All for Swiss-style governments: Gregory Fossedal, author of 'Direct Democracy in Switzerland', strongly advocates the Swiss style of government worldwide. He deliberates over the issue with Swiss News.

AuteurMaupin, Michael
Fonction Feature

Gregory Fossedal is the chairman of the Alexis de Toequeville Institution, a research foundation in Washington, D.C. and has recently authored 'Direct Democracy in Switzerland'. He makes a strong case for the introduction of the Swiss style of government in other Western European countries, the United States and many of the globe's nascent democracies. Fossedal shares his views on the benefits and viability of direct democracy and how and why it should be implemented elsewhere in the world.

Swiss News: In a survey conducted by 'Die Zeit' newspaper in Germany in 2002, the Swiss were ranked as the happiest among their Western European and North American counter. parts. The main reasons cited for their happiness were their high degree of freedom and satisfaction with their direct democracy (DD) governmental system. Even in 1975, the Gallup polling institution came up with similar results and for the same reasons, In your view, is there any such real correlation between government and happiness?

Gregory Fossedal: Yes, because politics, as Aristotle said, is "the highest art". When people ask me to speak about Switzerland's system, in the US and elsewhere, one of the first questions normally asked is, "granted that the Swiss make this system work, isn't it too advanced for others?",

If there is one central message of my book, it is that statecraft is possible--that institutions shape what is possible and what people are capable of. In other words, the "are the people here 'ready'?" question has it backwards. Switzerland, by these standards, was not "ready" for direct democracy in the 19th and even 20th centuries. But having it made them ready created the most advanced, responsible citizens in the world.

There are, of course, many causes of Swiss social and economic happiness. But in my opinion, one of the central ones is direct democracy (referendum and initiative, both critical, but the latter, especially important). It is the one thing that is most distinctive about Switzerland's political system and animates much of the rest.

On the "happiness of man"--spiritually speaking-I believe, is a question of what mankind is, and what men and women believe they are and think they are. Who created us, and why; how should we relate to that personality or force, and, to paraphrase Woody Allen, "if there is a God, why is he such an underachiever"? (By way of full disclosure, I'm a Roman Catholic by conversion; but my favourite church, I must admit, is one on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. that periodically posts a banner, "Sinners welcome".)

If my ideas about direct democracy are right, it may well lead us to a higher level of material, political, and social happiness. But at the end, as my book intimates, you are still left with those higher moral, philosophical, and religious questions. The best that direct democracy or any other political institution can do is clear some of the clutter and clatter of daily events out of the way. Precisely because it has advanced so far politically, I believe Switzerland--or to be more precise, the Swiss--will probably, in the coming years, have to face some of those ultimate issues more directly.

In your most recent book, 'Direct Democracy in Switzerland', you make the plea for the introduction of direct democracy In other Western European countries and the US, claiming that the US is "most ready" for such a "venture." How so? And what would the US have to gain with direct democracy?

"Plea" might be a little strong. To me, direct democracy, is a highly likely evolutionary advance in the existing democracies and a likely innovation even in emerging democracies. Indeed, it is already in place not only in Switzerland, but also in several dozen other countries, to a much more limited extent--including the US (in about half our states) and the emerging EU constitution and expansion process.

In part, then, my book is intended as something of a guidebook to statesmen in other countries, regarding a trend that Tocqueville called...

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