I have a quick question for the two people [Editor: That is Brian Beedham and Gregory Fossedal] who spoke about the Swiss system. And I’m wondering whether the Swiss parliament is, is trying to chip away at the Swiss I&R [Editor: initiative and referendum] system the way state legislatures in the states are chipping away at our I&R system. And if they aren’t, why aren’t they there when they are here?
This is a very important question, and in my experience, no, there isn’t, there isn’t the kind of extremely determined, if disconnected, effort that you see in the states. There’s constant efforts to circumvent or elude the system. For example, when Swiss elites wanted the Swiss to join the European Union (EU) earlier in the 1990s, there was great suspicion by the People precisely because the, the parlimentarians and the government tried to secure entry into the EU without having to go through the referendum. So there was, there was a quick “no” vote.
In other words, every time the parliament tried to touch it, it gets burned. And that’s because the Swiss have now established it top-to-bottom, horizontally and vertically a direct democracy. And, so there’s very little effort to question it. Mind you, the attitude of many Swiss leaders is: they’d like to get rid of these encumberances. It’s interesting, by the way, that, to note that among the Swiss, contrary to our historical fears—and those are the framers, that the population will be this capricious body causing us to leap on the Bill of Rights, in the Swiss system, the People have been much more of a check on the innovations that the leaders would like to impose rather than leaping off in their own direction.
But the most, one of the most refreshing things I’ve found in Switzerland, and I’ll leave it at this, is that by the acceptance that now after 100 years of national initiative, by the acceptance of that process as a fact of life on the part of Swiss leaders, the overwhelming majority of Swiss leaders, the relationship between the elites and the People is closer and more respectful than in any other society I’ve seen, including ours. And I don’t just mean lip service.
Tocqueville spoke about People using democracy as a lever. When you hear people in Congress refer to what People want, it’s a lever to lobby what they want through, with their fellow representatives. There’s, I heard Swiss business leaders, members of the Green Party, members of the pro-military faction and the anti-military faction uniformly, when describing votes that they have lost, explain not that People were wrong, not that they had failed to communicate, not that the media had distorted their message, but the first words out of many of their mouths were, “Well, we were wrong because…the People voted against them therefore their vision must have been wrong.” I heard that over and over, and it was one of the most impressive things to me. You remember the great statement of Bill Buckley: “I’d rather be ruled by 100 people from the Boston telephone book than by the faculty of Harvard.” I think there’s even a more democratic extension of that which is: “I’d rather be ruled by the Boston telephone book than by myself or my own preferences.”