Communal Freedom and Democracy

Adolf Gasser’s attempt of a conceptual clarification – Published on Current Concerns /no. 16, Sept. 2010, by Dr phil René Roca, historian, Switzerland.

The historian Adolf Gasser (1903 – 1985) suggests that democracy is a historically evolved but rather fragile achievement. In his major work “Gemeindefreiheit als Rettung Europas” (Communal freedom as the salvation of Europe)1 and in many further contributions he reflects on a definition of the term “democracy” which should be as comprehensive as possible. For Gasser the term has a historical, an ethical and an educational dimension. The term “communal freedom” is at the center of his considerations. Starting point of his theoretical considerations is a historical paper on “sound and fragile democracies” in Europe after World War I … //

… Educational dimension of communal freedom: 

Finally the “educational dimension” of communal freedom is to be presented briefly, as Gasser repeatedly mentions it. For him, the commune is a “humanitarian school for citizenship”24 and in a lively democracy it serves an educational purpose which should not be underestimated:

“Only in an assessable, natural community the normal citizen is able to acquire what we use to call political sense of proportion, a feeling for the human proportions. It is the only place where he can learn to understand and consider the justified requests of his neighbors and their different ideas and interests in the daily discussion; it is the only place where the necessary minimum of communal structure develops on the ground of freedom, which is able to effectively impede the tendency to authoritarianism as well as to anarchy. In this sense autonomous small areas remain irreplaceable schools for citizenship, without which the free democratic state would wither from the roots.”25

A lively democracy does not only require educated humans, who master cultural techniques and who acquire certain abilities and skills and develop them. A democracy also requires as it were the people’s “emotional intelligence”.26 This intelligence must develop in the family first, as well as in the assessable, natural community first; later on it can also be effective beyond that sphere. As far as educational issues are concerned, Gasser always refers to the work of Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746 – 1827). In digesting and summarizing the different historical aspects and the ideas of progressive thinkers, Gasser can be called the actual discoverer of the “small region” and “assessability” as the basic conditions of a working democracy. Therefore it is certainly worthwhile to apply his ideas, modified by new research, to the question how direct democracy was historically developed in Switzerland. (full long text and Notes 1 to 26).

(Translation Current Concerns) …

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