Gordon A. CraigThe Economic Takeoff

2.7 Gordon A. Craig, The Economic Takeoff, excerpt, in The Triumph of Liberalism, Zurich in the Golden Age 1830 – 1869, New York – London, 1988, p.95 – 120

a) Background

“In the history of European liberalism in the nineteenth century, the Swiss experience was so important and served as a model for so many other peoples struggling to free themselves from the burdens of the past that it is surprising that it has attracted so little attention from non-Swiss historians. William L. Langer was a distinguished exception to the rule when he described Switzerland as the great testing ground of liberalism in the years before 1848, the country in which it proved itself capable of withstanding the seductions of utopian radicalism on the one hand and the impressive resources of reactionary conservatism on the other. “The victory of the Swiss liberals,” he wrote, “had the effect of heartening the liberals everywhere. From Germany more than fifty addresses of congratulations were showered on radicals, while others stemmed from … artisans, workers, even peasants … People everywhere sensed that events in little Switzerland reflected larger European problems and that the victory of liberalism and nationalism in Switzerland presaged major changes in European life.”

This is the beginning of the seminal book of Gordon A. Craig, The Triumph of Liberalism, Zurich in the Golden Age, 19830 – 1869. What is remarkable and surprising, that this is a book by an American historian. Gordon Craig in this context writes in the introduction, that in the events that aroused this wonder and admiration a leading role was played by the city and the Canton of Zurich. It was there, where the movement for progressive change was strongest, most impressive in result and, against the persistent attack from the right, most resilient. According to Gordon Craig, Zurich liberals leaders were the ones who saw most clearly that the consolidation of the reforms made since 1830 could only be assured by the solution of the national question and who forced the issue, as Huldrich Zwingli had done in 1501, with happy results. After the victory the Sonderbundkrieg in 1848, according to Gordon Craig, Zurichs Bürgermeister Jonas Furrer was the architect of the Federal States Constitution. It was the result of his view on the adequate balance of the authority of the Federal government and the autonomy of the individual Cantons. In the years that followed Zurich not only played a prominent role in Federal Affairs, strongly influencing the new Bund’s foreign policy and its stance on such issues as neutrality and right of asylum. But, according to Gordon Craig, in its own cantonal government Zürich gave Switzerland and its neighbours an impressive demonstration of liberalism in action, expressed in a program of ebullient economic growth, enlightened educational and social reform, humanitarian solidarity to the problems of people whom the turmoil of the mid-century had driven from their own country. Thanks in part to this last aspect of Zurichs liberalism, the city enjoyed a cultural renaissance in the 1850s, that was perhaps richer and more diverse than the one that took place during the 18th century enlightenment.

Gordon Craig mentions in that context a short and enlightening book of Nicolas Bouvier, Gordon A Craig and Lionel Gossmann, with an introduction by Carl E Schorske with the title Geneva, Zurich, Basel, History, Cultural and National Identity, Princeton, 1994 It contains three city studies which were originally presented at the colloquium on the topic: Cultural Unity and Diversity: Switzerland after 700 years, which was held at the University of Southern California at March 15th 1991. The colloquium was sponsored by the Pro Helvetia foundation and the Max Kade Institute, the Austrian-German-Swiss Studies- a home for many Swiss writers in residence after World War II. Gordon Craig, Lionel Gossmann and Carl Schorske all residing and working in the United States witness in their texts a most enlightening picture of the internationally most prominent cities of Switzerland.
Gordon Craig was born in Glasgow. In 1929 he emigrated with his family to Toronto, Canada, then to Jersey City, New Jersey. He graduated in history from Princeton University, was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1936 to 1938, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Captain and in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. In 1941, he co-edited with Edward Mead Earle and Felix Gilbert, on behalf of the American War Department, the book Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought From Machiavelli to Hitler, which was intended to serve as a guide to strategic thinking for military leaders during the war. After 1945, Craig worked as a consultant to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the State Department, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Historical Division of the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a professor at Princeton University from 1950–61 and at Stanford University from 1961-79. In 1956-1957, he taught at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. In addition, he often held visiting professorships at the Free University of Berlin; Gordon Craig was chair of the history department at Stanford in 1972-1975 and 1978-1979. Between 1975-1985, he served as the vice-president of the Comité International des Sciences Historiques. In 1979, he became an emeritus professor and was awarded the title J. E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Humanities. Craig was an eminent specialist on the history of Germany. Craig was formerly president of the American Historical Association. The book Triumph of Liberalism, Zurich in the Golden Age, 1830 – 1869 was researched and written in Zurich.

b) Summary

The text at hand is chapter 4 “The Economic Takeoff” of the book of Gordon Craig, The Triumph of Liberalism, Zurich in the Golden Age, 1830 to 1869. The economic take-off was embedded in an educational, scientific, political and cultural take-off in the city of Zurich, which became the hidden capital of Switzerland. Zurich at the same time became the economic capital of the new nation. This according to Craig was partly due to the fact, that as early as the 18th century, it has outpaced his potential rivals except Basel and Geneva as a manufacturing and trading center and had a geographical position more suitable for the extension of influence over the hole nation and a stronger preindustrial infrastructure to build on. According to Craig it was not accidential, that its rapid progress towards national dominance took place during the years of liberal accendancy in Zurichs politics in particular in the second phase of that accendancy, the period after 1848. The development was particularly important for the development of law and legal culture in Switzerland since the center of imaginative and conceptual developments in theoretical thinking and in legislative activities has moved to Zurich in the meantime as well. Often the men of action in politics were identical to the men of action in law (see text 2.31 on Johann Jakob Rüttimann). Among the liberals were the towering figure of Alfred Escher, to whose vision and energy Zurich ought both its leading roles in the development of a Swiss railroad system and the establishment of the kind of credit facilities that made this possible. It was according to Craig not for nothing, that people spoke of the years after 1848 of the age of Escher and that Theodor Mommsen, who lived and worked in Zurich in the early 50s, could say “He stands at the complete sovereign, all the more so because he doesn’t have the title”. Escher’s dominance was due not only to his economic accomplishment but in equal measure to his leadership of the liberal party and that he was distinguished by important services to the common welfare and who was heavily involved in the formation of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.Escher was a lawyer by formation and decided against an academic career. The father of Alfred Escher has made a fortune during his professional life in the early United States.

The text at hand deals with the characteristics of the general economic history of Switzerland that the limited supplies of rich agricultural goods with the lack of natural resources and the limitations upon possible territorial expansion forced its subjects to find alternative methods of producing goods. The text then deals in some detail with political issues raised by a rapid mechanization of some parts of the industry. It then describes the vigorous industrialization, for instance the transition from the hand weaving to industrialist production, which has been accomplished without major social dislocations. The text specifically deals with the transportation system on the Federal level. According to Craig, economies that are ambitious to aquire more than regional scope, require efficient systems of transportation. In this respect, Zurich and the region were badly served until the second half of the 19th century. The text describes, how Escher’s enthusiasm helped to overcome the original indifference in Switzerland to railroad construction and the evolution in the transportation of goods and persons. In the final part the text describes the ascendancy of Zurich as a banking place. The later half of the 19th century of industrialization and transportation would have been impossible without money, that is without credit and therefore without banks. It was again Escher, who was the principle founder of major still existing financial institutions.

The text ends with a critical note pointing to the inherent dangers of giving materialism the highest priority.

Addressing a broader perspective of culture as this Anthology does, we should not forget, as Gordon Craig, masterfully described in the book, that Richard Wagner lived for 9 years in Zurich, directed, composed and organized music life, Gottfried Semper was a professor of architecture at the new Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and was building the school and the mainstation. The political thinker and writer Georg Büchner started to teach at the University before dying at the age of 25 scores of political refugees added to the internationality of the city of Zürich. Gottfried Keller, according to Craig, returning, from a long absence in 1855, shook his head in consternation and wrote to his friend Ludmilla Assing “It’s frightful how the streets of Zurich pullulate with scholars and litterateurs, and one hears almost more High German, French, and Italian spoken than our old Schwyzerdeutsch, which earlier was not the case.” Even the old native festivals were acquiring an international look. “Two weeks ago in Zürich.” Keller wrote, “we had a big spring festival in the Old Town, in which all the nations in the world, wild and tame, with Lola Montez, the Tsar of Russia, Soulonque (the emperor of Haiti), New Zealanders, Greenlanders, Bedouins, Bashibazouks, in short, whatever you can think of, paraded through the streets in the richest and most delicately decorated costumes, on horseback, in carriages, and on foot.”

In this society for a time period the materialism that was at the base of the liberal philosophy proved to be compatible with a high degree of cultural vitality and diversity. In it, indeed, there was a remarkable, because not later repeated, collaboration of Geld and Geist in which such diverse personalities as Alfred Escher and Jonas Furrer, Richard Wagner and Gottfried Semper, Friedrich Theodor Vischer and Georg Herwegh, Francesco de Sanctis and Gottfried Keller were, for a short time, partners in a common enterprise. law and legal culture flourished and became prominent in this enterprise as well. This is the principal theme of this book.

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:
A_2.7_CRAIG_Triumph Liberalism

© Prof. Jens Drolshammer, office@drolshammer.com,  www.drolshammer.net

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