Category Archives: Switzerland

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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Alpine ways

Dalrymple tells an interviewer that the Swiss tradition of representative democracy is admirable, though he would not want to have to trudge to the polls every time a decision is needed on, say, bus fares.

That happy land

Dalrymple points out that in Switzerland, people don’t even know who their president is, he being so profoundly unimportant.

The global health agenda

It is, writes Dalrymple,

an imperialism of good intentions, with its associated international bureaucracy (usually remunerated in Swiss francs).

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Postcards from Switzerland

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.34.24Entering Switzerland at Geneva, writes Dalrymple,

one enters a bourgeois paradise. One feels one lowers the tone by entering. The streets are spotlessly clean, the wealth vast. Even the interiors of the lifts in public car parks are clad in marble and lit with crystal. In England, such luxury would invite, and call forth, immediate vandalism.

The Swiss, he notes, are

rigidly, almost morbidly, and intimidatingly law-abiding. If you break a traffic regulation, even in a harmless fashion, ordinary citizens are likely to stare at or gesture to you in a hostile way, or reproach you.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.37.18There is one thing, however, about which they are, he points out, highly flexible: tax.

Not only every canton, but every commune, sets its tax: and each commune is in competition to attract wealthy, or potentially wealthy, people. The beauty is that the taxes raised locally are kept locally. If you go to the tax authorities and tell them that an authority down the road has just offered you residence if you pay x francs a year, they are quite likely to offer you residence if you pay x − 1 francs. A virtuous competitive circle to lower taxes is set up. All the authorities are interested in is whether you will represent a net gain to the area; they have no interest in knowing the size of your income and then squeezing you until your pips squeak.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.32.16Moreover,

since the money raised locally is spent locally, the population has a genuine and abiding interest in making sure that it is spent wisely. In large centralised states or societies, the bureaucracy has a vested interest in spending money unwisely, for by doing so it creates the very population that allegedly needs its ministrations. Not so in Switzerland: the population is the master of the bureaucracy.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.35.13Dalrymple goes to a friend’s flat

a little way out of Geneva and up the mountainside. It overlooks the lake, and you can see Mont Blanc in the distance.

The cold air

is bracing, and gives a pleasantly scouring sensation in your lungs. I almost wish I had tuberculosis, to experience the relief such air would provide. I understand The Magic Mountain and the lure of sanatoria a little better.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.42.28The neighbour below

has a balcony so huge that it has a real garden in it, including a lawn and miniature palm trees. It is so perfect, so clean, that one could safely perform surgery in it.

Dalrymple takes his dog for a walk.

I am very nervous, in case he relieves himself in the wrong place and calls forth retribution.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.32.00When Dalrymple’s dog urinates against a garden wall,

I look around me as I used to look around me in the Communist bloc when meeting a dissident.

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Situation in flux for the Dalrymple brothers

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Doctor’s orders

Dalrymple visits Italy with his brother. It is 1960,

when it was still a country where travellers might suffer intestinal disturbances.

The boys are

under strict instructions to drink only acqua minerale.

Dalrymple watches his brother

pass out in a Naples shop from weakness brought about by constant diarrhœa. I was shortly to suffer similarly, and had to be evacuated to Switzerland.

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The diarrhœa got so bad, with a seemingly endless stream of evacuations, that Dalrymple had to be evacuated to a more hygienic land