Was Switzerland a backward country before 1848?

With the creation of the federal state in the mid-nineteenth century, liberals set an important course. But they were not the only ones who contributed to the development of the country. In some ways, Switzerland was already ahead of many other countries around 1800. Replica.

René Roca
In Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Switzerland had a relatively well-developed education system, and about 1800 more children than anywhere else regularly attended school.

In Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Switzerland had a relatively well-developed education system, and about 1800 more children than anywhere else regularly attended school.

Photographers Simon Tanner / NZZ

In Switzerland, over the past 200 years, citizens have developed democracy into a model that is unique in the world.Direct democracy is an integral part of political culture and a key foundation for our economic success.Joseph Jung ignores such historical facts when, in his article on the history of Switzerland in the nineteenth century, which appeared recently in these columns, he claims that "Switzerland before 1848" "lost touch with the development of modern states."

On the contrary: in the case of direct democracy, Switzerland developed a model even before 1848, which developed very differently during the nineteenth century, but always from the bottom up, i.e. building on political communities through the respective cantons bis up to the federal level, began its triumphant march.Important in this process were the principle of cooperatives and natural law.

Natural law makes people think about timeless norms of coexistence, about moral conduct, about shaping the political and legal order.In Switzerland, among other things, the natural law was implemented with the principle of cooperatives and its three "I", namely self-help, self-determination and self-responsibility.This principle contained an integrative force without which Switzerland, a nation of the will, based on freedom and equality, could not exist.

There is no trace of "backwardness" as Jung interprets it.Economic dynamism arose late in the Confederacy, but on a solid human foundation.Even if Switzerland was a rural and agricultural area before 1848, in terms of the education system it was far ahead of most European countries, as current assessments of the so-called Switzerland show. Stapfer-Enquête.Around 1800, Switzerland was a veritable "school fortress" attended by almost all children.Unfortunately, such important research results are almost overlooked.

People's movement in Basel

On this basis, rural people's movements fought for the first direct democratic people's rights in Switzerland in the nineteenth century.They pushed it through in the face of very fierce, mostly liberal resistance.This is shown by various cantonal examples.

From 1830, liberal circles pushed for the development of democracy in Baselland.As a small, liberal ruling class, they represented the principle of representation.The sovereignty of the people should be limited to the election of the legislature, limited by the census, and cannot be justified by further rights of the people.Resistance quickly arose from the rural population, the so-called "people of the movement".

They were radical-minded liberals, some of whom developed toward early Jacobin socialism and advocated more far-reaching rights of the people.During the separation from Basel-City, the "people of the movement" soon achieved their first success.In 1832. Basel-Landschaft adopted its first independent constitution to veto the law, which was the precursor to today's optional referendum.Baselland was the second canton after St. Louis. St. Gallen, who introduced this popular law.The first political experiences were good, and direct democracy was improved step by step.

Rural Democrats of Lucerne

In 1831, the canton of Lucerne adopted a constitution for the first time by referendum.It was above all a product of liberal circles and, thanks to its democratic character, represented great progress.However, democracy was representative, which means that, apart from limited elections (censuses), the population did not have the opportunity to actively participate in policy-making.For liberals, it was "the most perfect state system."

Catholic conservatives, also known as "rural democrats," had a different idea of popular sovereignty.They wanted to give the population more to say.For this purpose, a rural people's movement was formed.After intense political debate, the "rural democrats" pushed for a complete revision of the constitution in 1841, Which eventually obtained an overwhelming majority in the vote.The decisive factor was the introduction of universal rights, including the veto of laws, for many "the most important new institution", which was further developed in the following years.

Give up conceit

After the creation of the federal state in 1848, the liberals set the direction for the economic development of Switzerland.But they also cultivated a tendency toward aristocracy and favored a utilitarian principle that caused social inequality and injustice.The "movement people" and "rural democrats" were among the political losers in 1848.But they shaped Switzerland's history before and after 1848, as did the liberals.

The liberal victors of the Sonderbund War of 1847 had to go through a long learning process before they accepted direct democracy and got rid of their arrogance towards "the people."Switzerland would not be a federalist and directly democratic state, nor would it have today's model of economic success if liberal, anticlerical and to some extent centralist elements had come to the fore without resistance.

Source: https://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/die-schweiz-ist-1848-nicht-voellig-neu-erfunden-worden-ld.1548824