Pride – a permanent feature in the Worry Barometer survey – is often done an injustice. It is, by itself, a noble emotion, not at all blind to weaknesses. However, the term is frequently used incorrectly. Strictly speaking, pride can only be ascribed to one’s own merits or the merits of an associated person, provided there is some degree of involvement in said merits or accomplishments. In contrast, pride in a state of affairs to which one has not contributed is not pride, but arrogance.
Any form of national pride is therefore not true pride, but rather chauvinism – at least in most cases, since only very few people in this day and age can claim to have decisively helped to shape the country they live in. Being born in Switzerland should not fill one with pride, but rather gratitude. It is also mistaken to take pride in the unique characteristics of Switzerland, which are supposedly responsible, in large part, for the success of our country. These include its firmly rooted federalism, direct democracy, the militia system and citizen involvement in Swiss politics.
The Luxury Problem: Density Stress
The problem with this misunderstood pride is that it tends to mystify the status quo and in so doing makes it harder to make sober assessments. Over the last few years, Switzerland has done very well with its political institutions. The economic crisis that shook many European countries to their foundations had little impact on Switzerland, though it is experiencing the luxury problem of heavy immigration and professed density stress. It makes sense to see our institutions as the cause of this success. However, it would be wrong to celebrate these institutions in their current, unchanged form as a guarantor of continued success. After all, at the end of the 1990s certain voices named precisely these institutions as the possible culprits for the economic downturn at that time.
Admittedly, two very important reforms, the Internal Market Act (1996) and the Financial Equalization Reform NFA (2008), have been implemented since then. But the challenges have not become fewer:
Switzerland is still organized on a very small scale. 8.1 million inhabitants are distributed over 26 cantons and 2,350 municipalities. Competencies are therefore being increasingly shifted away from local or municipal governments to the cantons, and from the cantons to the federal government, making a mockery of the advantages that one would expect from a small-scale approach – including, first and foremost, decentralized decision-making.
Most political offices in Switzerland, especially at the municipal or cantonal level, are filled on a part-time basis. Its much-lauded militia system is under pressure due to social changes (increased mobility, challenging career paths, increasingly complex assignments and duties).
Direct democracy is stretched thin because the hurdles to obtaining the signatures required to submit initiatives and referendums have fallen dramatically. Increasing international interconnectedness begs the question of how to deal with the relationship between domestic and international law. Initiatives no longer represent a necessary counterforce to the parliamentary process, but rather degenerate into popular absolutism, which often breaches the principle of a reasonable exercise of power and thereby restricts the freedom of individuals more than is necessary for achieving common goals.
Switzerland’s autonomy – to the extent this can also be seen as a political institution – is to be welcomed and defended without restraint. However, it must be clear that autonomy is not synonymous with isolation or a lack of willingness to work together, but rather with sovereignty.
For all the gratification we may take in the past successes of Switzerland’s political institutions, it is necessary to maintain a pragmatic relationship with them. False pride makes us blind and unable to make necessary adjustments. We should be happy that we were born into a country with such a high standard of living, and do everything we can to make sure that this standard is maintained in the future.
The article appeared in the publication «Swiss Compass» on December 2014.