William E. RappardThe Initiative, Referendum and Recall in Switzerland

2.17 William E. Rappard, The Initiative, Referendum and Recall in Switzerland, in William E. Rappard: Varia Politica, publiés ou réinprimés à l occasion du soixant-dixième anniversaire de William E. Rappard, Zürich 1953, p. 121-155, full text

a) Background

The text The Initiative, Referendum and Recall in Switzerland is an important example of “how law travels” in the two-way street of cultural exchange in law and legal culture between Switzerland and the United States. The text deals with aspects of Alfred Kölz’s (see text 2.30) interesting view on circular “travels” of ideas on government in the “Atlantic” area, which became effective in the times of the Helvetic, the regeneration and the democratic movement in Switzerland based on ideas of natural law. Towards the end of the 19th century “the populist movement” in the United States against the power of the trusts and the economic privileges of the abuses of power by the politicians have led to the integration of popular initiatives, referendums and “recalls” in most of the constitutions of the Western States in the United States modeled after Swiss instruments. Alfred Kölz assumed that these ideas had been brought to the attention of the people in the Western States of the Union by emigrants, particularly from the Canton of Zurich and the Confederation. Fritz Fleiner, in his seminal inaugural lecture of 4th December 1915, with the title “Entstehung und Wandlung moderner Staatstheorien in der Schweiz” (origin and changes of modern theories of government in Switzerland), made express references to those transatlantic “travels”.

William Rappard started his career, as a young professor at Harvard University and thereof afterwards became an early representative of a rising school of internal political science. He was then an eminent cosmopolitan professor of economics, economic history and political science in Geneva, who co-founded the Graduate Institute of International Affairs of the University of Geneva and advised the government of Switzerland over a long period on key matters of foreign policy.

From 1917 to 1919, William Rappard was a member of various Swiss diplomatic missions to Washington, D.C., London and Paris, including service with the Swiss delegation to the peace conference in France that ended the First World War. He made a strong impression on President Woodrow Wilson and was highly influential in persuading him to choose Geneva as headquarters of the League of Nations. William Rappard’s greatest institutional contribution between the world wars was his co-founding in 1927 of the Graduate Institute for International Studies in Geneva, with Paul Mantoux, the internationally respected economic historian and expert on the industrial revolution. For many years he was Rector (President) of the University of Geneva. William Rappard was a close observer and avid scholar of complex cultural exchanges in law and legal culture between Switzerland and the United States. The text at hand was already written in 1912 and published in the “American Academy of Political and Social Science”. During World War II he had a principled discussion with Heinrich Goebbels at the home of essayist and diplomat Carl J. Burckhardt outside Geneva. He was an ardent conservative and guardian of Swiss values and briefly was a member of the Swiss Parliament. After World War II he was a member of the delegation of Switzerland in the negotiations of the Washington Agreements, regularising the relationship between Switzerland and the United States after World War II. Besides having an American passport by origin he is a representative of the Romandie, the French speaking part of Switzerland. He mostly wrote his texts in French and in English.

b) Summary

The working hypothesis of William Rappard’s text is that there are many parallels between the United States and Switzerland. According to William Rappard there are relations and resemblances that – although they may escape the glance of the superficial observer – should not be overlooked by careful students of comparative political science. The text draws these parallels in political, legal, social and economic areas. It is an exemplar of comparative political science and analogy building.
William Rappard analyses the recent adoption of Swiss institutions in the United States. He talks of the legal instruments of Initiative, Referendum and Recall as a case of democratic contagion and situates the influence of Swiss ideas in the most marked features of the political evolution of the United States in the course of the 19th century, that is an ever growing popular dissatisfaction with the state legislators and a consequent constitutional limitation of their powers.

William Rappard describes the influences of Swiss ideas by way of citing long lists of articles and books published in English on Swiss history and Swiss institutions. He then recalls the details of the political developments that led to the adoption of certain features of Swiss government. To underpin his arguments, William Rappard then carries out a detailed analysis of legislation in Switzerland after the formation of the Constitution of Switzerland in 1848. He gives a detailed analysis of the fate of the institutions of the referendum, the initiative and the recall in various Cantons and on the level of the Confederation.

In his conclusions, William Rappard specifically distills the key arguments on the suitability of such adoptions as part of a sound comparative political science analysis.

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:
A_2.17_RAPPARD_Initiative Referendum and Recall

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

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