L’individu et l’État dans l’évolution constitutionelle de la Suisse

William E. Rappard

William E. Rappard, L’individu et l’État dans l’évolution constitutionelle de la Suisse, Zürich: Éditions Polygraphiques SA, 1936.

Introduction

In William E. Rappard we encounter an eminent jurisprudent, economist and historian at the same time, active in the domain of international relations in the first half of the twentieth century, a true advocate of liberty and a loyal servant of his country (for a comprehensive biography in historical perspective consult Victor Monnier: William E. Rappard – Défenseur des libertés, serviteur de son pays et de la communauté internationale, Basel/ Genève: Helbing & Lichtenhahn/ Édition Slatkine, 1995). During his legal formation he visited Harvard University two times, in 1906/1907 and from 1911 to 1913, among other visits in Berlin, Munich, and Vienna, but solidly associated with the University of Geneva. From the very beginning of his formation Rappard appears as a veritable cosmopolitan. His interests and inclinations run more or less parallel to the attempts by Vilfredo Pareto. However, Rappard not only co-founded the discipline of political economics, but practised his convictions in Swiss politics, in later years as a Member of Parliament. An illustrative example of Rappard’s network provides the collection of “Varia politica”, published in 1953 on the occasion of the seventieth birthday of the author, where the list of the colleges and friends reads like a who’s-who in international intelligence (Varia politica publiés ou réimprimés à l’occasion du soixante-dixième anniversaire, Zürich: Éditions Polygraphiques, 1953).

Historical Situation and Systematic Context

Our specific interest is in the two extended historical monographies about the “Relation between the human individual and the State” and the “Development of modern democracy in Geneva” (see no. 5.5 of this Legal Anthology), both comprehensive studies dating from the 1930s and 1940s. As a historian, or better as a representative of social history, we encounter William E. Rappard principally as a defender of liberty in general and specifically of political freedom. In his self-qualification, the author judges his contributions as mostly composite, including and unifying scientific and political aspects: “mes espoirs ont été formulés à la lumière de mon interprétation du passé” (letter, 26 January 1953).

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

On invitation of an American editor and of the University of Lucerne, William E. Rappard has undertaken the challenge to draw the relation between the human individual and the political collective or legal community, between the single citizen and the state. The ambiguous relationship between etatism on the one side and individualism, liberalism, and democracy on the other side serves the author as his guiding idea to focus on constitutional history, so that the writing also provides an interpretation of the political institutions in Switzerland, eventually. As the starting point, Rappard in his subtle consideration points to the historical effects of the French Revolution on the political structures in Switzerland. “L’idée me vint donc d’étudier ces relations dans l’évolution constitutionelle de la Suisse. Ainsi, à une vaine abstraction sociologique, se substituait dans mon esprit une réalité historique d’un intérêt puissant. Et l’étude de cette réalité historique ne serait-elle pas la meilleure préparation à la rédaction du manuel de politique suisse qu’on me demandait par ailleurs?” The main attempt of the author is to describe this chapter of social history as part of the social sciences. Such analysis directs the author to the general diagnosis that etatism has tendentiously overruled individualism and democracy.

If we turn to William E. Rappard’s introduction to the method of historical thought, we find an orientation towards experience based on the knowledge of the past. “Il n’est déjà pas facile de découvrir sous ses apparences législatives la réalité sociale de l’évolution constitutionelle de la Suisse moderne. [...] D’ailleurs la démonstration de théorèmes historiques est-elle jamais autre chose qu’un exercise intellectual inspiré du désir avoué ou secret de justifier des préférences instinctives”? Apparently, the attempts of the author to inaugurate a social history of constitutional development lead to a kind of substitution of philosophy of history “Geschichtsphilosophie”: “Si l’on voulait faure rentrer cette étude dans une des catégories convenues des sciences morales, ce serait, nous semble-t-il, à la philosophie de l’histoire qu’il conviendrait de la rattacher. Mais la plupart des philosophies de l’histoire se ornent à la recherche des causes générales des faits particuliers. Elles tirent donc leur intérêt de leur valeur explicative. Notre propos, au contraire, sans que nous nous désintéressions des causes de l’évolution constitutionelle, visera surtout à découvrir, dans le domaines des relations entre l’individu et l’État, les effets de cette évolution”. The deficiencies of past theory building have had the effect that the individual and the state are both considered to be mere abstractions that have to be mediated by means of concrete institutes and institutions. Rappard’s initiative directed towards the conservative interpretations by Gonzague de Reynold and find welcome company rather in the historical writings of Alexis de Tocqueville.

On the five hundred pages of his book, William E. Rappard provides rich material and convincing arguments, and by doing so adds a considerable contribution to the constitutional history of the nineteenth century. As a timeless interesting passage, we have selected the very end and conclusion of this opus magnum, addressing the future prospective. “Au cours de la marche à l’étatisme que poursuit la Suisse depuis un demi-siècle, les anciennes conquêtes de l’individualisme et même de la démocratie semblent quelque peu perdues de vue sinon compromises. En étandant sans cesse la sphère de ses interventions et de ses activités propres, l’État n’a pu qu’envahir celle de l’individu et réduire ainsi ses libertés. Et en se diversifiant, en se compliquant et en s’enrichissant d’organismes toujours nouveaux, la machine de l’État est devenue d’un fonctionnement à la fois si délicat et si imposant, qu’elle échappe de plus en plus au contrôle et même à l’entendement de l’individu. / Ainsi l’individualisme et même la démocratie paraissent aujourd’hui sérieusement menacés par les progrès de l’étatisme”. By this lucid analysis and severe diagnosis is expressed the author’s well-founded fear, but no remedies are found yet in order to cure the disease.

Further Information About the Author

William Emmanuel Rappard, born 22 April 1883 in New York, died 29 April 1858 in Bellevue, grew up in the United States of America before settling down in the Geneva area in his adolescence. He studied jurisprudence at the University of Geneva, where he obtained a doctorate in 1908; between 1905 and 1909 he travelled abroad, to Berlin, Munich, Harvard, Paris and Vienna. His first academic occupations were lectureships for economic history in Geneva and for Economics at Harvard University, before he was called ordinary professor for economic history and public finance by the University of Geneva. He was the eminent promoter of the faculty for economic and social sciences at this university as well as the founder and later director of the well-known “Institut Universitaire de Hautes Études Internatio­nales” in the same town. Between 1917 and 1920 he engaged his person for the interests of the International Red Cross, and in 1919 he represented the Swiss government at the Peace Conference held in Paris and promoted Geneva as the future seat of the League of Nations (where he served his country as delegate) and defended the idea of Swiss neutrality. Later in his life he invested his personality to the demands of labour protection (in 1951 he even signed as president of the International Labour Organisation).

On the international level he truly was a pacifist, and on the level of the nation state he distrusted nationalism as a danger for peace. His interest in legal thought showed his intention to protect the individual from an all-mighty state, which is documented in his study “L’individu et l’État dans l’évolution constitutionelle de la Suisse” (1936). As an example, and model for sound democracy he represented the pre-history of the republic of Geneva prior to the foundation of the Swiss federal state, in the so-called era of Regeneration in Switzerland (“L’avène­ment de la démocratie moderne à Genève 1814-1847“).

For more information and a comprehensive bibliography, please consult:

Victor Monnier: William Emmanuel Rappard – Défenseur des libertés, serviteur de son pays, Genève: Édition Slatkine, 1995.

Selected Works of the Same Author

William E. Rappard: L’avène­ment de la démocratie moderne à Genève 1814-1847, Genève: Alexandre Jullien, 1942; Idem: La consitution fédérale de la Suisse 1848-1948, Boudry: La Baconnière, 1948; Idem: La révolution industrielle et les origines de la protection légale du travail en Suisse, Bern: Stämpfli, 1914 (reprint Zürich: Schulthess, 2008).

For Further Reading

William E. Rappard: La consitution fédérale de la Suisse 1848-1948 (Die Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft 1848-1948), Boudry: La Baconnière, 1948 (Polygraphischer Verlag AG, Zürich 1948).

Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Rappard Individu État0001