The only real democracy

Switzerland, writes Dalrymple, is

the only country where the people control the government in more than a nominal and intermittent fashion, and can call it to account at any time, on any subject, at any level of the administration.

In no country is central government less important. The president

changes every year, and the position is honorific. Many Swiss do not know his (or her) name.

It is

a matter of pride to the Swiss. Who needs rulers when you can rule yourself? Even the granting of citizenship to foreigners is not a function of the central government. Social security is under rigorous local control. The population makes decisions on the matters of most concern to it.

Unlike the plebiscites sometimes held in other countries, à la Napoleon III or Hitler, the Swiss

have referendums called by the people at various levels: communal, cantonal, or federal, and whose results are binding on whatever level of government they concern. (The modern European tradition is to hold a national election and disregard the results, achieving the worst of both worlds.) The Swiss are forever voting: the citizen feels that he has a real say in how things are organised.

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