Ignaz Troxler and Modern Switzerland

At a time when Europe is experiencing a deep crisis, the ‹Swiss model› is once again coming to the fore. The fate of modern Switzerland was decided 175 years ago. An important yet forgotten figure in anthroposophy and Swiss spiritual life played a decisive role in this: Ignaz Troxler. While the dark sides of the USA are often discussed today, the emergence of modern Switzerland also points to a ray of light that came from across the Atlantic.

In 2018, a book by journalist and historian Rolf Holenstein was published that sheds new light on the creation of the first federal constitution: ‹Stunde Null. Die Neuerfindung der Schweiz im Jahre 1848. Die Privatprotokolle und Geheimberichte der Erfinder› (Zero Hour. The Reinvention of Switzerland in 1848. The Private Minutes and Secret Reports of the Inventors.)

Never was the existence of the confederation more on the line than in 1814, when the victorious monarchs over Napoleon seriously discussed annexing it to Germany. The completely divided confederation ultimately survived by a narrow margin in 1815 thanks to the federal treaty enforced by the victorious powers.

And once again the federation, deeply divided after the Sonderbund War, experienced days that could hardly be surpassed in terms of drama when, in February/March 1848, a federal revision commission instructed by the Conference began its work with the aim of creating a more modern state structure out of the outdated confederation. But the division showed itself again in the intensive consultations, as Holenstein describes with an example:

What clashed on the 7th of March 1848 were the two fundamental positions regarding the future confederation. This explains the acrimony in the hall, which all the witnesses note. Should the confederation become a modern democratic federal state or a mixed form with a confederation of authorities along the lines of the drafts of 1832 and 1833? At stake is the fundamental question of the constitutional creation of 1848: can the confederation make its democratic shift or can it not. (p. 284)

The fact that a solution was finally found which gave birth to the Swiss federal state remained open until the end. When the commission, discouraged, was about to dissolve itself without any result, the envoy from Schwyz, Melchior Diethelm, achieved a breakthrough at the last minute by circulating in a small group the document of his former teacher Troxler, ‹The Constitution of the United States of North America as a Model for Swiss Federal Reform›. The next day, the surprise was complete: a majority of the commission agreed to Troxler’s proposal.

The American bicameral system had actually been known for some time. Troxler first mentioned it as a model as early as 1828. James Fazy from Geneva also referred to this in a pamphlet in 1838. But it was Troxler who first recognised in the republic in the form of the federal state the ultimate model of prosperous coexistence of humanity in freedom:

The fact that Troxler finds fruitful complementarity and new identity in a real contemporary state structure (the American constitution) strikes him to the core: what he recognises, or believes he recognises, is nothing less than the unveiled revelation of the world spirit. It is the philosopher in him who decrees that the principle of the American solution can and must also be the solution for the confederation. (p. 397)

Troxler’s political thinking was strongly influenced by Schelling’s natural philosophical idea of unity: «Nature is the visible spirit and the spirit is invisible nature.»

This unified idea of natural philosophy plays a major role; it also guides Troxler’s understanding of politics. He sees history in its entirety as a gradual unveiling of the world spirit: in the changing norms of life, in the evolving forms of state and economy, in the social orders, the manifestations of art, everywhere. The creative principle at work here, says Troxler, is the dialectical action of opposing forces; in the ‹Philosophische Rechtslehre› (Philosophical Jurisprudence) of 1820 he speaks of the ‹system of evolution and representation›. And here the central concept is: ‹polarity›. Polar pairs of opposites are not to be understood as dichotomous exclusions, but as productive complementarities in the sense of female/male and to be transformed into new identities. This, Troxler teaches, is the task of philosophy and political action. For God or the Absolute is nothing other than the identity of all opposites. (p. 395 f.)

Troxler located both a philosophy that truly lives up to its name and political action guided by ethical principles in the living experience of Christ. Thus he was able to present to the listeners of his Bern lectures the bold vision of a ‹true republic› – God’s kingdom – spanning the entire earth.

Could Troxler’s work serve as a ‹blueprint› for the future development of the European Union? Rolf Holenstein:

A federal organisation of the EU […] can only and must under all circumstances be the result of a voluntary union of free states of the republican Swiss/American type. If it is to endure and be accepted by the peoples, there must be no European hegemon […]. A European federal state can only be built on the American-Swiss principles of equality, on the combination of the universalist natural law principle of headcount and the historical (state) contract or evolutionary principle, in which the counterparts, in this case the European states, enter into a pact while retaining and preserving identity, political equality, legal personality and organs of their own state. (p. 399)

The Swiss German scholar and writer Peter von Matt once referred to Europe as the «home of Switzerland». With Troxler as the driving force, this idea could one day become reality.

Further information on the website of the Troxler Association.
This article was previously published in the first issue 2023 of ‹Tetraktys›, the newsletter of the Ignaz P. V. Troxler Association.

Book Rolf Holenstein. ‹Stunde Null. Die Neuerfindung der Schweiz im Jahre 1848. Die Privatprotokolle und Geheimberichte der Erfinder.›, Echtzeit, 2018.

Translation Christian von Arnim
Title image Ignaz Paul Vitalis Troxler, engraving by J. Siebert, ca. 1850, CC

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