separate league set up by seven seceding Roman Catholic cantons.
A form of Romance speech differing a little from the Romansch which is spoken, along with German, in the Grisons (Graubunden).
In the district round Zurich there were said to be, in 1914, 50,000 Italians, the great majority of whom were not being assimilated by the Swiss. Of the total population of the Confederation 15 per cent were in that year foreigners.
The Protestants were, in 1910, 2,108,000; the Roman Catholics 1,594,000.
The rural circumscription called a District (Bezirk), which includes a number of communes, is an artificial area, established for administrative purposes, and needs no description here.
I was told that the Teachers' Union is apt to protect teachers from losing their posts by preventing a commune, whose dismissal of a teacher has displeased the profession, from finding another person to fill the vacancy.
These three are Unterwalden, divided into Unterwald above the wood (Ob dem Wald) and Unterwald below the wood (Nid dem Wald), Appenzell, divided into Ausser Rhoden and Inner Rhoden, and Basle, divided into Country and City (Basel Land and Basel Stadt)
A Civil Code for the whole country, in which the old Teutonic customary law has been skilfully combined with the principles of modern French laws, was enacted in 1912, and a penal code was in 1919 being prepared by a committee of the Federal Legislature.
The view that the Landesgemeinde has, as Freeman and other writers have held, descended from the meetings of the early Germans described by Tacitus, now finds less favour, and it is rather deemed to be a product, during the earlier Middle Age, of the conditions of collective life in small and isolated communities.
Subject, in some cantons, to rules respecting notice to be given or which require a proposal to have been previously submitted to a smaller body.
The question of extending the suffrage to women was in 1919 being raised in Neuchatel and Zürich.
See chapters on the United States.
Of the Cantonal Judges I shall speak when we come to the judiciary of the Confederation.
This view is indeed expressly recognized in the Constitutions of Bern and Aargau.
This provision was designed to prevent any attempt to create another Sonderhund.
The Judicial Department is not, however, as will presently appear, a “branch of the Government” in the American sense.
Excluding persons who have been deprived of their civic rights for crime, and (in some cantons) bankrupts and paupers.
The Federal Council may convoke an extraordinary session should any emergency arise
Western Switzerland constituted in the earlier Middle Ages the kingdom of Transjurane Burgundy, formed by the Teutonic Burgundian tribes who came from the Middle Ehineland. It stretched from the Rhine above Basle to the Pennine Alps.
This happened occasionally when important deliverances of opinion were made during and after the late European war.
In 1919 a plan for the creation of a tribunal to deal with administrative cases involving complaints against officials was being considered in pursuance of a constitutional amendment passed in 1914.
One is sometimes told that this practice makes it hard to get rid of a Councillor who is no longer equal to his work.
During the war of 1914-1918 difficulties did arise, but into these I need not enter, for the circumstances were most exceptional.
The powers of the Tribunal are stated in Arts. CX. to CXIV. of the Constitution, in terms which it is not easy to abridge, except in a general and somewhat vague way.
Constitution, Art. CII. 5.
A private citizen who is party in a civil suit may also contest before a court the validity of a Cantonal law alleged to transgress the Federal Constitution.
In Zurich, and probably elsewhere also, the Bar try to secure good selections.
Dr. E. Zürcher in Hoderne Demokratie, p. 16.
Every soldier keeps his arms and accoutrements in his own house, the pride of a Swiss in his arms being an old tradition This accelerates mobilization.
In 1919 the people of Vorarlberg expressed their wish to be admitted as a Canton, but though the proposal had much to recommend it, it found no general favour among the Swiss, some of whom did not desire to strengthen the Roman Catholic party, while in the French-speaking districts a certain dislike was shown to the addition of a German-speaking Canton. It was believed at the time that the French Government would have opposed the plan had it ever been formally presented to the Paris Conference.
Here again I speak of things as they were before 1914, for censures were passed on the handling of some of the matters dealt with during the war.
Aristotle, agreeing with the Hebrew sage who prayed he might have neither poverty nor riches, would have applauded in Switzerland an approximation to his model democracy in which power rested with citizens of moderate means.
A not too friendly picture of political party arts, as practised in a city of French-speaking Switzerland, may be found in the novel called L'Echelle, by M. J. P. Porret. There may be, but I have not found, a similar picture of cantonal politics in Zurich or Basle. M. Porret's description may be compared with the graphic and humorous treatment of New Hampshire (U. S. A.) politics in the Comston, and Mr. Crewe's Career of Mr. Winston Churchill.
In some Slavonic countries something similar seems to have existed, but apparently not among the Celtic peoples.
A description of the Pitso (a primary assembly) among the Basu-tos may be found in the author's Impressions of South Africa, chap. xx.
As to these Volksanfragen, see an instructive discourse (published as a pamphlet) by M. Horace Micheli (of Geneva) entitled La Souverameté populaire.
See an interesting pamphlet of M. G. Wagniére, La Democratic en Suisse, p. 15. Throughout the eighteenth century a struggle went on in Geneva between the oligarchic government and the popular party which was endeavouring to assert, or recover, the rights of the mass of citizens. An interesting view of its latest phase may be found in Mr. D. W. Freshfield's Life of Saussure.
I quote (in note at the end of this chapter) from M Wagniére a passage from the First Consul's address to the Swiss delegates who came to Paris in 1801.
See as to the history of Swiss popular legislation, the valuable book of Th. Curti, Le Referendum, Paris, 1905, a translation, with additions, from the German original.
The Federal Constitution prescribes (Art. VI.) that every Cantonal Constitution must be accepted by the people.
It is sometimes alleged that this power of the Assembly has, especially in recent years, been unduly extended. By giving the title of Resolutions to enactments which are really Laws, and by declaring such Resolutions to be either “urgent” or “not of general application,” it can withdraw from the operation of the Referendum matters not really urgent. Whereas between 1874 and 1913 the citizens used the right of demanding a Referendum 31 times on a total of 284 Laws and Resolutions passed by the Assembly, they used it only 3 times on 62 Laws and Resolutions passed between 1905 and 1919. This decline from a percentage of 11 per cent to 5 per cent may suggest that the citizens found less occasion for the exercise of their right, but it may also be due to the large use of the power of “declaring urgency,” a power liable to be employed when the Assembly feared rejection by the people. Of 1150 enactments passed by the Assembly between 1874 and 1919, upon only about 350 could the Referendum have been demanded. In a debate (in 1919) in the Assembly a member observed “On raconte qu'un homme d'église qui voulait manger un poulet un jour de caréme dit à son poulet' Je te baptise carpe,' et sa conscience éìtait tranquille. Le Conseil Fédéral et la Commission du Conseil National font un peu la même chose pour leur poulet, pour ce projet. lis la baptisent' arrêté,' et leur conscience démoeratique est tranquille, parce que si c'est un arrêté il n'y a pas besoin de le soumettre au Referendum.” On this occasion the remonstrance prevailed, and the National Council changed the description of the enactment fiom “arrete” “to “loi.”
Geneva has an automatic revision of her Constitution every fifteen years
The Federal Constitution also prescribes (Art. VI) that in every canton the absolute majority of the citizens (i.e a majority of the whole number of citizens) shall have the right of demanding a revision of the Constitution.
The same difficulty has arisen in those States of the American Union which have adopted the Popular Initiative. To-day. the only distinction that can, both in Switzerland and these States, be drawn between a Law and a provision of the Constitution is that the latter can be repeated or amended only by a vote of the people.
Professor Hilty mentions that, having asked one of the inhabitants of a remote valley why all his village had signed the demand for a Referendum, he was informed that a native of the valley who came to collect signatures told the people that he was to get ten centimes — one penny, two cents — for every signature. Having no opinion of their own on the matter, their courteous generosity enriched him by a gift which cost them nothing.
A Memorandum is, however, issued in Oregon, U.S.A., for the information of the voters.
Deploige, Referendum in Switzerland, p. 181 of English translation.
Swiss opinion does not generally approve the plan of a Special Convention, and it is not employed in the Confederation.
Two were withdrawn, and at the beginning of 1920 three Initiative proposals were pending on which the people had not yet voted (one of these has since been carried), and the question proposed by the Assembly of accepting the decision of the Assembly that Switzerland should enter the League of Nations had not yet been voted upon.
In one case a Bill passed by the Assembly with only a single dissentient vote was rejected by a large majority on a Referendum.
The majority was wiser than the Ministry, for the measure damaged the party at the next general election.
Nevertheless in those States of the N. American Union which use the Referendum, democratic as they are, voting does not closely follow party lines
As to these four instances, called at the time “the four-humped camel,” see Th. Curti, ut supra, p. 334. And Deploige, English translation, p. 225.
One of these two was a proposal to strengthen the staff of the Federal Department of Justice, the other to increase by £400 the expenditure on the Legation at Washington.
Sir H. S Maine, Popular Government, p. 97.
When the Federal Constitution was submitted in 1874 the percentage who voted in Canton Zürich was 93.7, which seems to make a “record “in popular votings.
In the thirty years ending with 1912, even Geneva used the Referendum only ten times and the Initiative only seven.
Rousseau held that every law ought to be enacted by the citizens, but seems to have had in mind small communities, rather than a large nation. The doctrine that the People are the ultimate fountain of power descends from the ancient world, and was taken from the Roman law by St. Thomas Aquinas and other mediaeval writers.
This the people did when that Code was, after Welti's time, enacted.
No case was brought to my knowledge in which this had occurred. In Switzerland, as in America, minorities usually acquiesce quietly, perceiving that only thus can free government go on.
In his book entitled Popular Government.
Geneva was mentioned to me as a canton in which an independent committee of citizens had succeeded in defeating, on a popular vote, a scheme propounded by the Council, which they deemed likely to reduce the standard and variety of university teaching. Similarly, an ancient tower, associated with the history of the city, which the Council had meant to remove was saved by an appeal to popular vote.
A Swiss friend whose great abilities and experience entitle his opinion to high respect sums up to me his view as follows:
An interesting abstract of the doctrines of Rittinghausen and Considerant, writers of the last generation who influenced opinion on this subject in their time, may be found in the (already mentioned) excellent book of Th. Curti, he Referendum, pp. 200-207.
This objection was of course overridden by the insertion of the amendment as a part of the Constitution.
This happened in the case of a proposal to forbid vivisection.
It is sometimes alleged that the habit of withdrawing enactments as “urgent” from the category of those which can be made the subject of a Referendum may have contributed to this larger use of the Initiative, but other causes also may be suggested.
In the Canton of Zurich where the Initiative exists for Laws, enactments desired are usually proposed as Laws, and the popular Initiative in constitutional amendments is rare.
In the National Council it had 102 members out of 189. In 1919 when the election was held on the plan of Proportional Representation this party, though remaining the largest, did not obtain in the National Council a majority of the whole, but only 63 members, the Catholic Conservative party securing 41 seats, the Socialists 41, while the new group of Peasants, Artisans, and Bourgeois party won 26, and the Liberal Democratic Group 9. Seven seats went to a so-called “Groupe de politique socialé,” and two to Independents. The composition of these groups may, however, soon begin to vary.
ttatisme has suffered in public favour through the failure in economy and efficiency, which here, as well as in England and the United States, were noted in the administration (during the recent war) of several departments which had to bear a severe strain.
A further reason was that the holding by Germans of a large proportion of the shares in the Gothard railway, an undertaking of vast international importance, had made it politically desirable for the Swiss Government to obtain full control of that line; and to do this it seemed necessary to acquire the other lines also.
One does not hear of proposals to fix wages by law or to entrust the fixing thereof, as in Australia, to a Court of law.
In these communes, if the citizen neither appeared to drop his ballot paper nor transmitted it in the official envelope within three days, it was sent for, and he was charged one franc for the trouble.
Protestant pastors seldom seek to exert political influence, and in French-speaking cantons carefully abstain from even the appearance of doing so.
I have, however, heard it remarked that the slight decline noticeable in the intellectual quality of representatives is due to the recent tendency to prefer docile candidates to men of more independent character. It is also said that sensitive men sometimes refrain from candidacy, because the personal criticism to which politicians are subjected is more disagreeable in small constituencies, where everybody is personally known, than it can well be in large communities.
Such little opposition as there was turned upon personal not political reasons.
In ordinary times there are only colonels.
Even in Great Britain it may happen that members of a Ministry are permitted to oppose one another in debate. I recall a case in which this happened when Woman Suffrage, a subject on which the Cabinet had not delivered a collective opinion, was being debated in the House of Commons.
I know of a commune near Geneva in which Protestants subscribed to the erection of a Catholic Church, and Catholics to that of a Protestant.
“Civis inquilinus urbis Eomae “(according to Sallust).
The German-speakers are said to be more prone to accept governmental direction, and to favour the extension of state functions than are the inhabitants of “Suisse romande,” who dislike “reglementation.”
I speak only of the native Swiss, not including the recent immigrants, mostly still unassimilated.
Dr. Karl Hilty, one of the sagest as well as one of the most lovable Swiss I have ever known. He died in 1908.
To be a citizen, one must be admitted to a commune, and though poor communes welcome rich applicants, all communes are careful not to burden themselves with those whom they might have to support.
A Swiss friend wrote to me during the progress of this contest: “Le paete de la Société des Nations est distribue à tous les citoyens avec diverses annexes. Les articles de journaux, les conférences se multiplient Dans la moindre auberge on entend des discussions acharnées sur tel ou tel article que des citoyens tout à fait simples savent par coeur tout comme ils connaissent et invoquent les commentaires qu'en ont donné les plus grand juristes J'ai été interpellé' dans la rue par des citoyens modestes qui exigaient de leur poche leur exemphcaire du paete tout erayonné des remarques et qui exigaient des explications détaillées surtel ou tel article.” The debates and the voting were an aid to political education such as no other European country has seen, and when the proposal, which was opposed by the Socialists and by the great bulk of the Conservatives in the German-speaking cantons, was carried by a majority of 414,000 to 322,000, the decision was at once accepted with a good grace by the minority.
The Law of the Constitution.
Something similar happened in the United States during the first half-century of the Constitution. Convenience established, among the then small number of leading men in Congress, usages many of which have held their ground (see the author's American Commonuealth, vol. i. chap, xxxiv.)
A similar feeling operated at Athens (see above, Chapter XVI.). There are similarities between the Greek republics, at their best, and Switzerland, just as there are also similarities between them, at their worst, and the more backward of the Spanish-American republics.
Perhaps also because in mediaeval Switzerland there was never any monarch nearer than the Emperor, so that no monarchical tradition was formed which in other countries made a single Head of the State, however limited his powers, seem a natural apex of the governmental edifice.
Except in so far as small salaries fail to secure high special competence in officials.
I do not venture into the controversial question as to what proportion of their income the rich ought to contribute to the services of the State, but state the complaint as I heard it in Switzerland, and as it is heard now in many other countries.
In 1920 the Federal Council contained five Radicals and two Catholics. The Socialists having refused to work along with the other members, there was no Socialist. There were four members from “Suisse allemande,” two from “Suisse romande,” and one Italian.
Jefferson, however, must have seen, though he thought it safer not to add, that it was not merely the Town meetings but also the quality of the men who composed those meetings, educated land-owning farmers, members of Congregational churches, that vivified the local politics of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Vetus Liga Alemarmiae Bwperioris,