L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 224, May 18, 2003
YOU CAN'T WIN?
The Lessons To Be Learnt From Switzerland
Special to TLE
The Swiss Confederation was born in 1291 when three adjacent valley communities gathered at the Rutli Meadow and swore to cooperatively defend themselves from the depredations of the surrounding national powers. The principles upon which they agreed were simple: non-interference in one another's internal affairs and mutual aid against all those who sought to interfere with any of the three allied cantons.
As the rampaging Austrian, Prussian, French and Italian nation-states grew and quarrelled around them, more and more of the neighbouring Alpine valley communities applied for membership in the "Helvetic Confederation". By 1815, Switzerland had achieved its current size, and it had done so entirely by voluntary applications to join for mutual defence and mutual benefits.
Unlike the failed United States model, which quickly saw the "free and independent States" become de facto provinces of the powerful federal government, the Swiss have (so far) managed to maintain a confederation which has been entirely free of coercion, either from outside or within. Libertarians would do well to study and, in most cases, attempt to emulate this example. The keys to Swiss Liberty:
1. The Confederation is entirely voluntary. Even in my lifetime, an internal "secession" has taken place (the establishment of the Jura Canton from part of the old Bern Canton) without so much as a whisper of violence.
2. Linguistic independence combined with mutual recognition of cantons' rights to establish their own official language. The Swiss have four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch. Train travellers have noted that as their voyage crosses cantonal boundaries, the language spoken by the conductors changes accordingly. The average Swiss is bilingual, and many, many are at least tri-lingual. [Compare that with the United States in which many people cannot even read and write one language.] The Swiss, unlike the Belgians, the Canadians and many others, have no major problems about language, religion, et cetera. They cannot be manipulated and divided over those issues, since they already have and guard their rights.
3. The Swiss federal government is kept weak and limited. This is made possible by the rights of referenda and recall, as well as severely limiting federal powers. The individual Swiss cantons have more power than the federales, and the half-cantons are more powerful still. As one historian noted, "The nearer one approaches to the individual Swiss citizen, the stronger becomes the power to govern." In other words, the Swiss have tended to govern themselves, and consult and work cooperatively on those things which they find to be in their common interests.
The Swiss still carry swords to political meetings, in order to remind politicians that the ultimate power resides with the individual citizens. If they don't like what they hear a politician say, they can fall upon him and cut him to pieces. That may not be comforting to the politicos, but I bet it is to the citizens. It would certainly change the nature of public speeches in Canada.
4. The Swiss are armed to the teeth. The Swiss have a citizen soldiery; they are, themselves, the army. Every able-bodied Swiss male serves in the army at the age of twenty, then remains armed with his full military kit (all of which is kept in his home) until the age of forty. For several weeks every year he is excused from his employment for training. This, combined with the preparations made at the border passes and tunnels, has kept Switzerland free from all foreign invaders but Napoleon for over 700 years.
The Swiss can effectively mobilise in a matter of hours, which gives them an enormous advantage over any potential invader. During the Second World War, the Swiss maintained their armed neutrality even when completely surrounded by the Axis powers. They even showed Nazi generals their defences in order to both taunt and daunt them! One such, touring a border fortress, said to a Swiss soldier, "You know, when we come, we will have you outnumbered two-to-one. What will you do then?" The Swiss citizen calmly replied, "We will shoot twice, then go home." The Nazis never dared invade.
The Swiss national sport is shooting, and they are likely the best shots in the world. On holidays it is common to see people walking about with the latest in military rifles, on their way to or from a shooting competition. In this way, the Swiss keep themselves safe from outside invaders as well as the various minions of the State, minimal `though it is.
With all those guns available in every Swiss household, what is the violent crime rate like? It is considerably less than Hong Kong's (where firearms are illegal), and even less than Canada's very low murder rate. Further, the Swiss government has not rounded up and murdered any of its citizens, or anyone else, for that matter.
I suggest that all of the above are instructive for those who long for self-government and ... Peace and Liberty.
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