Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Swiss

"I had… all my life loved the mountain better than the plain; had been more pleased to walk than to ride; more proud to contend with shepherds in their sports than with nobles in the lists; and happier in the village dance than among the feasts of the German nobles."

-Walter Scott in Anne of Geierstein
I have always had a fondness for the country of Switzerland. Britain was my first love, but after Britain came Switzerland. I have never been to Switzerland nor have I ever made an extensive study of Swiss history. My fondness for Switzerland is grounded solely in my love for the story of William Tell, which might seem to be a rather superficial reason for loving a country. Possibly. But I recently read a history of Switzerland (written by a native Swiss but intended for English speaking readers) that convinced me that the William Tell story and Switzerland are one.

Every European country has had a similar history: each went from being pagan to Christian and from being Christian to post Christian. But I think, without having studied every single European nation, each nation of Europe also has a uniqueness which is exemplified by its national hero. Arthur for Britain, Roland for France, El Cid for Spain, and so on. And Tell for Switzerland.

William Tell is like all European heroes in that he fights in defense of; but he differs from other European heroes as well. Tell is not a warrior by profession. He is a humble craftsman of the mountains and the woods. He genuinely prefers the hearth to battle. Other heroes fight in defense of the hearth but are not really content unless they are in the thick of battle. Tell fights only because he has battle thrust upon him. And then he fights to the death.

A nation can only become that rare entity called a Christian commonwealth when the vast majority of the males in that nation find more romance in the practice of their craft or in the tilling of their fields than they do in battle. The Swiss had their pagan wars and their Catholic vs. Protestant wars just like every other European nation, but the Swiss, unlike every other European nation, had an intense desire to settle their differences and return to their farms and to their trades. (1) They had managed to find romance in the homely virtues of shop, farm, and hearth.

Because the Swiss cherished the homely virtues, they were able to successfully maintain their neutrality in two world wars. And it was not the neutrality of the Quakers that they maintained, it was the neutrality of Tell: "I will be left alone or else I will retreat to my mountains and launch an arrow into the heart of the invader."

The Swiss, alas, like the rest of the European peoples, have betrayed their heritage. They have replaced the spirit of Tell with the spirit of capitulation. When a Christian people no longer see the distinctiveness of their civilization which was grounded in Christianity, then the dry rot sets in: "Why not permit Muslims, voodoo priests, and third world refugees to become Switzers?" Of course, there is a remnant that still believes as Tell believed, and that remnant is Switzerland. And I hope the remnant will reconquer Switzerland just as I hope the tiny remnant in Britain and in the rest of the European nations will also reconquer their own nations.+
(1) I'm certainly not suggesting that Switzerland was the only European nation that desired peace. But I think the Swiss had a larger percentage of males who truly wanted to return to their homes and resume their peaceful occupations. And a true appreciation for one's home, as distinct from the defense of the idea of the home, is the mark of the European, because he knows who presides over the European hearth.

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