Swiss Democracy: Possible Solutions to Conflict in Multicultural Societies / Edition 3

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The features of Swiss democracy are frequently praised in theory but rarely assessed in practice. In this revised and updated third edition of Swiss Democracy Wolf Linder explains the way government and politics work in Switzerland. Combining the essence of many empirical studies with his own observations, and giving illustrative examples, the author thoroughly analyzes the institutions of federalism and consensus democracy through political power sharing. With the critical eye of a political scientist, Linder examines the scope and limits of the citizen's participation in direct democracy, which distinguishes Switzerland from most parliamentary systems.

The value of this book goes beyond describing Switzerland and its political integration of different languages, religions and cultures. Analyzing the nature of Swiss politics, Linder shows how federalism and political power-sharing could help to resolve political conflict in other multicultural societies and to integrate different communities.

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Editorial Reviews

Linder (political science, U. of Bern) first analyzes the institutions of federalism and consensus democracy through political power-sharing, and then analyzes the scope and limits of citizens' participation in direct democracy--which distinguishes Switzerland most from parliamentary systems--showing how federalism and political power- sharing could help to resolve political conflict in other multicultural societies and to integrate different communities. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From the Publisher

Reviews of the Second Edition:

"The real value of the book lies in its critical dissection of features of Swiss democracy that are frequently praised in theory but rarely assessed in practice. Linder shows that behind its apparent populist democracy lurks the power of interest groups. So he makes a contribution to thought about democracy which could have significant lessons for countries seeking to be democratic." -- G.W. Jones, Professor of Government, London School of Economics, University of London, UK

"Linder is not the first author trying to explain the Swiss system to foreigners. But he uniquely combines three features: a sound and comprehensive scientific bse, the personal competence of combining theoretical knowledge with the insights of practical political life, and the ability to ask critical questions on the way Swiss institutions work" --Rene Levy, Professor of Sociology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

"Wolf Linder's Swiss Democracy blends theoretical analysis with descriptive facility so as to present a vivid portrait of what is distinctive about the Swiss political system. It poses original questions which students are encouraged to ponder in comparative perspective to other systems." --Arnold J. Heidenheimer, Professor of Political Science, Washington University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230231894
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 5/15/2010
  • Edition description: Third Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

WOLF LINDER is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and former Director of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern, Switzerland. His main research field is Swiss politics. Linder worked as an expert for national and international agencies in developing countries for questions of institutional power sharing, federalism and decentralization.

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Table of Contents

List of Boxes x

List of Figures and Tables xi

Preface to the Third Edition xiii

Preface to the Second Edition (1999) xv

Foreword to the First Edition xvi

Introduction to the First Edition xviii

1 Building a Multicultural Society by Political Integration 1

1.1 Introduction 1

1.2 The origins of modern Switzerland 5

1.3 Turning poor odds to good, or factors that made Swiss nation-building a success 14

1.3.1 Economy 15

1.3.2 Pressure from the outside 15

1.3.3 Democracy and social values 17

1.3.4 The combining of democracy with federalism 18

1.4 Religious and ethnic minorities from coexistence to pluralism 21

1.4.1 Political Catholicism: From segmentation to integration 21

1.4.2 Multilingualism: Understandings and misunderstandings 25

1.4.3 The Jura - The exception to integration 28

1.5 The challenges of socioeconomic inequality 30

1.5.1 A working class without a homeland 30

1.5.2 From class struggle to economic partnership 32

1.6 Proportional representation: The universal key to power-sharing 34

1.7 The limits of Swiss pluralism - New challenges for integration 37

1.8 Conclusion 40

2 Federalism 43

2.1 Institutions 43

2.1.1 The Swiss interpretation of federalism 43

2.1.2 The division of powers between the federation and the cantons 45

2.1.3 Non-centralisation - Not decentralisation 45

2.1.4 Relations between the federation and the cantons 48

2.2 Federalist elements in the decision-making process 49

2.2.1 A bicameral legislature 49 Election to the National Council and the Council of States 49 Bicameral lawmaking 51

2.2.2 The people's and the cantons' vote 54

2.2.3 Local government: The corner stone of the Swiss 'bottom-up' state 55

2.2.4 Citizens' self-administration 58

2.3 Federalism at work 60

2.3.1 Cooperative federalism: How federal tasks are implemented by cantons and communes 60

2.3.2 How a deadlock over a federal programme allows experiments: The energy-saving policies of the cantons 62

2.3.3 How federalism copes with inequalities: The example of Swiss primary schools 66

2.3.4 Swiss federalism means regional solidarity, not competition 67

2.3.5 Dealing with the separatist issue: The dolorous birth of a new canton 72

2.4 The limits of Swiss federalism 75

2.4.1 Limits of implementation: Why some foreigners can buy real estate in Switzerland and others can not 75

2.4.2 The weakness of federal authorities, or how a canton can deny human rights to its citizens 77

2.5 Challenges 81

2.5.1 Federalism vs democracy: Why one citizen from Uri outweighs 34 citizens from Zurich, or to what extent is federalism compatible with democracy? 81

2.5.2 Urban regions - The lost dimension in Swiss federalism 85

2.5.3 The external challenge: Federalism in a period of globalisation 87

2.5.4 The internal challenge or: Why the Swiss want to preserve federalism 90

3 Direct Democracy 92

3.1 Introduction: The vote to abolish the Swiss army 92

3.2 Institutions, historical development and meanings of direct democracy 93

3.2.1 Obligatory and optional referenda 93

3.2.2 The popular initiative 95

3.2.3 Direct and semi-direct democracy: Historical origins and development 95

3.3 A closer look at the referendum and the initiative 99

3.3.1 The issues 99

3.3.2 Direct democracy's role in political agenda-setting 100

3.3.3 The use of referenda and initiatives 101

3.3.4 'Braking' referenda and 'innovating' initiatives - Two different devices of direct democracy 103 The braking effect of the referendum 103 The innovating effect of the popular initiative 107

3.4 Participation in direct democracy 109

3.4.1 The deciding majority, or who are the people? 109

3.4.2 Regular voters, occasional participants and abstentionists 111

3.5 The people between knowledge, trust and propaganda 115

3.5.1 Example of a vote: Should there be tougher restrictions on refugees seeking asylum in Switzerland? 115

3.5.2 Shaping opinions in a voting campaign: The actors 118

3.5.3 Are voters capable to decide on high policy? Theory and the Swiss experience 120

3.5.4 The role of the political parties and their campaign 122

3.5.5 Can money and propaganda buy votes? 123

3.6 Conclusions 124

3.6.1 Semi-direct democracy - An exceptional system 124

3.6.2 Direct democracy between integration and polarisation 125

3.6.3 The political culture of direct democracy - Particularities and limits 126

4 Consensus Democracy: The Swiss System of Power-Sharing 128

4.1 The development of Swiss consensus democracy 128

4.1.1 The impacts of the referendum on the composition of the government 129

4.1.2 Impacts on the legislative process 130

4.2 The system of power-sharing: Actors and the political process 133

4.2.1 The actors and their functions 133

4.2.2 The legislation process: The policy cycle 135

4.3 The features of power-sharing 140

4.3.1 The main characteristics of political compromise: No single winner takes all, everybody wins something 140

4.3.2 The technique of political compromise: Compensations that transform conflict from zero-sum to positive-sum games 142

4.3.3 Cooperation, trust and deliberative learning processes 142

4.3.4 Political elitism and its limits 143

4.4 The critics of Swiss consensus democracy 143

4.4.1 The referendum as an instrument of vested interests 143

4.4.2 Inequalities of influence 144

4.4.3 Lack of innovation? 145

4.5 Consensus democracy under stress 146

4.5.1 Political polarisation and the 'Konkordanz' crisis 2008 146

4.5.2 Power-sharing in a polarised parliament 147

4.5.3 The pressure of globalisation 148

4.6 Conclusions 149

4.6.1 Swiss democracy - An exceptional system 149

4.6.2 Who has more influence on politics: The British or the Swiss Voter? - or: The trade-off between elections and direct participation 152

4.6.3 Consensus democracy - Its past and its future 154

5 Comparative Perspectives 158

5.1 Direct democracy 158

5.1.1 Experiences of direct democracy compared 158

5.1.2 The practice of direct democracy in US states and Switzerland: Similarities and differences 162

5.1.3 The theory of direct democracy: Between ideal and reality 168 Direct vs representative democracy 168 'Sensible' or 'semi-direct' democracy - A third model? 169 Perspectives of direct participation 172

5.2 Federalism 174

5.2.1 The essentials of federalist institutions 174

5.2.2 Federalism: A structure, a process and a political culture 176

5.2.3 Modern meanings of federalism 179 Cultural autonomy and difference 179 Federalism in times of globalisation 180 Federalism in developing countries 181 Federalism as a guarantee for cultural difference and diversity 182 Federalism and democracy 185 The question of secession 186

5.2.4 Non-territorial federalism 189

5.3 Power-sharing and consensus democracy 191

5.3.1 Majoritarian and consensus democracy: A comparison 191

5.3.2 Democratic power-sharing: A key to resolving conflicts in multicultural societies 195

5.4 Epilogue 201

5.4.1 Switzerland's future in the process of globalisation 201

5.4.2 Swiss democracy: Export model or subject of dialogue? 204

Notes 207

Bibliography 224

Index 237

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