What's next after liberalism and humanism

Liberalism - a guide for the 21st century?

Federal Department of Finance

St. Gallen, 09/08/2007 -

Presentation by Federal Councilor Hans-Rudolf Merz on the 150th anniversary of the FDP Canton of St. Gallen; St. Gallen, September 8, 2007.

Liberalism is an attitude towards life. It has to appeal to everyone who envisions a future with many freedoms, opportunities and possibilities. The state should not say where it is going, but we should all go our own way free of fetters and constraints. It is the task of the liberal to convey this attitude towards life. Liberalism has prevailed. It strengthens our country by accompanying its proven qualities and values ​​into the future. These qualities have to be filled again and again with a liberal content, newly won, implemented anew and defended against comfort and sloppiness. None of the qualities develop automatically in a liberal way.Liberalism is challenged by the risk society, globalization, demographic development and extremism. The call for new regulations must be met without restricting the freedom of the individual as far as possible.


Karl Müller von Friedberg called the canton of St. Gallen "a house made up of many houses". He expressed himself carefully as it should be for the first Landammann from 1803. Fritz René Allemann said it more clearly in his book "26 times Switzerland": "Of all the federal estates, none appears to be as inorganic and arbitrary as St. Gallen. Even the peculiar shape of the ring canton that surrounds the two Appenzell, reveals something of the artificiality of this creation. St. Gallen is an art product through and through: sophisticated at the green table in Paris. "

This starting point was made for liberal spirits. Liberalism was only just born as a political movement with the French Revolution. Thanks to the rule of law, democracy and human rights, the interplay between freedom and responsibility had now also been given rules of the game. Indeed, the liberals have been setting the political tone for decades. Wilhelm Naeff, a liberal St. Gallen resident, sat on the first Federal Council from 1848 to 1878. His biographer wrote that it was a shame that he did not notice when his time in the Federal Council had expired, but that he had remained in his position for a full 27 years. Incidentally, Freinn has since provided 68 federal councilors, the CVP 20, the SP 12 and the SVP 10.

The St. Gallen liberals shaped the canton then as it does today. Three clues may illuminate this.

First: The tensions between liberals and democrats showed early on the great, sometimes fateful subjects in which liberal thinking and action can be found. Liberalism is just not a dogma, not a political primer. Liberalism is a set of values. That makes access to him easy and relatively non-party. And it makes it more difficult for the liberal today to distinguish themselves from the liberal wings of competing parties. In 1881 the St. Gallen democrats called their liberal friends the "representatives of capitalist interests and Manchesterism". Today one would speak of neoliberalism.

Second, the Liberals have long viewed the Kulturkampf as a challenge. It was less about the position of "Protestants against Catholics", but more about the delimitation of the influence of the state and the Catholic Church. And it was only the 1970 Law on Amalgamation of Schools that brought a contemporary clarification. For historical and social reasons, the impressively clear and simple solution of the two Appenzell from 1597 in St. Gallen was apparently never considered. If we explain federalism in the Balkans, in the Middle East or in other tense regions of the world, then these are precisely the examples with which we can demonstrate our country's great value for peace.

Thirdly, the St. Gallen Liberals paid a lot of attention to the development of the constitution. They were aware of the fact that freedom and law go together like a lock and key. After four attempts, the introduction of proportional representation was decided relatively shortly in 1911. This vote has been called a coup against the prevailing liberalism. Regardless of such fears, many liberals have also given their yes to this change in the understanding of democracy. They did it in the knowledge that with this release the political competition would arise and intensify. The subsequent development has proven this assumption right. Freedom has qualitatively remained a liberal, broadly open party of values, but has always been pushed back quantitatively. This is especially true at the federal level.

St. Gallen Freedom is a very distinctive and glorious party. This can be seen in the countless members of the authorities at all levels of government. There were, for example, three free-spirited St. Gallen Federal Councilors, while individual cantons have never even been represented in the state government. More than three dozen liberals worked in the Federal Assembly. Today's deputation in Bern is again politicized in an enlightened, liberal, tolerant and successful manner. Erika Forster, Walter Müller and Andreas Zeller are three reliable liberals whose voices we all want to hear from the Bundeshaus in the next legislature. Basta.

In the cantonal council there are hundreds and in the municipalities the party was and is always represented with liberal spirits, with men and women who represent the cause of freedom and responsibility in our communities, politicians, the self-employed, entrepreneurs, civil servants, farmers and think of executives, people who want a strong but lean state.

As you know, I am still connected to the FDP St. Gallen through active work, but above all through valuable personal encounters. By the way, in 1971 - at the time of the school merger - I was jointly responsible for the party program. Entre parenthèses: the first point of our priorities at the time were "growth and the environment", followed by "education and upbringing" and the chapter "housing, illness, old age". One can wonder what would have happened if we had implemented the program even more consistently with such priorities.

But don't worry, I won't look back any further now.

One should be careful in assessing the past. As is well known, there are several variants that one comes across again and again. The first pay homage to the belief in progress and say that what came later was always better than what went before. The second have fallen into decline and claim that the world is getting worse and worse. The third say that you can combine one and two, and in the combination of decline and progress you get the famous cycle theory.

My variant is a fourth one, called historicism. Every age, every epoch - and this also applies to a party - is independent and has its own challenges and its own answers. You shouldn't evaluate when comparing. Most of us did not only get to know the St. Gallen Freedom in its current form, with today's personal constellation, but experienced earlier phases when I look around also those that were closely connected with wartime and post-war times. Each generation has addressed and solved its problems. What remained and will remain is liberalism as our common conviction.

It is therefore worthwhile to devote a few thoughts to this liberalism.

What is Liberalism?

Liberalism is that liberal worldview that puts the order of life of the individual in the foreground. Liberalism is based on the basic ideas of the Enlightenment and on humanism. Liberalism rejects intellectual, political, economic, social or state coercion. The individual should, however, take on more responsibility for themselves through more freedom. There is a political and an economic liberalism.

Political liberalism aims to promote individual freedom by guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Above all, he advocates freedom of opinion, belief and thought, as well as the right to political activity.

Economic liberalism regards private property, freedom of contract, competition and a market economy as prerequisites for social prosperity. The market economy should be socially committed without too much leading to collectivism. The state must be strong, but at the same time lean and, if necessary, assert itself against powerful economic potentials.

Liberalism reached its peak after the middle of the 19th century and it experienced a real renaissance with the social market economy, which first emerged in Germany after the Second World War.

The neoliberalism that has emerged recently and rejects any state intervention must be distinguished from the social market economy. Neoliberalism wants to reduce the state to the basic tasks of guaranteeing legal order and security. The economic area should be left to the free play of forces in the market. The enlightened liberals cannot subscribe to this radical view.

If we look back at the great names and epochs of philosophy, we are so astonished that the rational, responsible and socially responsible people like the created order of liberalism only began to unfold with the French Revolution. Neither Greek philosophers nor medieval thinkers professed liberalism.

Liberalism is a broad movement and not affiliated with parties. Liberal thinking allows nuances. Indeed, there is a multitude of liberalisms. The decisive factor is the freedom of mind with regard to society, the state and the market. People should develop unhindered - all according to their abilities - and at the same time serve general progress with their own benefit.

Today, liberalism is particularly challenged by four large-scale developments:

  1. Technical, cultural and social upheavals as the source of the "risk society" (Ulrich Beck) call for new regulations.
  2. Globalization as a cross-border economy requires a partial accompaniment by the internationalization of politics.
  3. The demographic development, especially in the western industrialized countries, is forcing provision and welfare to reconsider and adapt under feasibility criteria of a personal and financial nature.
  4. Political extremism and the means of terror create increasing tensions between worldviews, religions and peoples.

All of these developments harbor the risk of reactions and overreactions that restrict individual freedoms and drive back liberalism.

Liberalism strengthens Switzerland,

by accompanying the proven qualities and values ​​of the country into the future. I am going into more detail on 5 qualities:

  • First, the prosperity of our country is based on the capabilities of the economy and society as well as on a solid world of work. The prosperity is the result of the competition won in the world markets. Maintaining it will not be easy. At the beginning of prosperity is the social market economy. The state should protect private property and economic freedoms and ensure a tax system with incentives for motivation and success. It must strengthen strengths such as export industries, the financial center or trade. It should not produce any goods and services itself, but rather act as a regulator.
  • Second, there is no freedom without security. The needs for security range from national defense to everyday citizen security and human rights. Greed for power, violence, fraud, fanaticism, but also armed conflicts break through in every age in ever new forms. Fortunately, the protection of privacy and the guarantee of freedoms are very important to us. It is important to weigh up between prevention and defense and always adapt the choice of instruments to the threats. The liberal state is not a surveillance state. He respects the freedom of the individual.
  • Third, the diversity of our country is an outstanding quality. Switzerland is so rich in facets that languages, peoples, religions and cultures can only coexist with a federal and multicultural structure. That requires tolerance and the will to live together. In this diversity, the state may only act cautiously and on a subsidiary basis. He must guarantee freedom of expression, belief and thought.
  • Fourth, Switzerland depends on progress and modernity. It has to export top-quality products in every respect. It is then a member of most international organizations. Both creativity and openness are the foundations of our success. In the education system everyone should be able to develop according to their abilities without hindrance. The state must ensure freedom of research and competition among researchers as well as the protection of intellectual property.
  • Fifth, solidarity is part of Switzerland's traditions. Neighbor aid, social and care systems, social insurance and development aid are the key words. In the liberal state, personal responsibility is the principle of shaping one's life. We must first nurture the strong so that they will be able to help the weak. Anyone who gets into hardship through no fault of their own or in dire straits can count on help and support in our country. However, the demands are growing strongly. In many cases, the situation of young people is particularly worrying. The social security system must be financed or pre-financed. It must not be expanded through debt. Debt narrows the government's room for maneuver and postpones the financing of expenditures into the next generation. In doing so, you curtail the freedoms of citizens and the state. That contradicts liberal ideas.

These five qualities have given our country stability, cohesion, good reputation and reputation. You have shaped the essence of Switzerland since 1848. But they do not allow us to “keep it up!”, No resting on our laurels, no subscription to what we have done. Rather, we have to fill these qualities with liberal content over and over again, to achieve them anew, to implement them anew and to defend them against comfort and sloppiness. Prosperity, security, diversity, progress and solidarity: none of these qualities can be taken for granted, none of them is self-fulfilling, none of them is static and persistent. None of them develop automatically along liberal lines. Maintaining these qualities is hard social, economic and political work. It is up to us, all together, to create a good future with these qualities.

Finally, a few thoughts on the current freedom. Dear friends of the party, we have always had and today we have bright minds, leaders, people with a free commitment. Liberalism and thus liberalism are more than a party, they are an attitude towards life. Andreas Zeller put it in a nutshell in our President Fulvio Pelli's book. It ought to be a concern for all those who enjoy and shape our short existence as something original, something very unique, which one represents, disseminates, defends and certifies with passion. It particularly appeals to our young people, who envision a future with lots of freedom, lots of opportunities and possibilities. The state should not say where it is going, but we should all follow our own path and that of privacy from A to Z. Second, with equal opportunities, women should finally not only dream of freedom, but also of freedom in their family, also realize professional and cultural life. And we call out to all entrepreneurs that they should show their creativity and initiative and that we want to keep their backs free from shackles and constraints.

For a long time now, liberalism has not succeeded in conveying this attitude towards life clearly enough, in proclaiming it across the country, in other words breathing in liberalism with the breath of free spirit and lived responsibility. The performances are there, and so are the programs. So why reluctance and hesitation with the Stüx? - The next chance is six weeks away: let's take it!


Federal Department of Finance