The Old Confederation

The Swiss Confederation had a federal system that has been operating longer than any other in world history. In circa 1500, probably nobody would have dared to bet on the longevity of the Swiss Confederation, considering its location in the centre of Europe; its small size, its small population, which was estimated at circa 600 000 in 1 500 and some 1.6 million in 1800, and its particularly weak political structure, which lacked any kind of strong dynastic centre. And yet it somehow ended up being one of the most durable confederations in the history of the world.  A. Würgler, ´How the Old Swiss Confederation Operated´, in A. Holenstein, Th. Maissen, M. Prak (Eds.), The Republican Alternative, Amsterdam 2008).

Switzerland´s Survival

It is unwise to search for the key to Switzerland´s survival primarily in institutional advances, but also in a sense of collective identity, pragmatism and flexibility. If in the aftermath of World War II, the Swiss were plagued by anxiety because they overestimated themselves as survivors amidst the chaos of Europe, today that unease has returned in the face of Europe once again in crisis. Switzerland, for so long proud of its rugged singularity, once regarded as the key to its survival, now finds it hard to adjust in a globalized world where Europe increasingly resembles a league of discordant members. Will the Swiss be able to rise to these new challenges ? (T. Scott, The Swiss and their Neighbours, Oxford 2017).

Swiss History and Art

Swiss Art is like Swiss food, which at its best is excellent but has many of the characteristics borrowed from neighbours. Its art and artists are similarly cosmopolitan with a native strain of distinct roots, most notably the colourful past, the confederation, the wars of independence or the Alpine scenery. Until fairly recently there was no such thing as Swiss, as distinct from cantonal, history – just as until 1848 there was no such thing as Switzerland as a unitary state. Swiss history is made up of the histories of the 26 (half) cantons most of which until the middle of the 19th century led their own political and cultural existences. (W. Scott, Pictures at an Exhibition. An introduction to Swiss History and Art, Geneva, 2007).