Switzerland Should be the Model for Future American Governance

  • Sam Mire
  • Oct 30, 2017 5:03PM

The vastly differing ideologies of modern American political sects has resulted in a fluctuation between political extremes. While it is fair to say that traditional Republicans, including both conservatives and libertarians, believe more firmly in state’s rights and decentralization of the federal government, it’s clear that the left sees the powers of a given President as dangerous, too.

While much of the outrage at the current president is feigned, misguided, and hyperbolic, the legitimacy of the Trump-phobia is largely irrelevant to the functionality of American democracy as it stands today. Those on the right saw their wariness of the power of the executive and the gargantuan federal government affirmed over the past eight years. The most contentious political battles being waged today, ten months after the presidential inauguration, are over federal policies and mandates issued under the previous regime. Should Democrats be elected back into power, the same battles will be fought over again, with the pendulum presumably swinging in the more-than-equal and opposite direction.

These highly-polarized swings in government policy and practice are not sustainable. One metaphor Charles Krauthammer and others have used is that of a football game. Traditionally, American politics have been played between the 40 yard lines. According to Krauthammer, the Obama administration took the game to the political end zone, setting a precedent that allowed for a political outsider with zero civic experience to become president. While checks and balances were intended by the Founding Fathers, we have allowed for a rate of growth of the federal and state government that would be unrecognizable to James Madison or Thomas Jefferson.

For a return to sensible, restrained, and truly democratic government where colossal ideological swings do not continue to create gridlock, wasteful spending, and national division, it must be considered that a sort of reset in the entire political system is necessary. One nation has maintained the limited reach of government and true checks and balances which allow for liberty and independence for its people to an extent that America can no longer claim. That nation is Switzerland.

As Peter Tenebrarum outlines in his article ‘Can Switzerland Save the World?’, the Swiss system of rule is far from perfect, but their tendency toward local government rule over national law renders the powers of any single president far more limited. The seven-member Swiss Federal Council has been described as a “collective head of state” by Switzerland native and Mises Institute correspondent Claudio Glass.

You can watch Glass explain the Swiss model in detail in this interview with the Mises Institute’s Jeff Deist here:

Essentially, Switzerland’s federal council has adopted the core principles of ‘radical decentralization’ and ‘subsidiarity’ to prevent Swiss society from becoming overly politicized and divided. Essentially, these principles mean granting more power to local governments and institutions to decide upon issues of taxation, social welfare, immigration, and virtually everything in between. Most believe that the closest thing America has to the Swiss model is the concept of libertarianism. But, as described by Liberty International’s Frances Kendall, there are some differences between the Swiss model and true libertarianism, though there is also significant overlap.

Switzerland, with its compulsory military service, state controlled monetary system, railroad and telephone services, and taxation, is not a pure libertarian society – but for those interested in reining in out-of-control governments in other parts of the world, there are large parts of the Swiss cantonal system that are worthy of emulation.’

Kendall notes that ‘the concepts of devolution of power, local autonomy, and participatory democracy have produced the world’s most peaceful and prosperous country,’ in Switzerland. For a nation that contains ethnic demographics that are 65% German, 18% French, 10% Italian, 1% Romansch, and 6% other, this system of truly autonomous rule spread among seven regions helps to mitigate ideological differences that exist between each.

Claudio Glass affirms that these ethnic and cultural differences are mirrored and balanced by the system of a National Council, whose members ‘are elected by parliament, and are supposed represent a cross-section of Switzerland’s regions, political parties and linguistic groups’. This seven-person council is represented by the nation’s four political parties, with ‘the three strongest parties in parliament traditionally supplying two councilors each, and the fourth strongest party one councilor.’ This system creates a continuous balance of power that ensures, unless each represented party falls on the same ideological path, a high level of ideological restriction.

The Parliament is not rendered completely irrelevant by the executive. As Glass explains, ‘the council is not empowered to ignore the outcome of referendums or parliamentary decisions: it is merely the executive. As such, it can issue recommendations and propose draft laws. This form of executive is modeled after the archons of the polis of Greek antiquity, and is the only such surviving system in the world today.’

But, the majority vote of the seven executive members ultimately dictates the laws of the land. This system has not only allowed for unrivaled regional autonomy and economic freedom, it is the system responsible for Switzerland’s abstinence from the European Union, which in and of itself allows for the Swiss system of governance to provide real power to its people. The Swiss people made it clear that they did not want to join the EU, so ‘last Wednesday, the Swiss National Council voted to withdraw the country’s dormant application to join the European Union (EU).’

If only democracy were so straightforward, so truly representative of the people, in most nations that profess to be democratic. The Swiss system of a National Council, a sort of seven-member, ideologically scattered presidency, has allowed for a state of perpetual political middle grounded-ness despite the nation’s diverse demographics. If, one day, it becomes possible for Americans to consider a re-orientation of their political system, it would be wise to look toward the Swiss model as a blueprint.