Ideen und Ideale schweizerischer Politik

Carl Hilty

Carl Hilty, Ideen und Ideale schweizerischer Politik – Ein academischer Vor­trag, in: Vorlesungen über die Politik der Eidgenossenschaft, Bern: Max Fiala, 1875.


In an appendix to his “Lectures on the Politics of the Swiss Federal State” from 1875, Carl Hilty also published a short, but comprehensive academic lecture on “Ideas and Ideals of Swiss Politics”, where he characterises the core concepts of Swiss political thought. As a general publisher of the “Political Yearbook of the Swiss Federal State” from 1886 onwards to his death, that was meant to be a journal for politicians, diplomats, and scientists from all disciplines, the author later established as a forerunner of the early political science in Switzerland.

Historical Situation and Systematic Context

The Lectures by Carl Hilty have been dedicated to the academic youth. They treat the following subjects and deal with the undercurrent cultural and political life, these concepts are rooted in: the Swiss nationality, the leading political idea in the time of the foundation of the Swiss Federal State, the struggle for power and against Austria, the alliance with France, interior politics, the role of freedom and equality, the so-called “Sonderbund” and the resolution of religious tensions, the set of ideals of Swiss Federal politics as well as the actual situation of Swiss politics. Of main interest hereby has always been to the author the period of “Helvetik” i.e. the relatively short epoch after the intervention of revolutionary France on the Swiss territory. Only 3 years later, Hilty should publish accordingly specific lectures on that subject (see the proposal for further reading).

Content, Abstracts

Men are driven by ideas and ideals, Carl Hilty argues, and hereby establishes a kind of idealism or humanism in cultural matters. Not only individuals have this kind of soul, but also collective bodies as the nation state. Switzerland has been exposed to two main challenges, according to the author: 1st a reduced sovereignty concerning the inner development but also the outer independence, with an according sensibility as for the impacts from neighbour states; and 2nd a somewhat diffuse and constantly changing principle of its existence. From this derives a double nature of the Swiss Federal State and an interdependency with a variety of conceptions of the world as well as of life in general.

The author identifies three main dimensions of Swiss ideas and ideals, namely to establish true democracy in political practice, to conquer social malaise by adopting socialist doctrines, and to guarantee free practice of religious, i.e. Christian convictions. These themes are discussed by the author extensively.

The characteristics of Swiss politics are described by Carl Hilty as follows: the specifically Swiss spirit or thought is vivid, self-conscious and self-confident, and always oriented to practice, i.e. to practical solutions of all human and social quests and problems; such occurs nationwide, includes all the regions of the Federal State, reflects collective well-being and collective freedom, above all changing time spirit. Symptomatically, the author refers to the special qualification and competence of women for these means to collective life.

In conclusion, the highest aim is declared to be “the ever-lasting ideas within the life of nations”.

Conclusions, Insights, Evidence/Philosophical Valuation and Jurisprudential Significance

In his analysis, Carl Hilty addresses clearly the basis of success of all national collectives, routed in an inter-cultural ambiance. Political institutions have to be founded on ethical valuations of ideas and ideals, and the legal order serves to this end pragmatically.

Further Information About the Author

Carl Hilty, born on 28 February 1833 in Grabs, dead on 12 October 1909 in Clarens, studied jurisprudence at the University of Göttingen (1851-1853) and graduated 1854 with a doctor’s degree 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 as a representative of the Swiss government at the International Court of Arbitration in Den Haag. However, he was also the chief editor of “Politischen Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft”, and he remained so until his death.

Our interest is focusing on his critical considerations of ambiance and sense for legal politics in history and in an intercultural context. In a very pragmatic way, he tried to grasp political institutions and their ethical values in order to render them fecundly again for the needs of his time and his place.

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: 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: Über das Studium des Rechts in unserer Zeit, in: Politisches Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft, ed. Carl Hilty, vol. 23, Bern: K. J. Wyss, 1908; 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 Ideen und Ideale