Fin de Siècle und Zukunft der Schweiz

Carl Hilty

Carl Hilty, Fin de Siècle; and: Die Zukunft der Schweiz, both in: Politisches Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft, ed. by Carl Hilty, vol. 13 (1899), p. 3-21, resp. vol. 16 (1902), p. 3-39, Bern: K. J. Wyss, 1899/ 1902, pp.


As a general publisher of the “Political Yearbook of the Swiss Federal State” from 1886 until his death, that was meant to be a journal for politicians, diplomats and scientists from all disciplines, Carl Hilty established as a forerunner of the early political science in Switzerland. As such, he has always addressed the context of legal practice and the preconditions for the application of the legal order.

Historical Situation and Systematic Context

We have brought together two essays by Carl Hilty that show the particular historical situation of his time, i.e. the last decades of the nineteenth century and the very beginning of the twentieth century, often called the era of Fin-de-siècle. The analysis and diagnosis of this period of time by the author is highly illustrative and very interesting in terms of the specific situation of jurisprudence at that time.

In a second essay, dating only three years later, Carl Hilty – in his function as a president of the University of Berne – outlines the future development of sociocultural circumstances.

Content, Abstracts

Instead of advancing progress, Carl Hilty puts a deep sense for the human and an intense longing for humanism in the foreground. The progress of the natural sciences has produced an overwhelming materialism that covers all matters in society. When dealing with society and community, the real focus, contrarily, is mainly on the self-conscious human individual, the human subject of all interaction in society. This makes it evident that jurisprudence serves the aims of individualism as legal practice takes into consideration the situation of the concrete subjects by the way of application of the legal order to the specific case, leading to justice in the single case. This historical constellation does not allow agnosticism any more. The overall task is to prevent open conflict that leads to war and agony.

The University of Berne is addressed not only as a castle of knowledge, but as the main and central fortress of the Swiss Federal State, whereby it is scientific knowledge that surpasses all other kinds of power and strength. History and the future development are identified as interdependent narratives. The so far acclaimed freedom in every respect should produce a sentiment of peace and welfare; instead the contemporary feelings consist in inquietude, yet anxiety, and uneasiness or uncertainty. The foregrounding occasion for this discrepancy is the war against the Second Great Bore War, the deeper cause lies in the declining age of Western imperialism, and the increasing tensions on religious diversity. The author refers to other periods on the future of the Swiss Federation, especially in the first decades of the Nineteenth Century. “Feliciter Helvetia evasit”, “fortunately the Swiss Federation has overcome these situations”, that would be an adequate motto for history at that time. Moral importance is due to strong republican though and due to the fit of historically grown structures to a whole. To maintain and strengthen power, however, is highly misleading in any situation. Instead, the specific character of a nation is to be conserved and actualised. Only resistance and refinement both together can guarantee prosperity in every respect. In an inner perspective this means to keep the “Volksgeist”, or in modernized terms “Idealism”, sound and safe and in an outer perspective this is equivalent to maintain a strong order of international law. The basis for all this lies in a future generation of leading spirits, sociocultural leaders, who the people can trust.

Conclusions, Insights, Evidence/Philosophical Valuation and Jurisprudential Significance

The main interest of Carl Hilty consists in focusing on critical considerations of ambiance and sense for legal politics within history and in an inter-cultural context. In a very pragmatic way, he tries to grasp political institutions and their ethical values in order to render them fecundly again for the needs of his time and place.

Further Information About the Author

Carl Hilty, born on 28 February 1833 in Grabs, died on 12 October 1909 in Clarens, studied jurisprudence at the University of Göttingen (1851-1853) and graduated 1854 with a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg. Afterwards, he went to Paris and London, before founding a lawyer’s chancery in Chur in Graubünden, his native Swiss canton. He was, nevertheless, more occupied with publishing studies of public law as well as religious and ethical essays, than with defending clients in court.

In 1868 he published “Theoretiker und Idealisten in der Demokratie” and, in 1891, his main work “Die Bundesverfassungen der schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft”. In 1874, he was called to the ordinary chair of federal law and Bernese public law at the University of Berne, where after 1882 his lectures covered also the general theory of the state and international law. In 1909, he was nominated representative of the Swiss government at the International Court of Arbitration in Den Haag. But he was also the chief editor of “Politischen Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft”, and he remained so until his death.

For more information, please consult:

Walther Burckhardt: Carl Hilty (1833-1909), in: Politisches Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft, vol. 24 (1910), pp. 405 ss.;

Felix Renner: Der Verfassungsbegriff im staatsrechtlichen Denken der Schweiz im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Dissertation Universität Zürich), Zürich: Schulthess & Co., 1968, pp. 254 ss.;

Daniel Thürer (together with Karin Spinnler Schmid): Ein typisch-untypischer Schweizer Staatsrechtler – Die Bedeutung Carl Hiltys für das schweizerische Staatsleben, in: Werdenberger Jahrbuch, vol. 2009, Buchs 2008, pp. 204-214 (auch in: Zeitschrift für

Schweizerisches Recht, vol. 2009/ I, pp. 111-129).

Selected Works of the Same Author

Carl Hilty: Die Bundesverfassungen der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft, Bern: K. J. Wyss, 1891 (in französischer Übersetzung: Les constitutions fédérales de la Confédération suisse – Exposé historique écrit sur la demande du Conseil fédéral à l’occasion du sixième centenaire de la première alliance perpétuelle du 1er août 1291, Neuchâtel: Imprimerie Attinger, 1891; reprint Neuchâtel: Les Éditions de l’Aire, 1991); Idem: Ideen und Ideale schweizerischer Politik – Ein academischer Vor­trag, Bern: Max Fiala, 1875; Idem: Fin de Siècle; and Idem: Die Zukunft der Schweiz, both in: Politisches Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft, ed. by Carl Hilty, vol. 13 (1899), p. 3-21, resp. vol. 16 (1902), p. 3-39, Bern: K. J. Wyss, 1899/ 1902; Idem (Ed.): Politisches Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft, 1886-1909.

For Further Reading

Carl Hilty: Öffentliche Vorle­sungen über Hel­vetik, Bern: Max Fiala, 1878; Idem: Die Bundesverfassungen der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft, Zur sechsten Säcularfeier des ersten Ewigen Bundes vom 1. August 1291, Bern: K. J. Wyss, 1891 (in French language: Les constitution fédérales de la Confédération suisse. Exposé historique écrit sur la demande du Conseil fédéral à l’occasion du sixième centenaire de la première alliance perpétuelle du 1er août 1291, Neuchâtel: Imprimerie Attinger frères, 1891; reprint Les Éditions de l’Aire 1991).


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Hilty Zukunft der Schweiz