Switzerland was wonderful, and I apologize to all of the readers who missed my daily fare — and I denounce the mad, mad fools who felt they could live without it.
The Helvetic Confederation, Switzerland’s official name, is a pretty fascinating nation, if a bit dull. Indeed, the reason it’s fascinating is precisely related to its dullness. The old and partly unfair line about Switzerland is that it has had 700 years of peace, prosperity, and unfettered democracy, and has only invented the cuckoo clock. Italy had the Borgias, wars, tyranny, etc., and produced da Vinci, Galileo, and the Renaissance. The Chinese curse — “may you live in interesting times” — gets to the heart of it. Boredom with politics is usually a sign of health in the society.
This is largely why Switzerland is either invisible to the Left or highly suspect. After all, on paper this nation should be the Shangri-La at the end of the road of leftist utopianism. The nation is rich — richer than America in per capita terms. It is more democratic than any country in the world. There are 26 cantons — roughly like our states — and they are run by accountable citizen legislatures. The national legislature can easily be turned out by a national referendum — and often is.
At the same time, the state has an “enlightened” Western European outlook on social welfare. Representation in government counsels is stunningly reminiscent of solutions offered by American racial leftists like Lani Guinier. If you are a member of a minority nationality — say French or Italian — your representation of the major committees is greater than your proportion in the population as a whole.
Admittedly, the Swiss insistence on mandatory military service cuts two ways. The Left hates the fact that every now and then nations need to kill people from other nations in order to stay free. But on the other hand, the president of a Swiss bank can often be forced to do a hundred push-ups by the night janitor in his building who outranks him when they are in uniform. In fact, this happens all the time and has the beneficial effect of reducing class tensions. America today has no institution which comes close to offering such a common cultural experience.
The fact that the Swiss are constantly prepared for war has prevented war for seven centuries — and allowed them to be the single most dedicated nation to peace in the world. I don’t like everything the Swiss have to say about “human rights” and the like, but it is astounding that this rich little nation of (white, European, male) bankers does more for the unfortunate peoples of the world than any other.
In short, Switzerland comes closer to the ideal society according to modern social-democratic and liberal notions than any other. But the Left hates it. Why? Because it is boring, rich, white, and conservative. Its prosperity is directly the result of a cultural conformity which says that hard work is its own reward and that one’s success is largely the result of individual achievement (and the achievements of those who came before you). A Jesse Jackson would not get 5 percent of the vote in Switzerland.
Look at the ideal nation according to the hard Left in the United States — Cuba. This is a country which works on the precisely opposite model as Switzerland. People must be made equal by bringing the high low, not by offering the low the opportunity to better themselves. The glamour of Cuba comes not from being a success but from being a total failure. Total failures keep the dream of the unattainable alive. Successes demonstrate that no matter how hard you strive, society will never be perfect. Total failures get to shift blame onto other things — capitalism, imperialism, America — etc. Stunning success can always be indicted for not being good enough.
Switzerland may be too extreme an example. So take Sweden instead. It’s about as close to socialism as you can get and, outside the policy-geek Left, you never here a word about it — because in its own limited way, it is successful too and therefore boring.
The Left argues constantly for the material benefits of a successful nation: good wages, good and free education, excellent housing, and top-flight medical care for everyone. But they are hateful at worst and distrustful at best of the societal norms and values which make such things possible. The Right finds itself in the position of arguing for the societal norms — merit, self-restraint, discipline — often, alas, without being able to articulate why they are necessary preconditions for material well-being.
THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY
While I was gone, I was unable to produce the Goldberg File for a sum total of five days, only four of them consecutive. This is the equivalent of going missing for more than a month for most columnists. The media is a creature of the market like any other, and, markets abhor a vacuum. So I find it understandable that if my column were to disappear for a long period of time, other suppliers would rush to fill the stunning demand. But I did not expect to have it filled so fast. Besides, look who moved in on my turf.
First, I received an e-mail while I was away from my friend Mickey Kaus. He has a new column webpage — hosted by Slate magazine — provocatively titled “KausFiles.com.” Some of the greener members of my G-File staff (my new throw pillows, for example) think this is somewhat akin to coming out with a new line of watches called “Rollecks.” But Mickey’s a talented writer and gifted thinker (or is it the other way around?) and nobody should be afraid of competition, so we welcome him aboard with open arms. But if he starts running contests on, say, the “sweatiest TV show ever” or starts having conversations with his office equipment, we might file a copyright infringement case.
But even more shocking was to return home and discover that my own dear mother has gotten into the web-punditry business. She has launched Lucianne.Com. Fortunately, it is less of an alternative to my own pained scribblings than to the faltering Free Republic. Still, et tu, mater?
TIDBITS TO COME
Jet lag is making this column quite a challenge today. Also, I keep lapsing into Swiss-accented English when I write. Considering the hot new competitive environment out there, I don’t want to start off the week babbling like a fool (or an especially great fool). But there are still a few items on my Swiss agenda which I will dribble out over the course of the week, like fondue dripping off the pot. Stay tuned.