Did you know the Swiss lost direct democracy once?

The Swiss had to fight to get direct democracy, and when they lost it they had to fight again to get it back.

There is something special the Swiss did to get to where they are today; the most democratic and developed country in the whole World. Switzerland was not always so.

It helped the Swiss their tradition in towns and villages to decide by a show of hands. They do that since the Middle Ages. But deciding by a show of hands in the town’s square is not unique to Switzerland. For example, in the early American colonies of New England the people made decisions the same way.

Keep also in mind another fact about Switzerland; far from the extraordinary country it is today, in 1848 the Swiss had a civil war. And it was not an “ordinary” civil war. In the Swiss war, Catholics fought against Protestants, ugly stuff. Notice this is almost 100 years after the American War of Independence! Not a model of stability.

Switzerland’s civil war was very far from the current consensus politics the Swiss now practice like nobody else.

Such evolution shows you countries can grow. Sometimes countries “grow” backwards too.

The 1848 Civil War did not give Swiss voters the right to have the final say on laws and the constitution. They have such right now because they worked to get it, nobody gave it to them.

In Switzerland they did not have referendums until 1874. Let us remember also; referendums in Switzerland take place when the people decide or the laws prescribes, not when the government wants to. Referendums allow the citizens to reject laws approved by their elected representatives.

The right Swiss citizens have to change the constitution came even later, in 1891.

You may not know the Swiss people lost direct democracy during WW II, but they did, and almost forever, and not because of Hitler.

They lost direct democracy because of the war. The Swiss government was granted special powers. After the War was over, neither the government nor the parliamentarians wanted to go back to direct democracy. I suppose they enjoyed the power, or perhaps I am being too cynical.

To get direct democracy back, the Swiss people had to protest and protest. The citizens launched a movement in 1946; “Return to direct democracy”. 3 years later they were able to have a referendum. They voted, and it passed, but just by a 0.7% margin! This means direct democracy almost went back into oblivion. That is where it was for millennia since the collapse of Greek direct democracy.

Fighting for direct democracy is to be expected. For example, in a recent post I wrote about the people of Taiwan and how they had to organize demonstrations to bring direct democracy into their country.

Often happens that elected representatives are not interested in direct democracy. It could be because they lose power, or it could be because they believe representative democracy is better.

Politicians and others may say “direct democracy does not work because…”, “Switzerland is too different from us”, and other reasons we listed in a previous post.

We know ordinary citizens are interested in direct democracy. We know this because many surveys show it.

Although the people of Switzerland can stop any local, cantonal or national law that the politicians have approved, 90% the laws passed by Swiss parliaments are not challenged by citizens in referendums.

I believe that is because the Swiss governments and parliamentarians are attuned to what voters want, precisely because of the “threat” of a referendum.

To wrap it up; Switzerland practices direct democracy because they fought and continue to fight for it. It is not because some special factor has made Switzerland innately predisposed towards direct democracy.

Everyone has to start at the beginning. Perhaps you can attend meetings at the local municipality and learn first hand how the current system works, start a local direct democracy group, etc.

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