Science was a sacred cow in the United States in the 1950’s. The words “Science says . . . ” came with all the force of an imperial command. Pluralism has taken on the same status in the late 1980’s. As soon as the words “Our pluralistic society will not permit . . . ” are uttered, Nativity scenes are dismantled, Christmas vacation becomes Winter Holiday, and a moment of silence in public schools is no longer merely a vain illusion but a prohibited sin against pluralism. But say “Our pluralistic society requires . . . ” and homosexual activists receive affirmative action support for job demands, parents need not be notified of a minor daughter’s intention to abort their grandchild, and Rotary Clubs and saunas are gleichgeschaltet into unisex. Whether or not one endorses pluralism seems to be a litmus test for whether one is persona grata in the modern world.
But what is pluralism? One of evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s most articulate successors, Pastor Erwin Lutzer of Chicago’s Moody Church, calls it “one of the myths that could destroy America.” But English scholar Os Guinness, a Fellow of The Brookings Institute, an associate of the late Francis Schaeffer, and no less evangelical than Lutzer, lauds the United States in contrast to Britain because of our pluralism (as he understands it). We have no established church in the United States, in contrast to Britain, yet Christianity is more vital and has a greater influence on life in America than in formally Anglican Britain. Whose evaluation of pluralism is correct? It all depends on what we mean by pluralism. In a chapter entitled “Value Pluralism and Its Consequences,” Austrian economists Christof Gaspari and Hans Millendorfer write: “As has been shown, socio-hierarchical systems require . . . the definition of a goal that more or less directly serves to realize a model of fulfilled human life. This implies, however, that the individuals who sustain such a social unit are committed to an accepted common model and that in such a unit there must be a basic consensus about the way to structure a fulfilled life.”
Gaspari and Millendorfer distinguish between pluralism of method and value pluralism. Where a consensus of values prevails, freedom and variety can reign in the methods by which those values are furthered. But where no consensus concerning fundamental values exists, the system becomes disoriented. If pluralism simply means that different cultures, ethnic groups, religious and political affiliations can productively exist side by side, then the oldest functioning democracy, Switzerland, offers a fine example thereof. But if pluralism means fundamental disagreement about basic ideals and values—what Gaspari and Millendorfer mean by value pluralism—then Switzerland is not pluralistic at all. If any country in Europe could have a reason to be pluralistic, Switzerland would seem to be it. Switzerland has a population of six and one-half million, spread over a territory of 16,000 square miles—most of them steeply inclined. Those 16,000 square miles are divided into 25—more recently, 26—”sovereign” cantons—which are a great deal more sovereign than the individual states in our federal system. (Canton Jura split off from Bern a few years ago, over linguistic and religious differences that had produced at least a little violence.) Switzerland calls itself a confederation, and it really is much more federal than the United States. Income taxes, for example, are paid something like 45 percent to one’s township, 45 percent to one’s canton, and 10 percent to the Bund, the Swiss federal government (like everything else in Switzerland, this varies from canton to canton, but the pattern is relatively constant all over Switzerland).
Six and one-half million people speak four languages, three of which they share with much larger neighbors: German (70+ percent), French (20+ percent), Italian (5 percent), and a derivative of Latin called Romanch (about 50,000 people). The “German” element reads and writes standard German but speaks something called Swiss German, which is at least as different from German as Italian is from Spanish. “Let’s go see if there is anything to eat,” in German is: “Gehen wir schauen, ob es etwas zu essengibt,” but in Swiss German: “Gommer goh luege, ob’s oppis z’aesse hett” (or something similar, depending on the canton).
Until recently, Switzerland had a slight Protestant majority, belonging to the state-supported Reformed Church (launched by Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich and John Calvin in Geneva, but a far cry from their ideals today). In recent years, thanks to a higher Catholic birthrate and to the large number of Catholic “guest workers,” Catholics have become the majority. Jews, members of independent Protestant churches and of other groups such as the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and religiously unaffiliated citizens comprise a very small but growing minority. There are a few cantons that are almost exclusively Catholic, several that have a strong Protestant majority, and several that are rather equally divided. Religious tensions still exist, despite the ecumenical movement. Protestant Klosters yet remember how the Catholic Austrians burned the parish church and much of the town in the Thirty Years War (1620), and the town manifests a ritualistic but perceptible anti-Catholicism. The Forest Cantons of central Switzerland, Luzern, Schwyz, Ob-and Nidwalden, and Uri still remember how they slew the Reformer Zwingli in battle when he rashly tried to force them to accept Protestantism, and sometimes they act as though they would be willing to do it again today.
Politically, Switzerland is a multiparty society with the parties organized cantonally, so that not all parties exist in all cantons. It is a sincerely capitalized economy, but with a high level of social welfare, tightly controlled and supervised. Although there are great differences in relative wealth, poverty hardly exists, and class consciousness is not pronounced. Every physically fit Swiss man must serve in the military from age 20 to 50. In order to become an officer, one must first become a noncommissioned officer and pass through a series of special courses and extra tours of duty. M.D.’s, Ph.D.’s, bank directors, and university professors serve in the ranks unless and until they make the effort to complete the extra duty necessary to advance in grade. There is a small pacifist and conscientious objector movement, but the Swiss in general approve of their army.
Geographically, Switzerland looks as though it were formed by breaking little pieces off of France, Germany, Austria, and Italy. It has hardly any natural frontiers: Part of Basel is on the German side of the Rhine, virtually in Germany; the whole Canton of Schaffhausen is surrounded by Germany, except for a tiny piece; Geneva is virtually in France, and Samnaun in Austria. The whole Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino is south of the Alps and geographically might make more sense belonging to Italy.
If we look at countries where two languages are spoken, such as Belgium and Canada, we see how bitter and divisive linguistic rivalry can become. Switzerland has four, or even five. Linguistic divisions even exist within individual cantons: Fribourg, Valais, and parts of Bern have two languages, and the Grisons actually have three. In Northern Ireland, Protestant-Catholic animosity has produced years of virtual civil war, and Switzerland remains religiously divided. The mountaineers of Valais or the Grisons are as rustic as the Genevans and Baslers are sophisticated. During the Franco- Prussian War of 1870, the First World War, and even the Second, many Swiss strongly supported one belligerent, many the other. Most Americans associate Switzerland with French-speaking Geneva, but actually Switzerland is predominantly Germanic; during the First World War, most Swiss sympathized with the Central Powers, at least at first, and during the Second, Hitler exercised a great pull with his early political and military successes and his appeal to all the Germanic tribes to come “Heim ins Reich” (home to the Reich). There was even a bit of anti-Semitism, but the Confederation courageously followed the lead of French-speaking General Henri Guisan and presented a united front against Nazi threats as well as enticements. During and after World War II, virtually all Swiss adopted an anti-Nazi, anti-German attitude even to the point of sounding ostentatiously self-righteous. At least some Swiss intellectuals maintain a similar attitude today towards the United States and our military involvements, such as Vietnam, Central America, and the SDL Swiss politicians in general appreciate American firmness vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.
American foreign and economic policies since World War II have been dominated and rendered foolish by a kind of illusion of invulnerability. Not only do we allow virtually all foreign powers to attack us, literally or figuratively—our enemies because they are our enemies, our supposed allies because we don’t want to lord it over them, Third World aid recipients because our gifts are not supposed to be bribes, etc.—we also allow our own leaders—Congress, media, even administration bureaucrats—to do so. Switzerland, by contrast, is obsessed with the idea of its own vulnerability, and this is one of the two principal reasons why ethnic, cultural, and religious pluralism in Switzerland does not have the disintegrative consequences that it does in the United States. The second reason lies in the fact that Swiss society, despite the inroads of agnosticism, atheism, existentialism, materialism, and militant secularistic humanism, has preserved a deep, residual Christian orientation, particularly evident in the Swiss version of the Protestant work ethic. (As indicated above, Switzerland now has a slight Roman Catholic majority, but it maintains a stronger Protestant work ethic than any other Western nation. While Germans, Americans, and others demand 35- and 32-hour work weeks, the Swiss a few years ago rejected by popular referendum a proposal to cut their working week to 40 hours. At the same time, three-week paid vacations are the minimum in Switzerland, and most employees get four to six weeks after attaining a modest degree of seniority.)
As Gaspari and Millendorfer point out, a viable social unit can function without compulsion, in freedom, only when there is “an accepted common model and . . . a basic consensus about the way to structure a fulfilled life.” In Switzerland, there is such a consensus both on national purpose and on individual fulfillment. As indicated earlier, the individual Swiss cantons have much more sovereignty than a state of the United States. Der Bund, la Confederation, i.e., the Swiss federal government, has a clearly perceived and agreed upon mission: preserving Swiss national interests against all potential threats. Neutral Switzerland is more heavily armed for its size than any other free country except Israel, and despite all their diplomatic polish, the Swiss are just about as distrustful of all their neighbors (except for Liechtenstein and possibly Austria) as Israel is of the Arabs. The Swiss are in one sense very internationally minded, but they resolutely put first things first. In 1986, in a nationwide referendum, the Swiss rejected by a substantial majority the proposal that Switzerland become a member of the United Nations. The government and most of the media urged membership, but the Swiss people massively refused, on the grounds that the UN regularly meddles in the affairs of member nations—for example, by demanding sanctions against South Africa.
The Swiss regularly profess abhorrence of the apartheid system, but they are not prepared to seek to change foreign governments by economic, diplomatic, or military sanctions. All of the industrialized Western European nations have “enjoyed” a large influx of foreign workers, but in contrast to West Germany, the Swiss have kept the problem under control by a severe limitation of the duration of work permits. Under the Social Democrats in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, West Germany tried to establish “equality” for several million foreign workers, giving them virtually every benefit short of citizenship. Consequently, despite economic conditions that make them totally superfluous. West Germany is now faced with the continuing presence of several million hard-to-assimilate foreigners. The Swiss avoid this problem by giving most foreigners work permits valid for nine months only, renewable only after three months outside of Switzerland. Being born in Switzerland does not make one Swiss. A native Swiss must have at least one Swiss parent. In order to be naturalized, an immigrant must find a local community (Gemeinde, commune, i.e., township) willing to accept him by popular vote. Children of non-Swiss, if born and/or raised in Switzerland, can more easily become citizens, but it is not automatic. There is no such thing as landing or going ashore in the last stages of pregnancy, giving birth to an instant citizen, and then applying for a visa as a relative of a citizen, as is common in the USA and Canada. An American educator with whom I discussed this a few days ago reacted in shocked horror at the Swiss attitude: “A genetic criterion for citizenship!” Quite so; the Swiss find it altogether natural and act accordingly; Americans find it natural, too, but are intimidated by doctrinaire liberalism and sacred pluralism into denying their natural instincts and creating a situation in which we are morally incapable of defending our frontiers.
The Swiss sometimes adopt a rather sanctimonious attitude towards normal self-interest on the part of other nations: a recent major article in Reformiertes Forum, the major publication of Swiss Protestantism, lauded the “sanctuary” movement in which some American churches shelter “refugees” that the American government considers illegal while uttering pious denunciations of American immigration and foreign policy. The Forum makes it plain that it shares the judgment that U.S. policies are jingoistic, repressive, and immoral. However, similar attempts to create sanctuaries in Swiss churches—and Swiss immigration policy is both more restrictive and far more efficiently policed than U.S. policy—have been rather promptly suppressed with very little hand-wringing. The Swiss allow themselves the luxury of telling Americans how we ought to react to an influx of illegal immigrants, but they have no intention of doing likewise in Switzerland, as they know that such a policy would be speedy national suicide. The United States is a far vaster country, and it takes us longer to injure ourselves fatally; the Swiss quickly calculate the implications of lax immigration policies for Swiss national survival and act accordingly.
Switzerland, with its six and one-half million people, produces as much of what it needs as it possibly can. Farming is heavily subsidized—not by direct payments, but by setting import regulations that permit Swiss farmers to sell their produce at prices that enable them to make a decent living. Milk, for example, costs about Fr. 1.60 per liter—$1.25 per quart at present rates—and good beef as much as Fr. 30.00 or even more per kilogram—$10.00 or more per pound. Prices across the border in Germany are 30-50 percent cheaper, and frontier dwellers do cross over for a liter or two of milk or a couple of pounds of steak, but in general Swiss buy Swiss food when available, despite the high prices, without complaint. They know that French, German, Italian, and American farmers are not going to feed them in a crisis, and so they want to keep their farms alive.
The Swiss do not try to manufacture things that exceed their practical capacity. There is no automobile industry in Switzerland, apart from one luxury model. But they do manufacture weapons and military equipment of all kinds—for their own army, but also for others. Most consumer goods—clothes, appliances, heavy and fine machinery, their own locomotives and rolling stock, pharmaceuticals, office equipment, and the like are manufactured. Imagine that diversity of productivity in Chicagoland (Chicago and its suburbs), with its slightly larger population, or even in the entire state of Illinois. Swiss, wherever possible, buy Swiss, whatever it may cost, “for the quality,” but also out of a clear sense of self-preservation.
The Swiss do not believe in deficit financing, and they do believe in maintaining the value of the Swiss franc. When foreigners, despite horribly high real estate prices, start buying too much land, the Swiss yell “Ueberfremdung” (over-alienation) and prohibit it. They believe in the free market and have relatively free trade, but they do not believe in allowing themselves to be put out of business or bought out by foreigners.
Switzerland certainly owes much to its Christians and especially its Calvinist heritage. Even though the majority is no longer Protestant, and most of the Protestants know little about John Calvin, all Swiss share two Calvinist convictions: (1) the depravity of man; and (2) the obligation to work as hard and as well as possible. The former makes them realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch and suspect that everyone else is out to steal a lunch at Swiss expense. The second conviction remains in force, although the Swiss have forgotten that for Calvin it was “soli Deo gloria”—the glory of God alone—that counted.
If Switzerland faces a danger to its spirit today, it is because Swiss society has virtually lost its Christian foundation. If there is one advantage to the Swiss established Church system, it may lie in its prevention of the powerful religious symbolism of Christianity from being expelled from public consciousness, as is being done in the United States. This, perhaps, may permit the civic virtues of Christianity in Switzerland to survive a generation or two longer than the faith itself.
Switzerland is a society of practical pluralism—great cultural diversity, a great personal freedom. Swiss intellectuals inveigh against their own “bourgeois mentality”—”Buenzligeist” (petty Swiss federalism?) in German—but not too effectively. Unlike the Germans, they do not sing a Swiss version of “Deutschland ueber Alles“—in fact, practically no Swiss knows his own national anthem by heart. Whenever someone actually says, “Switzerland first!” most Swiss recoil in polite horror. They know that it isn’t nice to say it. But they also know that it is absolutely necessary to do it. And they act accordingly. They exemplify an understanding of the Gaspari-Millendorfer maxim, and have and follow a basic consensus about the way to structure a fulfilled life. Where a consensus of values exists, great freedom and variety can reign. But where no consensus concerning fundamental values exists, the system becomes disoriented. Switzerland is an example of a successful pluralism, but a very special kind of pluralism, one that can exist in the United States only if we recover what Switzerland has not yet lost: that basic consensus about the way to structure life.