Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXX: political parties - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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CHAPTER XXX: political parties - 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 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 Seven Roman Catholic cantons who had withdrawn from the Confederation to form a federation of their own, were brought to submission in a short and almost bloodless struggle which was followed by no revenge.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.
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).