Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXVIII: political institutions - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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CHAPTER XXVIII: political institutions - 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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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.”
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.