The Price of Rights

Global affairs and local matters have a way of converging even if most of us view problems in compartments limited to their national context. There are times when we need to address a local item in those of its aspects that transpires borders. This is an unthankful task made especially difficult here. Two countries that are superficially totally dissimilar but actually interrelated need to be the narrative’s venue.

The USA and Switzerland do not share continents, one is a superpower while the other is small with commensurate coercive means. Even so, significant traits are shared. This is no accident because the two systems are interrelated. The fathers of the Constitution have studied the Helvetic Republic to design their own. After 1848, the Swiss were inspired by the US’ system. The resulting “Sister Republics” share not only systems but also traditions. Thus, it is no surprise that the interrelationship produces shared controversies. One of these involves the right to bear arms that is considered to be -unlike in most of Europe- a guarantee of liberty.

Responding to fashion, in both countries, “guns” have become a problem in the view of their elites but not for the masses. The “infantile mythos of the gun culture” as the political class sees it is, in both locations, related to the founding story of the republics. Ergo, the right to bear arms is of proven standing. The campaign to confiscate weapons and to disarm society expresses a conflict between a new ideological fervor and a tradition that claims to be a confirmed one.

At this juncture your correspondent must admit a bias. His stand issues not only from unemotional reasoning but also from an experience. Anyone that has run on a city street holding a Tokarev pistol with a Soviet T34 tank in pursuit will be prejudiced in favor of a society enabled to protect itself. (In case you cannot stand the suspense: The tank was faster but I was better around the corners.)

While in legal theory Europe is disarmed, America and Switzerland nurture an experience that ties independence to a militia that could assert itself against a government’s armies. In the case of the Swiss, political folklore attributes a peasant population’s13th century resistance against its armed lords to the boldness of William Tell, a (mythical) marksman. In both instances, the foundation of the country, but also its subsequent independence and internal order, connects to an armed society’s popular democracy. A symptom of that is a Swiss tradition. The participants of the popular assemblies wore, to display their rights, their daggers for the occasion.

The ideology-inspired intent to do away with established ways is the, yet unadmitted, motive behind the campaign to limit and then to forbid weapons held by law-abiding citizens. While the world-views behind the effort to “demobilize” are interchangeable, the arguments of the confiscators and their detractors are also similar. In response, rights are invoked to face those that dislike the “gun lovers” and who claim that weapons are the tools of crimes that threaten peace. The American reader is sufficiently familiar with the theme to avoid its further pursuit.

Although, in response to dissimilar circumstances, the Swiss case is unique, nevertheless, awareness of it might add some depth to the American debate.

Switzerland’s mountains make her territory easy to defend. On the other hand, she is surrounded by countries that liked to fight each other. To counter that, Swiss neutrality is centuries old and was encoded in 1814-15 in an international treaty. Hosting international organizations and serving as a mediator adds to legal security. Even so, the Swiss realized that week neutrals are vulnerable and as such tempting targets. In response, as a recruit put it, “Switzerland does not have an army, it is an army”. In its substance, the well-sounding phrase is supported by facts.

In the world war, with a population of under five million, the armed forces had 450 thousand men. If well equipped to exploit a favorable geography, by relying on skillful diplomacy bolstered by a united nation, that is a lot. No, it will not defeat a modern mass army. However, it can dissuade aggression by making conquest expensive; it did so when the losses forecast persuaded Hitler to leave the “porcupine” alone.

It is self-evident that a small country cannot field a mass army and maintain an advanced economy and autarchy at the same time. Thus, the professional standing army had to be a skeletal structure designed to absorb masses of reservists. The Swiss solution has been a militia that can be mobilized and disposed within hours. This could be done if all males served, had good basic training, and were given regular retraining. It helped that most units were territorial, knew where to assemble, and were convinced of the rightness of their cause.

A key technical precondition of “blowing up the balloon” quickly is a unique practice that has eliminated the normal separation of the military from civilian society. Swiss soldiers can take their equipment, including their service weapon home and they may be kept once a person is mustered out. The upshot is that families store modern automatic weapons in their, until recently obligatory, bunker. With the passage of time an arsenal will have accumulated. Through my native relatives, I have several of these, the oldest being a very good 1898 carbine.

One of the duties beyond refresher service is a yearly target practice where a passing score must be achieved. This obligation and the weapon at home has resulted in the popularity of target shooting. Every village has its range and its pistol and rifle club. Besides the sport, it has a social function and if you want to be “in” then you are a member. Until recently, the job applicant, a young Lieutenant was probably hired by a CEO, likely to be a Colonel of the reserve. A yearly event is “The Federal”, a competition in which all marksmen can compete in a central location.

Crimes involving fire arms with native perpetrators are extremely rare; the system functions and the citizen can be trusted by his government. Nevertheless, this “culture of violence” and “wild-West” conditions irritate the PC-minded portion of the elite. It holds that weapons cause conflicts and that the military nurtures murderers. Beyond that, they hate the military because there one has to take orders, submit to a dress-code and to regulations that lack the consent of the inductee. Never mind that this sensitivity should result in the rejection socialism’s collectivism. A consequence is that claiming “moral objection to killing” and stress, enables tender recruits to escape service in an institution they hate more than any armed enemy.

Newly, the European Union is coming to the rescue from a “militarism” whose last foreign adventure took place in 1514. Although not a member, the Swiss -not unlike the British- let themselves be exploited to change their system so as to buy economic access to the EU’s common market. One “alignment” involves neutralizing the plebiscites that govern the country and by which the government is supervised. This practice of “direct democracy” that governs from “below” makes the Swiss the odd man out in centrally run Europe. In case a popular vote conflicts with an EU ordinance, a neutral tribunal is to decide the conflict on the basis of the highest EU court’s findings. This “unequal treaty” about to be imposed is the end of direct democracy, of neutrality, and it reduces popular sovereignty to folklore.

Another matter where the EU and the Swiss system that dates back to 1291 collide, is the right to bear arms. In May the “sovereign” -meaning “the people”- is called upon to revise in a referendum the regulations that pertain to the owning of weapons. Although earlier there had been an explicit promise that the treaties with the EU will have no effect on the practice, now, to coordinate with Brussels, some “minor” and “final” changes are proposed. Semi-automatic weapons, large magazines are to be forbidden. Those owning arms will be able to keep them provided that they register, belong to a club, and train regularly. (At best, the typical upshot will be a bureaucracy that administers what had worked just fine without it.) Even those that believe in the Easter Bunny surmise that further “aligning” restrictions are in the pipeline.

The way this sketch depicted the matter, the reader might wonder how come that a referendum might approve the restrictions. Ascribe this self-plucking of feathers to the united stand of opinion makers for a “yes”. The political class, all parties, except one, -meaning the left, and the “center”, – urge consent. The learned heads of talk-shows predict the EU’s anger, its retaliation, and the end of the world in the case of insubordination. Making a case that has British analogies, access to the market is said to require an adjustment of the “bilateral” relationship. The non-member Swiss are to commit to the “dynamic” implementation of EU regulations. So as not to be ostracized, a nominally independent country is to accept -like a “protectorate”- not only the EU’s existing laws, but must also adjust its system to conform to the EU’s further legislation. The resulting loss of sovereignty tops the disadvantages of formal membership which leaves at least limited residual sovereignty.

The treatment of the British that wish to leave, the case of the V4 that desire to restore lost rights within a union of the “fatherlands”, and the Swiss, intent to avoid absorption, reveals Brussel’s goals. It is to create an artificial United States of Europe. That is a new super-state that has no “people”, governed by international elites from a bureaucratic center designed to hold an artificial creation together. Nibling at the edges of the integrity of associated countries by extorting seemingly minor concessions presented serially, is a tactic in the service of a grand strategy whose victims are not to notice it in time.

EU elections are due in May. Its results might determine whether the federalist centralizers or the protagonists of a confederation of states will prevail. Till then, and beyond that, several nations must ponder a proper rate of exchange. How many bits of lost liberty is a luring free lunch of lentils worth?

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