Editor’s Note:  This article is the result of a partnership between Divergent Options and a course on nationalism at the George Washington University.

Gracie Jamison is a sophomore at The George Washington University and studies political science and history.  She can be found on Twitter at @grjamison13 and writes for the GW Hatchet, an independent student-run newspaper.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  An Assessment of Nationalism’s Impact on Security and Stability in Switzerland

Date Originally Written:  August 6, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  March 2, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author was an exchange student in Switzerland in 2015. The author supports multicultural policies, but believes nationalism is useful in promoting Swiss national unity. The article is written from the point of view of an American observing trends in Switzerland.

Summary:  Swiss citizens feel safer and more secure due to Switzerland’s nationalist policies of mandatory military service and stringent naturalization requirements[1]. The Swiss overcome ethnolinguistic tensions that threaten to divide them through a sense of security allowed by mass military military mobilization and local participation in the naturalization process which supports a key part of Switzerland’s national identity.

Text:  Given Switzerland’s cultural heterogeneity, as exemplified by its four national languages and the diversity of ethnic groups, it would be well to ask how a strong Swiss identity is possible. And yet, not only does a strong Swiss identity exist, with “a common national identity as Swiss over and above their separate linguistic, religious, and cantonal identities,” but evidence shows that Swiss nationalist policies help exert a stabilizing force on the country as a whole and provide an opportunity to realize national strength and unity amidst the variety of ethnicities and cultures[2].

Swiss nationalism consists of several different factors, a particularly dominant one being a strong political culture, as Switzerland is rooted in shared political spirit and belief in common ideals rather than cultural similarities. While a country based upon political will and a desire to achieve a common civic vision may seem fragile, it has united a remarkable number of diverse language, cultural, and ethnic groups throughout Swiss history and provides a helpful model of civic nationalism for other diverse nations.

Nationalist policies in Switzerland have pursued this common vision and balanced the conflicting identities through several mechanisms, but mandatory military service, starting around age 20 for men as well as women who choose to join, is perhaps the most successful. While the forced requirement to join an institution could very easily lead to resentment and protest, a staggeringly high percentage of Swiss citizens support the continuation of mandatory service[3]. Perhaps even more revealing is the amount of young people, the very demographic required to join the institution itself, who support the military–nearly eight in ten respondents reported positive feelings toward the military, and the number is climbing[4]. According to scholar Stephen Van Evera, perceived security of borders and faith in institutions are two of the most important factors for predicting nationalist violence. Swiss support for the military, nationalism in a civic sense, buries ethnolinguistic divisions and prevents the nationalist violence that could arise when such groups may otherwise feel ignored or threatened by such institutions instead of relying on them for external security[5]. Fundamentally, where borders are secure and there is intrinsic faith in institutions, nationalist violence is much less likely to occur.

This burying of ethnolinguistic divisions is particularly evident in a statistic that shows a majority of citizens feel that Switzerland’s famous neutrality is linked to their national identity[6]. Switzerland’s role as mediator in major wars throughout history has given Swiss citizens a sense of pride and security in their global standing- critically, without the potential for violence that has accompanied other countries involved in conflicts. The concept of neutrality has become so tied to the image of the nation itself that to desire one’s security often requires one to support the nation and its institutions[7]. It is this sense of security then, as well as the faith in institutions like the military, that showcases the link between nationalism and the stabilizing force it exerts in Swiss life.

Although the ways in which nationalism helps promote external security are important, internal stability is another vital aspect of the Swiss national identity and is supported by stringent naturalization policies. The restrictions surrounding who can live in the country and become a citizen involves an incredible amount of local participation compared to most countries, as applications for citizenship are not considered on a federal level “but rather by the country’s cantons and municipalities—and the applicants’ peers have a say in whether naturalization gets granted.”[8] Residents in local villages vote on whether they feel their neighbor should receive citizenship or not, and communal assemblies allow citizens to voice their concerns, procedures that would seem strange to many Americans but one that would perhaps give them more faith in their institutions and a sense of value that may be lacking. Being able to decide who comes in and why within the populace leads to a deep sense of security about borders, and also upholds the common Swiss belief in political participation and pride in their direct democracy, with 65 percent of Swiss citizens saying they are satisfied with their government[9]. This naturalization practice also helps to explain Switzerland’s success at what many Swiss consider to be at the heart of their national identity: “the idea that several linguistic communities [coexisting] within a single nation based on a degree of shared political culture while preserving and developing their cultural distinctiveness in other spheres.”[10] Switzerland’s economy is also relevant to this particular point, as, given the dependence on sectors like banking that require massive amounts of coordination and precise understanding, it is not only reassuring to Swiss citizens that immigrants assimilate but necessary for the strength of the economy[11].

Switzerland is rooted in civic nationalism that goes back to the writing of the Swiss constitution, a document “whose explicit goal was to consolidate the Swiss national unity and national sentiment through policy centralisation,” and has contributed to a national identity that is based upon shared political culture and the concept of neutrality[12]. Furthermore, nationalistic policies and programs in Switzerland ensure that tensions or divisions that might otherwise threaten a sense of a united Swiss nation are superseded by faith in institutions and the desire for the security that they provide, as well as a strong belief and participation in the political culture. While all of the preceding works well for Switzerland, it remains to be seen if Swiss-like civic nationalism can be successfully adopted by other countries who also have multi-ethnic populations.


[1] Swissinfo.ch. (2018, May 25). Swiss feel safe and trust security forces, says report. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from

[2] Miller, D. 1995. On Nationality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[3] Davis, M. (2019, March 23). What makes Switzerland different. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/switzerland-high-gun-ownership

[4] Swissinfo.ch. (2018, May 25). Swiss feel safe and trust security forces, says report. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from

[5] Evera, S. V. (1994). Hypotheses on Nationalism and War. International Security, 18(4), 5-39. doi:10.2307/2539176

[6] Kużelewska, Elżbieta. (2016). Language Policy in Switzerland. Studies in Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric. 45. 10.1515/slgr-2016-0020.

[7] Swissinfo.ch. (2018, May 25). Swiss feel safe and trust security forces, says report. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss-security-study_swiss-feel-safe-and-trust-security-forces–says-report/44144770

[8] Garber, M. (2017, January 14). In Switzerland, You Can Be Denied Citizenship for Being Too Annoying. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/01/switzerland-citizenship-nancy-holten/513212

[9] Lucchi, M., Swiss Public Affairs, & World Economic Forum. (2017, July 31). This is how Switzerland’s direct democracy works. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/07/switzerland-direct-democracy-explained

[10] Helbling, M., & Stojanović, N. (2011). Switzerland: Challenging the big theories of nationalism1. Nations and Nationalism, 17(4), 712-717. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8129.2011.00516.x

[11] Morris, D. (2018, October 25). Swiss Model of Positive Nationalism. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1991-09-01-1991244083-story.html

[12] Helbling, M., & Stojanović, N. (2011). Switzerland: Challenging the big theories of nationalism1. Nations and Nationalism, 17(4), 712-717. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8129.2011.00516.x