Still possible today: federalism as a way for Europe. Denis de Rougemont
Denis de Rougemont is an almost forgotten Swiss philosopher and writer of the 20th century. He lived from 1906 to 1985. After the end of the Second World War he committed himself strongly to the reorganization of Europe. His example was Switzerland. He was not concerned with transferring Switzerland’s institutions 1:1 into a larger, European framework, but rather with making the idea of federalism fruitful on European soil.
At the centre of his thoughts is the human being. In Europe (as everywhere) it is on people and not on states, governments or institutions that any form of community must be built. De Rougemont describes the human being as standing between two extremes. On the one hand, the atomized, uninhibited yet self-serving individual. On the other, the masses, where individual will is subsumed into that of the group.
On the one hand, we are all responsible for ourselves and for the task of mastering the tasks that life presents to us. On the other, we bear responsibility for the community in which we live. Our family, our friends, our work environment, our country, it is these that give us the framework and possibility for our life, our development.
As human beings, we stand in the middle – free but with responsibilities. We have, of course, to follow our own vocation; on the other hand, we belong to a community for which we also bear responsibility. We are free and committed. Out of this tension, we have to find a balance – a balance, moreover, that has always to be created anew.
With what attitude are we part of a community? What do we expect from it? How do we deal with our fellow human beings who experience the same tension? On the basis of six principles, Denis de Rougemont shows how a community can develop and organize itself. He had a European confederation in mind, the size and scale of which can be changed at will. The federal principle applies both in the large and in the small, to international structures as well as to states, regions and municipalities. However, at the grassroots level, successful community relies on free and responsible individuals.
We who live in Switzerland are concerned about how this country works, how people deal with each other and with their fellows. But what is happening in Europe and around the world? It is only when individuals feel connected to one another, when they know and feel that they are linked to the fate of people elsewhere on earth, that they can become responsible people as part of Switzerland, Europe, the world.
Communities are formed by closeness, says Denis de Rougemont – meaning not only spatial, but also emotional proximity. It is only through the awareness of togetherness that the desire for coexistence can be developed. This awareness and will are demanded of all human beings today, not just of the few who hold levers of power, or who direct corporations and states.
The image that Denis de Rougemont draws for a federal Europe is based on free and dedicated people, on all of us. It shows new perspectives for the future of Europe.
Lessons for Europe
In 1947 the founding congress of European federalists took place in Montreux. In his speech, Swiss philosopher and writer, Denis de Rougemont, suggested a federalist Europe, modelled on Switzerland’s confederation.
In August 1947, at the Federalist Congress in Montreux on the reconstruction of Europe, broken during the Second World War, Switzerland’s Denis de Rougemont proposed a federalist Europe. He articulated six principles that met with great interest. The Federalist Congress continued in The Hague in 1948. There, however, the wind turned.
First principle: Federation can only emerge from the renunciation of any idea of hegemony by each of the nations involved.
Federation begins with the renouncement of supremacy. The entire history of the Swiss Confederation is linked to this, for which it therefore provides an illustration: "During the last serious crisis, the Civil War of 1847, in which Catholics and Protestants opposed each other, the victors had no choice but to return full rights equality to the defeated. From this act of renunciation on the part of the victors came the constitution of our modern federal state."
Second Principle: Federalism can only arise from renouncing any systemic spirit.
This is a different renunciation, namely the renunciation of an external order, of ruling over everyone. "Federation is simply the joint organising of concrete and complex realities together... bringing them together as best can be done, by respecting them on the one hand and by putting them into a whole on the other."
Third Principle: Federalism has no minority problem.
Why not? Because quality not quantity takes priority everywhere. "For federalists, it is self-evident that a minority has as much value as, or, in certain cases, even more than a majority. This is because in their eyes they represent a unique quality – one could also say: function."
Fourth Principle: The aim of Federation is not to eradicate diversity and to merge all nations into a single bloc. On the contrary, it is to preserve their specific qualities.
The uniqueness of the individual participant is to be emphasized as a quality to be celebrated by the other participants. This makes consciously supported diversity the basis of life: "If Europe is to be united, then it must be that each of its members benefits from the help of the others. In this way, each one can preserve its peculiarities and its autonomy... Each of the nations that form Europe has its own non-replicable function, like that of an organ in a body... The lung does not need to carry the heart. All one asks of it is to be a true lung, to be as good a lung as possible. To that extent it helps the heart to be a good heart."
Fifth Principle: Federalism is based on the love of complexity, as opposed to the brutal simplification that characterizes the spirit of totalitarianism.
Loving complexity is an unusual challenge. From Rougemont's formulation it is apparent that complexity gives every system a particular quality. "If foreigners wonder about the extremely complicated Swiss institutions that move around like fine clockwork, composed of municipal, cantonal and federal cogs, all differently interconnected, then one must show them that this complexity is the prerequisite of our freedoms."
And finally, the Sixth Principle: A federation develops out of nearness and on a basis of people and groups, and not from a centre or a government.
This principle has a special position. It is about people and is less connected to the institutional aspect. It does not refer to the "what", but to the "how". "I see the European Federation slowly forming, in many places and in all possible ways. Here it is an economic agreement, there it is a cultural kinship, which reaffirms itself... The need is obvious, the historical maturity is far advanced, the structures already sketched. It is just that the constitution of a federation is missing, the representative organs, and above all, élan, a popular will that forces governments to act."
In giving his speech, Denis de Rougemont succeeded in formulating these principles in terms of an ‘attitude’, which created an opportunity to form a truly human rights space for Europe.