The city-led Republic

The Swiss Confederation was a functioning composite polity, but it was not a state and of course, it was not a monarchy. Yet the Confederation embraced territories that retained a feudal-hierarchical structure, albeit only as associated members (the abbacies of Engelberg and St. Gallen, the prince-bishopric of Basel, the county of Neuchâtel). How, therefore, did the Confederation survive?

Before the Burgundian Wars (1474-1477) no one gave the Confederation much chance of survival. Yet these wars did help to create a sense of collective identity manifest not in institutions but in patriotic narratives of Swiss valour and heroism of city-led republic. This vision was shattered in the Swiss wars of religion, but in the end, pragmatism and flexibility ensured that the discord did not lead to disaster. Ultimately, aggression yielded to accommodation. (T. Scott, The Swiss and Their Neighbours 1460-1560. Between Accommodation and Aggression, Oxford 2017).

Direct Democracy

Direct democracy means much more than occasionally consulting the public. In a sense, each voting citizen is a politician and politically active, just to different degrees. Direct democracy is an embracive, relatively confusing, sometimes time-consuming, delicately balanced, permanently rotating and constantly changing mechanism, whose purpose is to include in the decision-making process all those who must live with the consequences of the decision. It is of immense value, but only functions when everyone who wants to be a part of it has an idea how it functions. W. Thurnherr, The Swiss Confederation. A Brief Guide 2018. Bern, 2018.


Charlemagne´s imperial coronation on Christmas Day 800 symbolized the revival of a Roman vision of imperium, not merely in title but in substance as well. Charlemagne ruled practically the whole of Latin Christendom, and a sequence of reform initiatives generated much greater Christian uniformity across the Latin West. And all of this at the command of Carolingian emperors, not of Roman popes. The great imperially sponsored monasteries, such as St. Gall, and the schools established in households of the (arch) bishoprics were the intellectual centres through which a real unity in the western Church was built up. (P. Heather, ´From Constantine to Charlemagne´ in M. Bormpoudaki a.o. (Eds.), Crossroads, Amsterdam 2017).