Switzerland: Proving the Founding Fathers Wrong Since 1848


Contrary to popular belief, our founding fathers were actually terrified at the very thought of a democracy. James Madison once said of democracies, A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” It was clear that the founding fathers wanted to prevent the tyranny of the majority often associated with direct democracy, so they went about setting up a  representitive government that “tempred with majority rule with measures to protect the minority”. However, the founding fathers got things dead wrong. Tyranny exists in our government today, though it is not the tyranny of the majority. Corporate lobbyists and a small group of elites have taken advantage of our system to make our politicans thier puppets, thereby imposing thier interests above that of the 99%. Though we may elect our president and memebers of Congress, we are powerless to stop this small group of elites from dictating our lives through our representitve government. Measures such as the filibuster and electoral colleges are just some of the means by which the tyranny of the 1% continue to put thier agenda so far above our interests to the point where the voice of the 99% is virtually non-existent. One only has to look at the amount of taxpayer dollars used to subsidise oil companies, the bank bailouts in 2008, the Federal Reserve and the imperalist wars in Iraq and Afghanaistan as evidence of the tyranny of the 1% using the federal government to push forth thier agenda at the expense of the 99%. Though we avoided the tyranny of the majority, what we got was the tyranny of the 1%; the founding fathers made a severe miscalculation regarding the possibility of government corruption such as that seen today. Yet Switzerland has been proving the founding fathers wrong since 1848 by engaging in a form of direct democracy not seen anywhere else.

The year 1848; it was certainly a hellish year in European history. Yet the year 1848 also saw Switzerland adopt Europe’s first federal state and, in 1891, incorprate many measures of direct democracy into thier constituiton. At the federal level, Switzerland is divided up into three branches; the legislative branch that consists of a bicarmel parliament, the seven member Federal Council which represents the executive branch, and the Federal Court, which represents the judicial Branch. At the state level, each Switzerland’s 26 cantons are represented by essentially the same structure of government, similiar to state governments in the U.S. Now, here’s where the direct democracy comes in. At both the federal and state level, the Swiss constitution grants citizens the right to call a federal referendum against a law passed by Parliament if they can get at least 50,000 signatures against the law. If that is done, a national vote is scheduled where the law is accepted or rejected based on majority rule. The Swiss constitution also grants Swiss citizens the right to put forth a constitutional ammendment if they can get 100,000 signatures. If that is done, Parliament can counter the ammendment with a counter-proposal of thier own, where the two proposals are put forth to a national vote, where a double majority is needed to pass the ammendment. Now, I am aware that we have similiar measures such as these here in the U.S, but only at the state level, and state governments have become almost insignificant in today’s political landscape here in the U.S. We are powerless to stop the tyranny of the 1% from imposing thier agenda and thereby oppressing the 99%. Once the tyranny of the 1% uses thier puppets to get a law passed through Congress and passed by the executive branch, we are powerless to speak up against it, no matter how oppressive it is. Even the Supreme Court, which is the only institution that can overtutn laws at the federal level once passed by the executive branch, is subject to the corruption of the tyranny of the 1%.

Before I begin my analysis of Switzerland’s government structure, I would like to make an important concession regarding direct democracy. In a pure democracy, there would be no measures to stop the 51% from voting away the rights of the 49%, thereby making the tyranny of the majority a real possibility. However, that being said, what stops the tyranny of the 1%, which is a natural product of parliamentary and representitve governments, from using thier puppets to vote away the rights of the 100%? Tyranny of some kind is ineveitable, it is just an unintended consequence of government. However, the Swiss system of government seems to combat both the tyranny of the majority and tyranny of the 1% well. The tyranny of the majority is combated as laws must still make it through the Swiss Parliament, thus protecting the rights of minorties from the “tyranny of the majority” as the Swiss Parliament is subject to some measures which prevent the rights of minoirities from being compromised. However, in the event of corruption in the Swiss Parliament and the threat of the tyranny of the 1%, citizens have the right to send oppressive laws up for a national referendum, where a majority vote prevents the agenda of the tyranny of the 1% from taking precedence over that of the majority. The results of this form of government have been wonderous; Switzerland ranked 8th in the world in terms of government transparency with an 8.8 rating compared to the U.S’s rank of 24th. The founding fathers failed to bring about a government free of corruption and free of tyranny while Switzerland has been proving since 1848 that some forms of direct democracy at the national level can survive and even thrive as in the case of Switzerland, thus proving the founding fathers convictions against democracy and majority rule wrong.

It is clear that the form of government the founding fathers gave us has led to the rise of the tyranny of the 1% and the suppression of the agenda of the 99%, but, by following the example of Switzerland, we can end the oppression of the tyranny of the 1% while avoiding the tyranny of the majority at the same time by allowing legislative powers to remain in the hands of representitves while putting executive powers in the hands of the citizens. The way this “hybrid representitve direct democracy” would function would be based on a legislative branch retaining the ability to “make laws”. This legislative body would, of course, be subjected to minority measures;  measures such as even the filibuster, thus preventing a “tyranny of the majoirty” from plaguing the legislative body and opressive laws against minorities ever making it through the legislative body. Yes, I am well aware that this could lead to the very same tyranny of the 1% I have been ranting about all along, but an executive branch still has to pass the law. That is where the direct democracy comes in. Once a law makes it through the regulated legislative body, a national wide referendum based majority rule should be held to decide whether that law becomes law of the land. In the event that a tyranny of the 1% does form in the legislative body, the people have the ultimate power to combat against this by simply voting the law down. This is Switzerland in a nutshell and it’s been working since 1848, and it’s been proving the founding fathers wrong since 1848.

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3 Comments

  1. If that was to be adopted on the USA, nothing, just like now would ever get donne, to consider anything close to the swiss system, we would have to look at the cultural differences between the Swiss and the Americans.

    1. Legislative inaction is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, if there was a motion in Congress to abolish the Fourteenth Amendment and restore slavery, would we want that to go through? Though some level of tyranny is prevelant in all forms of government, it should still be combated against and Switzerland’s form of government does it the best, which is why they’re ranked near the top in government transparency by the U.N.

    2. What are you talking about? People LOVE referenda. What happened when Washington and Colorado put legal marijuana on the ballot?

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