Qualities Necessary for the Success of Direct Legislation – Essay

Similar success cannot be expected in countries where similar conditions are not obtainable. “It is racy of the soil,” as Bryce says. “There are institutions which, like plants, flourish on their hillside and under their own sunshine.”

Independence of judgment is the first quality which citizens must possess and exhibit in deciding political issues, when left to their determination. Democracy, no doubt, is unthinkable without political parties, but party sentiments must not dominate the minds of the citizens.

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Each proposal should be dealt with on its merits, and voting of any kind must not closely follow party lines. This is, indeed, impossible under the existing conditions, but the Swiss voter, as Bryce says, “always independent, is most independent when he has to review the action of his legislature.”

The quality most important in a legislating nation is compounded of two things; absence of passion and presence of intelligence. Wherever these qualities are present, there is cool- headedness and, consequently, exercise of judicious judgment. The Swiss are the embodiment of this quality. They are neither an emotional nor a passionate people. They have the habit of voting in a calm spirit.

They are cautious in their judgment and the great majority of the nation have always shown resolute hostility to the extreme demagogic spirit. Finally, compromise and tolerance are the two other elements.

A people more given to absolutes or inclined to extremist debates over abstract principles would find the system of direct legislation unworkable. There are not “talkers and fighters” in Switzerland. Politics there is unadulterated and a game of veterans who play it in a sportsman spirit.

Future Prospects:

What good has direct legislation done in the countries where it has been actually used? “The answer must surely be,” writes Finer, “that these countries, save for the combating of the dishonest ‘bosses’ in the American states, are no better off and are probably worse off.” This is, he further adds, “certainly the opinion in America.”

In Switzerland the opinions, both of scholars and statesmen, on the value of direct legislation are most divergent. Some extol it as the most perfect institution, in theory and practice, so far devised.

There are others who decry it on the ground that people are consulted on matters which they do not understand and assert that the actual working of the system has been bad.

Some reformers resent the delays and checks inherent in the referendum and some voters complain of the excessive demand made on their spare time. And yet the people as a whole value the privilege.

The institutions of the referendum and the initiative are the pivot upon which hinges the entire Swiss governmental system. If they are abolished, certainly the present relations among the executive, the legislature and the judiciary will have to be altered, and either the American or the British system of government adopted. This Swiss are not prepared to do. The institution has become permanent in Switzerland.

But Finer gives a stern warning not to accept direct legislation as a remedy for the defects of parliamentary government. “It improves nothing,” he says, “neither the laws nor the people.

It disturbs without providing solution. It is an appeal from a court which has the makings and some of the equipment of a wise legislature, to all the crudities of a majority vote. Its operations leave stark naked the physical power of numbers, surely not a desirable thing.” But Carl Friedrich does not take so gloomy a view.

Referring to the operation of direct legislation in the American states, he says, “On the whole, the experience has been the same in Switzerland; neither the ardent hopes of its first expounders nor the dire apprehensions of its opponents have materialised.

But referendum and initiative have become recognized parts of the American political machinery,” with one difference. Whereas in Switzerland the referendum and the initiative have been developed extensively in national affairs, in the United States they have so far been used in the states.

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