Die Schweiz als Athithese | LegalAnthology | December 04, 2014


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Die Schweiz als Athithese

[Switzerland as Antithesis] 

 a) Background

The text at hand is a seminal essay by the Swiss historian Herbert Lüthy on the heart and the essence of Switzerland at the verge of an imminent confrontation with the rising European Union.

Lüthy belongs among Carl Jacob Burckhardt, Jean Rudolf von Salis and Karl Schmid as a prominent personality of intellectual life in the German speaking part of Switzerland in the second half of the twentieth century. He was well-known outside of Switzerland as well. In his academic career he was a professor of Swiss history at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich, thereafter at the University of Basel. In his parallel career, he worked as a journalist and publicist, from 1946 to 1958 in Paris and wrote provocative essays in an elegant style. The texts at hand "Schweiz als Antithese" is an early example of Lüthy's grasp of the essence of Switzerland as a nation. The text in was first written in 1961 in French, La Suisse a contre-courant in the Revue Economique Franco-Suisse. The German translation of 1963 was published at the time of the first “crisis of integration” in the European Community. It is a forceful and timely analysis of not bowing to the trends of the present. In a later comment on the essay written in 1969, Lüthy writes that models for Switzerland in the year of 2000 may become obsolete faster than the institutions of yesterday. The final statement of the essay is, if "the world is aiming at the great unity, it aims nonetheless to the liberty and the self determination of all its communities, also of the smallest...".           

b) Summary

The text is a forty-page essay without subtitles, footnotes and subparagraphs. It is a meandering walk in circles around what Lüthy thinks is the essence of Switzerland.

It starts with the existence and the self-consciousness in Switzerland, people perceive themselves first a part of a canton and not of a nation, cantons not only being autonomous but according to the preamble of the constitution being sovereign. All modern nations have been formed by aggregating the particularities of its constitutional parts; Switzerland has survived the most serious crisis in its history, by and through this particularism of the country.

Switzerland is a small territory; it only acquires a certain dimension of greatness through its topographic and linguistic variety on such a small territory. The microcosm of its own kind is at the intersection of three big cultures of Western Europe. It is forgotten that the religious and language variety of Switzerland is a recent phenomenon. The basic traditions and institutions of the first five hundred years of the history of Switzerland are almost exclusively alemanic, just as today around 75% of the populations are Swiss German speaking.

Until the true birth of Switzerland following the French occupation and subsequent fall of the French empire, Geneva and Neuchâtel, which had been made part of France, hastened to become part of Switzerland again. The renitent alemanic particularism on the basis of living together in multi-language communities on Swiss soil is the Germanic tradition of democratic unity, which is defended against any and all tendencies for unification. Alemanic Switzerland had to fight for its independence and distance vis-à-vis Germany. There is never a majority, there always is a multiplicity of minorities and a variety of minorities which at times ad hoc find opportunistic majorities. According to Lüthy, Switzerland is the most archaic country heavily marked by continuity.

Lüthy states the particularity of Switzerland lies not as much in the origins of its existence but that those old structures have stayed, resisted and survived the dynamic changes of modern times and that they have been adapted to new requirements of Switzerland as state: It is the control of the particularistic liberty of the community in Europe, where the future belonged to centralistic territorial states. Only when and if the confederations of independent communities no longer were able to cope with historic reality, did they decide to form a nation in the form of a confederation. The particularisms were maintained, thereby avoiding the idea that Switzerland ever knew an identification with a state or a nation. Switzerland has stayed the negation of the historic development of aggregation of large organised masses and, thereby, is the proof - according to Lüthy - that a confederation can govern themselves without being subjected to governmental bureaucracy.

Foreign observers of Switzerland were astonished to note that the Swiss do not have a genuine Swiss citizenship but that they are primarily citizens of a community and then of a canton.

The functioning of the Swiss democracy, in particular, the cascades of popular votes on the levels of communities, cantons, and the federation were noticed an admired by foreign observers.

Lüthy uses as an example the railway system and observes the densest networks of railways, which through those cascading popular votes had been built to the wishes of the smallest community. If one compares this to the railway network of Paris, one immediately realises the difference between a central and a federal government. These developments have led to the fact, that Switzerland does not have a visible and shining capital. Lüthy points out to the reader that adaptations to modern times in Switzerland had to be done in a contradiction. One third of its territory was infertile, had no natural resources and had no access to the sea, and originally was a country of emigration because of its poverty. He critically highlights the drawbacks and negative sides of these sources of the developments. The full resistance in the inner workings and the inner balance of the regions did not prevent the industrial progresses, though.

According to Lüthy it seems, that the people are amongst themselves unified and participate in the recent international economic competition, which is a discrepancy to the political will which is tempted to stay what it always has been. It is obvious that the governmental institutions rooting in the soil always are and adapt slower than life. Lüthy anticipates the necessity that this governmental structures will lead to a crisis of institutions, which will come at the same time as developments in the relationships to the world will force Switzerland to find solutions.

Lüthy then characterizes a lack of vision of Switzerland in foreign relations and criticises the systematic passivity, which is not less strict and demanding than the attitude of active participation. This particularity will show in the relationship to the European communities. The decision to leave the League of Nations still has a strong influence in view of the obvious necessity of Switzerland to face the new European realities. Switzerland might realise, that the history of the confederation and its pluralistic structure of its micro cosmos might be the only existing model in which the possible modalities of an organic integration of the European particularism can be empirically studied. Lüthy ends the essay with a statement that the history of Switzerland shows that at the end of long periods of disorders it was possible within a small territory to bring about the cohesion of the whole and retain the individuality of its constituents.



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December 04, 2014

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