Direct Democracy in Switzerland

The emergence of direct democracy in Switzerland cannot simply be interpreted as an organic development that led from the pre-modern and medieval Landsgemeinde to the anchoring of popular rights such as the referendum and the people’s initiative (Volksinitiative) in the cantonal constitutions of the 1830s to 1870s and later in the federal constitution (1874 and 1891).

Opposite this pattern of interpretation is an alternative view. It understands the emergence of direct democracy due to political and social struggles and tries to map out the “social logic” of the various protest movements.

The historical actors’ experiences, perceptions, interests, and structures from the lower social strata are emphasised. They appear not only as passive objects but as agents and reactors.

The book in the German language covers the period from the late Enlightenment and the American (1776) and French Revolutions (1789) to 1874, focusing on how approaches to a representative and direct democracy developed in parallel.

Finally, it is shown how these plebiscitary instruments are extended and lead to anchoring the optional legislative referendum and the people’s initiative in the revised federal constitution of 1874 and 1891. Moreover, the shortcomings of Swiss democracy in the 20th century are also discussed.

(Rolf Graber, Demokratie und Revolten. Die Entstehung der direkten Demokratie in der Schweiz, Zürich, 2017).