IT IS a generally admitted fact that Switzerland, because of its central geographical situation, the character of its political institutions, the nature and composition of its people, has come to exercise upon the destinies of Europe an influence which is very great in comparison with its size and population.


The Swiss Confederation was founded at the end of the thirteenth century by the union of the three valleys lying at the foot of the St. Gotthard pass: Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. That these peasant valleys were able to join together and survive was largely due to the growing importance assumed at that time by the traffic over the St. Gotthard pass. The pass had just been opened and was of great political importance for the communication of the Emperors between Germany and Rome; it is on this account that the Swiss valleys enjoyed the protection of the Empire and were able to survive in spite of the powerful and growing hostility of the Hapsburgs. During the fourteenth century Switzerland, in the heart of Europe, was the center of all the struggles for liberty against the dominion of the Austrian dukes. And later, when the Imperial throne was occupied by the Hapsburg family, all the enemies of the Empire turned to Switzerland for leadership.

On this account, and because of the development of infantry into the most powerful instrument of war, the Swiss, who were a fine type of infantrymen, became one of the greatest military and political forces in Europe. It must be remembered that the Continent was divided into fragments by feudalism and that no monarchical state had achieved its territorial unity. Under these circumstances, during the whole of the fifteenth century Switzerland was the most stable political element in Europe. This is seldom realized nowadays because of the preponderance given in histories to the development of the Great Powers. It is, however, an established fact. Their military power led the Swiss to play an important rôle in all the wars of this period. They changed the destiny of Europe in ending the domination of Charles the Bold, whose idea was to create a powerful state between France and Germany. They also dominated northern Italy. And it was only because of internal dissensions that their activity left so little in the way of permanent results.

During the sixteenth century the Reformation, which prospered in some cantons and failed in others, accentuated the internal differences and definitely ended the political power of the Confederation. But at the same time the Reformation gave the Confederation a new purpose and a new rôle. If Switzerland was not the real cradle of the Reformation, she soon became its home, at least for the French and Anglo-Saxon countries. The influence of Geneva was enormous at this time through the renown of its university and its reputation as a city of refuge for the politically persecuted, and the name of "Protestant Rome," which no longer has any particular significance, was at that time a living reality. But even while she was giving to the European Reformation a center and support, Switzerland was, by a curious contradiction, maintaining a certain contact between Catholicism and Protestantism. In spite of their quarrels, their hatreds and even their wars, Swiss Protestants and Catholics continued to sit together in the Federal Diets. The contact between them was never completely broken and it was thus that the preparation was laid slowly but surely for the spirit of toleration and understanding in which Swiss Protestants and Catholics now live side by side.

The differences of opinion between the Catholic and Protestant Cantons obliged Switzerland to remain aloof from European conflicts and, as a result, she remained in an untroubled state of peace throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This was of great benefit to her economic development. All the writers of the period remarked upon the extraordinary prosperity of the Confederation, as for instance after the Thirty Years' War. Switzerland was at that time an oasis in the midst of countries ravaged by unending warfare.

This long period of peace permitted the growth of public and private fortunes and the development of public instruction to a degree extraordinary in those days. Thus, in the eighteenth century, the Confederation brought forth Jean Jacques Rousseau and took up the philosophy which led to the developments of the French Revolution. For a time, at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth, it was thought that Switzerland, having fallen under the French yoke, had lost its importance in the European system. This was far from the fact, however, and Switzerland was shortly to develop a new system of democracy and a formula of peace which had never before been tried, at least in Europe. By the adaptation of American ideas and by the evolution of her own traditions, Switzerland became in Europe the prototype of federalism.

The essential thing which we find in this development is the fact that Switzerland has in Europe a mission as a friendly intermediary. She serves this rôle, first of all, with regard to transit. Placed in the center of the continent, and traversed by most of the principal railway lines, the Swiss Confederation is a center for travel and communication. Most long journeys across the Continent in any direction lead through Switzerland, and by her geographical position she has inevitably become the intermediary in the relations between nations.

From this material contact there has also grown a moral contact. Switzerland is composed of Catholics and Protestants. Her inhabitants speak German, French and Italian; the striking thing about this is not so much the diversity of languages, which is obvious, as the resulting rapprochement for three great civilizations. If the three languages spoken in Switzerland were unimportant dialects, the international rôle of Switzerland would also be unimportant. It would be no more than a curiosity. But the fact that Switzerland speaks three of the most widely spoken languages in the world assures throughout the territory of the Confederation a contact between nations which, for political and moral reasons, often have difficulty in establishing direct relations. The task of Switzerland is to promote international good understanding and conciliation.


In the internal life of the country this mission is expressed by federalism. In Switzerland federalism is not a political form conceived by theorists; it is the result of historical evolution. It was born with the country and has grown in such a way as to meet the most important national necessities.

The Swiss Confederation was the result of a spontaneous generation. It was not formed, like most other European countries, upon an already existing basis or by the will of an individual or of a dynasty. Swiss history does not display this characteristic of a definite plan and a definite reasoning. It can perhaps be said that France was conceived much as she now is by a Louis XI or a Louis the XIV, but nothing of the sort can be said of Switzerland. When the three original cantons joined together they had no aim aside from the defense of their liberty. When they concluded alliances with neighboring cities, Lucerne, Zurich, Berne, they had no aim aside from the strengthening of their liberties. There was apparently at no time any idea of founding a country. Little by little Switzerland has grown, always by the same method of accretion.

Until 1847 Switzerland remained a pure Confederation of States, that is to say, she took five and a half centuries to make the step which the United States achieved at once.

If the example of Switzerland, which was greatly admired by the enlightened thinkers of the eighteenth century, served as an example to the founders of the American Republic, there is no doubt that the more highly perfected form of the American Government had a great influence upon the Swiss people in the middle of the nineteenth century. When the necessity of a common life, the encouragement of communications and transportation and the beginnings of industrial life constrained the twenty-two states of the Confederation to join more closely together in the form of a single state, it was in America that its founders sought models for their national institutions.

Through this double influence the Swiss and American Constitutions present striking analogies. But these institutions, far from being artificially imported, responded to national necessities and to tradition; that is why it was possible to adapt American institutions rather than to imitate them. The Swiss Constitution thus became an ingenious mixture of American and Swiss ideas. The exercise of executive power in the form of a Federal Council has no analogy in American experience, but the system of a Parliament of two houses and the establishment of the Council of States analogous to the American Senate had no precedent in Swiss history. This Constitution, born during the war of the Sonderbund, that is to say, in time of grave national crises, has been strong enough and elastic enough to permit a complete moral fusion of all the divers elements of the country.

From a religious point of view Switzerland is fairly evenly divided, Protestant elements being in a slight majority. From the ethnic and linguistic point of view the German-speaking Swiss make up about two-thirds of the population, the remainder being unequally divided between French, Italian and Romanche cantons. As regards both language and religion the cantons show great differences: the population of Geneva, Berne, Aargau, the Grisons and Appenzell is more or less divided between Catholics and Protestants; Berne, Fribourg, Valais, and the Grisons are cantons where the population is divided linguistically. However, this mixture has given rise to no real difficulties. The problems of language and religion, which so often lead to bitterness and violence, are met in Switzerland without real conflict as a result of mutual tolerance and by the good sense of the authorities.

After the World War certain elements in Switzerland hoped that federalism, an American doctrine, adapted to the needs of the European continent by the Swiss people, might serve as an example to other countries. Their mistake was that they desired to apply federalism as a prompt remedy for ancient racial and religious antagonisms, forgetting that the system had succeeded in Switzerland not as a remedy for conflicts but rather as an expression of good understanding. It took the Swiss people more than five hundred years to find a system responsive to their special needs. This system if applied arbitrarily to other races and other needs would probably give different results.

There are in Switzerland certain conditions, indispensable to the practice of real federalism, which are not always to be found elsewhere. There can be no real federal state except when all elements of the people are united by a common patriotism. If there is no diversity federalism is unnecessary. If there is no common patriotism, federalism is dangerous because it is bound to result in the separatism of certain elements. Useful lessons can be learned by all countries from the experience of Switzerland, but the Swiss system can hardly be applied integrally to other situations. Some other remedy must be found for the problem of minorities which undoubtedly presents serious dangers for the future,--at least until a better understanding and a coöperative interest exists between them.


The expression of the interior life of Switzerland is to be found in federalism. The expression of its international position is to be found in neutrality.

Federalism was not born in a day nor founded upon the will of a single man. The same is true of Swiss neutrality. It was evolved slowly in the course of centuries from the same causes which gave birth to the Confederation itself. Its origin dates from the first years of the sixteenth century when the cities of Basel and Schaffhausen secured admission to the Confederation under the express condition that they would not take part in the quarrels dividing the cantons and that they would always remain neutral. These quarrels were at that time the struggles of the cities against the country, but in time the cause of the quarrels changed and attention was centered on the struggle between Protestants and Catholics. The neutrality which Basel and Schaffhausen had undertaken to keep had a purely internal character. The federal pacts, however, did not prevent the different cantons from acquiring alliances with foreign states; quite naturally the Protestants allied themselves with certain powers, the Catholics with others. Basel and Schaffhausen therefore remained neutral between these powers. Such is the origin of the institution of neutrality.

As internal dissensions continued to grow more and more acute, the Diet, which was composed of the representatives of all the cantons, was unable to adopt any firm attitude as between its members, with the result that whereas each of the cantons, with the exception of Basel and Schaffhausen, carried on an independent foreign policy, sometimes of a violent character, the Swiss Confederation as such could adopt no foreign policy. As a result the Confederation occupied the position of a neutral country.

This curious incapacity characterized the policy of the Confederation during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and especially during the Thirty Years' War. Switzerland was not in a position to take any stand as regards the Catholic and Protestant powers struggling for the domination of Germany, and when at the end of the Thirty Years' War her independence was recognized by the Congress of Westphalia, it was upon the basis of a perpetual neutrality. This principle dominated Swiss policies during the latter part of the old régime.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century this policy underwent a radical transformation, which its authors did not always understand. During the Napoleanic régime neutrality became a word without meaning which France used as it liked. After the fall of Napoleon the general interest of the victorious Powers and of the Swiss Confederation was to restore to Switzerland its real neutrality. It was thus that the Congress of Vienna decided that the neutrality of Switzerland should be guaranteed by the Allied Powers.

In order to be effective, neutrality of this sort must meet a double need, that of the neutralized power itself and that of the guarantors. Swiss neutrality fulfilled this double condition more than any of the examples of perpetual neutrality which were afterward established on the same model. The Swiss people looked upon this neutrality as an essential safeguard. They understood, in the light of history, that they could not undertake to carry on an active foreign policy without the risk of dissensions and disruption. The Allied Powers on their side felt that Switzerland, occupying a decisive strategic position, could not be allowed to fall into the hands of any one Power without threatening the continental equilibrium. Swiss neutrality thereby became the keystone of the political system of the balance of power on which rested the treaties of Vienna. The interest of the Powers in Swiss neutrality was sufficient to impel them to accept broad sacrifices. In order to assure the neutrality of Switzerland, the Allies restored her former frontiers and even extended them in certain places in order to enable the country to defend itself and to hold its territory against any adversary.

It seems doubtful whether at the time it was understood how profound a transformation the idea of neutrality had undergone by the fact that a purely voluntary neutrality had become a matter of contract and, from having been a purely political question, it now became a juridical question. Even at the present time this distinction is not always clearly understood. A great many still continue to affirm that Swiss neutrality is voluntary; that it is recognized but not guaranteed; and that consequently it in no way effects the sovereignty of the country. In other words they have not recognized that a fundamental change took place in 1815.

This misunderstanding had its effects on the policy of Switzerland during the nineteenth century. By a curious contradiction Switzerland has always interpreted its neutrality in a restrictive way but in practice has extended its effects. Swiss jurists have strongly affirmed the rights of the neutralized state and minimized the rights of the guarantors. They have eliminated from the idea of neutrality everything which might appear as a limitation of national sovereignty. But at the same time the Federal Council has always taken extreme care to avoid coming into conflict with any foreign state, to maintain a strictly impartial balance between all the neighbors of Switzerland, in a word to avoid doing the things which the jurists have always maintained were permitted. Now and then the opinion is voiced in the country that this interpretation of neutrality goes far beyond the real obligations and the real interests of the Confederation, but there is no avoiding the fact that the scrupulous practice of neutrality by the Swiss Government has given it a wide reputation for good faith and a moral position which the most skilful diplomacy would never have achieved.

Like all human institutions, neutrality has had for Switzerland good and bad effects. The good effects of neutrality are especially manifested in international relations. It is this neutrality which permitted the foundation of the Red Cross at Geneva in 1864 and its extension in 1906, and there is no disputing the fact that the Red Cross, which has done so much during the wars of the last half century, has greatly increased the prestige and influence of Switzerland. From 1914 to 1918 the international committee of the Red Cross and the organization for the care of prisoners of war which it created, made it possible for Switzerland to render to the world services which are still fresh in our minds. It is impossible to say what would have happened if these organizations had not existed, but it is safe to say that they served as an efficacious safeguard for the Confederation. Not only did they place all the belligerents under obligations to respect Swiss territory but, furthermore, they imposed upon the Allies a moral duty to assist the feeding of the country. The Red Cross was in its origin a purely disinterested and humanitarian institution, but indirectly it contributed greatly during the war to ameliorating the position of the Swiss people, shut in between four belligerent powers and in a situation of extreme difficulty. This is a comforting instance of good acts bringing their own reward.

The central position of the Confederation, the general confidence which it inspired and its impartial attitude during the whole war had their effect and the territory of the Confederation became a refuge for the immigrants of all countries. It had long been considered the natural seat for numerous international organizations such as the International Postal Union, the International Telegraphic Union and the International Bureau for the Protection of Industrial Property. At the end of the war the prestige of Switzerland, its established neutrality and its recognized aloofness from foreign conflicts led to the establishment on its soil of the League of Nations.

We have said, however, that neutrality has had other less desirable effects. It has caused the Swiss people to lose interest in world politics. Unconsciously, the idea has gained ground that Switzerland cannot, under any circumstances, become directly involved in European events. The Swiss press, instead of discussing European events from a purely national point of view, has come to discuss them as from a distance. Before the war the Swiss press gave an impression that it was considering what went on in Europe from some distant part of the world and, as a result, the war found the Swiss people without any real practical preparation. Under the impression that Switzerland was not directly interested in these events, the different groups of the population accepted more or less passively the ideas which came to them from the countries at war. The German-speaking Swiss took their cue from Germany, the French-speaking Swiss instinctively gave rein to their French sympathies. It was the same in the Ticino, where the people speak Italian. And, on account of this very impartiality of which the Swiss people boasted, it found itself in a sense divided against itself. But the talk during the war of the chasm between the German Swiss and the French Swiss was an exaggeration. There never was any real chasm because the Swiss were never really divided as to the policies to be followed and as to the real interests of their country. There never was any doubt as to the attitude which the Swiss people would have adopted, unanimously, if the country had been attacked from any side. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Swiss were greatly divided in opinion as to the moral issues of the war and as to the repercussions which the war might have on their country.

It is thus that neutrality indirectly rendered more difficult the entry of Switzerland into the League of Nations. Some Swiss writers point out that this is a rather paradoxical result when it is remembered that the purpose of neutrality is the maintenance of peace, which is also the aim of the League of Nations. But a part of the Swiss people, carrying to a logical extreme the consequences of neutrality, felt an instinctive dread of any foreign commitments. It was only after a real struggle that the country decided to enter the League. This necessarily obliged the Confederation to abandon some measure of its traditional isolation. Furthermore, some elements which had sympathized with the German cause looked upon the League of Nations as nothing more than an organization for the application of the peace treaties and felt that the entry of the country into the League was a complete abandonment of Swiss neutrality.

The Federal Government declared to the Council of the League of Nations at that body's first meetings that it would be unable to ask the Swiss people to join the League unless there could be found some method for making full reservations for the neutrality of Switzerland. It was not easy to reconcile the League of Nations, whose aim it is to group together the peaceful states against any turbulent state which may trouble world peace, and perpetual neutrality, which seeks to permit a given state to remain eternally at peace, regardless of events. However, the Council of the League of Nations saw that a refusal on the part of Switzerland to join the League would have very serious consequences in Europe. Coming after the refusal of the United States, it would have meant that two of the countries most sincerely concerned with peace had remained aloof from the institution which was set up to assure it. For this reason the Council of the League of Nations, in its meeting at London in 1920, agreed under certain conditions to confirm the neutrality of Switzerland as instituted by the treaties of Vienna.

There is no escaping the fact that there is a profound difference between Swiss neutrality as originally conceived and practiced in the course of the nineteenth century and Swiss neutrality as it exists today in the League of Nations--a difference not only quantitative but qualitative as well. If a new war broke out on the Continent, for example, Switzerland could not avoid the economic consequences of the collective measures taken by the League of Nations; she would have only a strictly limited right to refrain from furnishing military aid and to refuse the use of her territory for military operations.

Be that as it may, Switzerland undoubtedly occupies a special situation in the League of Nations. Less affected than others by political conflicts, she has been able on various occasions to exercise an effective moderating influence. Her support of the humanitarian efforts of the League, her avowed aversion toward treaties of guarantee and in a general way toward measures which might involve the League in complications, have enabled the Swiss delegation to the Assembly to speak not only on behalf of the Swiss people, but also on behalf of a current of public opinion prevalent in all parts of the world.


Fortunately the needs of Switzerland are in agreement with the general interests of Europe. They might be described as two things which are in reality only one--the balance of power and peace.

In the course of recent years a great deal of criticism has been directed against the European balance of power. This is perhaps because of the fact that the real significance of the term has not been well understood. The balance of power does not mean that the Great Powers of Europe must always be armed to the teeth ready to attack each other, it means simply that Europe fears the results of hegemony and cannot permit any one power to dominate the others. It is essential that a coalition of countries shall always be stronger than any single power. Whenever this condition ceases to exist, a single power is able to dictate to the others, that is to say to the whole world. The balance of power is therefore a condition essential to liberty and the maintenance of peace.

Switzerland is placed between three of the greatest powers of the Continent and cannot really be independent if any one of these powers is able to dominate the others. This was the case in the time of Napoleon. There were indications of a similar situation just before the outbreak of the Great War. Historical experience has shown that there is no liberty for Switzerland unless there is a reasonable balance between her neighbors. On the other hand, it may be said that any power which controls the St. Gotthard politically and militarily can impose its will upon the whole continent. Switzerland is in a strategic position, similar to that of Belgium. These are the strategic points of Europe and for this reason it is impossible that they should be allowed to fall into the hands of any one Great Power.

If the balance of power is necessary to Switzerland and to Europe, peace, which is essential to the balance of power, is still more necessary. It was said recently in the course of discussions over the protocol of Geneva that there is no British interest more important than peace. This formula may be applied accurately to all countries, but to none more accurately than to Switzerland. Shut in between Great Powers which are bound to be involved in any important war, without any outlet to the sea, Switzerland must necessarily feel the effects of any European conflict. During the Great War she was subject to difficulties which have not been forgotten. She has had a very clear vision of the fate which awaits her if a new war breaks out.

But peace is not a passive interest. Peace cannot be assured by the will for peace. There must be active work for peace. Peace can no longer suggest inactivity, it can only be the effect of an effort toward a definite end. Switzerland, which has so great an interest in the maintenance of peace, realizes that she must collaborate effectively to maintain it.

The real need of the present time is collaboration, and through her geographical and moral situation which have here been outlined Switzerland can facilitate this collaboration as effectively as any other country. To realize this it is enough to study the Swiss economic position. Here is a very small country which has less than four million inhabitants and which is far too greatly industrialized for its powers of absorption. As a result Switzerland produces large numbers of skilled workmen and very few unskilled laborers. This leads to a double consequence. The first is that the home market is not great enough to support the national industry, which is obliged to export on a large scale; the second is that Switzerland is obliged to bring in large numbers of foreign laborers to do the work that its own people are no longer willing to do and in return she is obliged to send abroad a large number of skilled workmen.

This is not a theoretical question. The essential Swiss interests are definitely threatened by the wave of protectionism through-out the world. This protectionism is only one of the consequences of the war, or rather of the general fear that peace is not adequately secured. There is a feeling in Switzerland that other peoples are barricading themselves behind prohibitive tariffs in order to guarantee their complete economic independence in time of war, that through fear of real war an economic war has been declared and that in this situation the Swiss people cannot live and prosper.

There is a close relation between the interests of Switzerland and those of Europe. For this reason in times of crisis Switzerland has always been able to lean upon the pacific Powers, more especially upon the distant and disinterested ones. In 1815 she had the help of the Czar and of England, and later of England alone; during the last war it was England and the United States.

This is not the result of haphazard choice but of essential necessity. For this reason the Swiss people are not disposed to change their attitude; they could not even if they would. Switzerland has a European rôle to fill but she can fill it only by working with the Powers which have the same interests, that is to say, with distant Powers, and among them the United States. This is the lesson of the past and of the present.

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