a study in swiss

so some people have asked me: what about the swiss then? why are they behaving so badly? are they just a bunch of clannish cuckoo clock makers or what?

first of all, everything’s relative. the results of the swiss referendum to curtail immigration were actually reeeally close — just 50.3% voted yes (that was out of a 55.8% voter participation rate) — so it's not like the vast majority of the swiss citizenry want to slow down immigration to their country. and we are only talking here about slowing down immigration to switzerland — the referendum was about reducing the number of people from the e.u. that will be allowed to migrate to switzerland in future — and they haven’t even agreed upon what they’re going to reduce it to yet — it was NOT about ending immigration altogether. nor have the meanie, meanie swiss decided to deport any current immigrants in switzerland or anything like that.

meanwhile, saudi arabia HAS deported 250,000 illegal immigrants in just the last three months — another two million have self-deported since last march when the saudi immigration laws changed — and the saudi government hopes to deport an additional two million over the course of the next year. (they’ve got something like nine million immigrants in the country.) the saudi government will also fine companies that do not meet quotas for hiring saudi citizens — businesses will have to pay a fine for each non-saudi employee they have over and above the number of saudi employees.

it’s hard to become a citizen of switzerland, of course — even non-swiss who are born and raised in the country have to apply for citizenship, and it’s usually the citizens of their respective cantons who vote on whether or not to give applicants citizenship — but it’s next to impossible to become a saudi arabian citizen if your family isn’t/ancestors weren’t saudi. and up until last year, the saudi government made it very difficult for non-saudis to marry saudi women — it’s still not very easy. not so in switzerland. some groups in saudi arabia don’t like and won’t marry — on principle! — other groups in saudi arabia. why the difference in attitude towards foreigners and outsiders in the two countries?

the gdps (the economists’ favorite metric) of the two countries are not all that different (in millions of u.s. dollars): saudi arabia=711,050 and switzerland=631,183 (note that the swiss get there without all that oil). so that’s probably not the problem. a little over 23% of the population in switzerland is comprised of immigrants — the number is ca. 30% for saudi arabia. perhaps the proportionally greater number of immigrants in saudi arabia accounts for the different reactions to immigration in the two countries, but i somehow doubt it. dunno. maybe it’s where the immigrants come from? in saudi arabia, they’ve mostly got immigrants from the indian subcontinent, yemen, and the phillippines. the largest immigrant groups in switzerland consist of people from italy, germany, the former yugoslavia/albania, portugal, and turkey (turks and kurds). so a larger number of immigrants in saudi arabia are from farther-flung places than those in switzerland, but, still, the saudis expelled 800,000 yemenis in the early 1990s, and how different can they be from saudi nationals?

no — there’s a difference in attitude toward foreigners between saudi arabia and switzerland that i think cannot be (completely) accounted for by economic circumstances or how foreign the foreigners are. the swiss want to slow down immigration to their country — the saudis don’t really like you marrying their women! the saudis, imho, are definitely muuuuch less universalistic (see here and here) in their thinking than the swiss.

buuuut the swiss seem maybe to be less universalistic than other western european groups. ‘sup with that? are they more inbred than other western europeans or what?

before i get to that, i should note that the french-speaking areas together with zurich did NOT vote for decreasing immigration as enthusiastically as the german- and italian-speaking regions (h/t daniel olsson! – map source [opens pdf]):

swiss referendum map 02

as mario on twitter pointed out, there are more immigrants in the french-speaking cantons and zurich (ca. 25% foreign born) than other areas of the country — from the telegraph:

“Interestingly, those areas with the most immigrants, and therefore with the most overcrowding, typically voted against the proposals.”

it could very well be that foreign born swiss citizens tended to vote against this proposal — someone ought to check. anecdata: i have a cousin who is a naturalized swiss citizen, and she voted against the proposal. (see? what do i keep saying? gotta be careful with letting in immigrants!)

anyway…i have some notes on switzerland and the swiss, but don’t have a complete picture of the history of their mating patterns (yet). here’s what i’ve got so far…

in late antiquity, the gallic helvetii inhabited the swiss plateau — no idea what their mating patterns or social structures were like — and, of course, the romans were present. some people in switzerland were christians already by the early 300s a.d., but remember that the first of the church’s cousin marriage bans didn’t appear until the early 500s a.d.

with the collapse of rome, the burgundians moved into western switzerland and the alemanni into the north onto that plateau. again, don’t know anything specific about the mating patterns/social structures of either of these groups, but seeing as they were germanic populations, it’s likely that they had similar mating patterns/social structures to the other germanic groups: some amount of cousin marriage, residential nuclear families, and bilateral kindreds that were of import in everyday life and, most especially, in legal issues including wergeld payments and feuding (see the links under “germans” in the “mating patterns in europe series” below ↓ in left-hand column for more info).

the alemanni and burgundians were conquered by the franks in the early part of the sixth century, and presumably the franks would’ve tried to impose their ideas on marriage in their new dominions and/or the burgundians and alemanni might’ve wanted to imitate their new overlords. avoiding cousin marriage may not have been part of that package right away, though — recall that, although the church banned cousin marriage in 506 a.d., the frankish king didn’t issue a secular law banning cousin marriage until sometime in the 750s, but then by the 800s the franks thought it (heh) barbaric to marry even a second cousin (see this post). how well this law was enforced outside the frankish heartland in north/northeastern france — or if it even applied throughout all of the frankish kingdom(s) — i don’t know. i would think it likely that, whatever the case, the pressure to avoid cousin marriage would’ve been strongest in the core areas of the frankish kingdom(s) — austrasia and neustria in northern and northeastern france — since that’s where the practice really got going the earliest, and that the degrees of pressure and/or enforcement would’ve been weaker the farther one moved away from that core — but i could be wrong about that. additionally, the alpine regions of switzerland simply never would have experienced manorialism, a system in which enforcement of the cousin marriage bans was made easier (lords of the manor often had to approve marriages, plus there were typically churches/ecclesiastical-types attached to manors) and which pushed for nuclear family units.

fast-forward to the reformation (i told you i didn’t have the complete picture!) — one of the outcomes of the reformation was that many of the new protestant nations/churches reversed the catholic church’s cousin marriage bans — cousin marriage is not prohibited anywhere in the bible, so many of the reformers just threw the bans out (plus they were also disgusted with the church charging for dispensations as they were with the indulgences). however, in the 1500s (1530s), many cities and cantons in switzerland actually reinstated the cousin marriage bans — zurich, bern, basel, schaffenhaussen, saint gallen. geneva had never done away with them. the tide changed again, though, beginning in the 1600s, and over the course of the next couple hundred years, the bans on cousin marriage were gradually lifted. from “Kin Marriages: Trends and Interpretations from the Swiss Example” by jon mathiue in Kinship In Europe: Approaches to Long-Term Development, 1300-1900 (2007) [pgs. 214, 215, 224, and 216]:

“After an especially conservative phase in the late sixteenth century, the rolling back of the prohibitions emerged as the dominant trend, similar to that in the German lands….

“Thus, except for the canon rules, which for Catholics remained valid in their religious existence, the familial marriage prohibitions were rolled back three degrees over the course of 350 years….

Around 1500, one could only marry his fourth cousin; by 1900, first cousins were acceptable as marriage partners. The dispensations for forbidden kin marriages, documented in local and central records, show a parallel development. They increased practically everywhere, and especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, became a common occurrence….

“That the lawmakers repealed the restrictions despite every counterargument is thanks not just to the new relationship between state, church, and citizen, which had developed since the revolution. Earlier juristic practice had already had to take into consideration the values of the populace to some extent, and here it appears that large groups surmounted their aversion to kin marriages, because they were increasingly interested in marrying their kin.”

so, at the same time that the secular and canon laws against cousin marriage were being relaxed in the country, swiss roman catholics were, additionally, applying for greater numbers of dispensations from the church to marry cousins. here is table 11.1 from “Kin Marriages: Trends and Interpretations from the Swiss Example”. the number before the slash (/) in each instance is the percentage of marriages up to and including third cousins; the number after the slash, the percentage of marriages up to and including second cousins. you can see that there was a general increase in the percentage of first and second cousin marriages in all of the locales over the time period. of course, the rates don’t come anywhere near the rates of first and second cousin marriage in saudi arabia today (50%+), but the third cousin rates seem quite high to me [pg. 217 – click on table for LARGER views]:

switzerland - mathieu - table 11.1

by way of comparison, many of the first and second cousin marriage rates in the 1800s are higher than those for the same time period in southern england, and the third cousin marriage rates are MUCH higher. for southern england, the rates were: first cousins=2.2%, second cousins=1.7%, third cousins=2.2%. the swiss rates are more like rates seen in parts of scotland (see also the other rates in the table in that post).

an isonymic study (not as great as a genetics study, but hey — you work with what you’ve got) of a sample of 1.7 million swiss individuals conducted in 1994 found that (links added by me):

“…the highest consanguinity values were observed in the Grisons and in the nucleus of the founding Cantons [see map here – h.chick], while the lowest were observed in the Cantons of Geneva and Vaud, preferential areas of immigration to Switzerland from abroad…. French and Italian languages indicate minor, German and Romanisch major inbreeding.

i said before in my post the radical reformation that my guess is that the swiss are some of western europe’s “inbetweeners” as far as outbreeding goes. i guessed that they probably got involved in The Outbreeding Project later than some other western europeans — the ones in and closer to the center of my “core” europe. and they didn’t experience manorialism either (unless some of them on the swiss plateau did?). the fact that the swiss were a bit late on the medieval reduction of internal violence in the country — as compared to the english, dutch, and belgians anyway — but were ahead of the italians on this score — is an indicator that they are inbetweeners, i think.

on reviewing the evidence that i’ve collected so far, what it in fact looks like is that, yes, the swiss may indeed have started outbreeding a bit late — possibly a bit later than the franks in the frankish heartland who were seriously outbreeding by the 800s — but, then, in addition to the late start, it looks like the swiss outbreeding project went into reverse in the 1600s. not extremely so — they didn’t resume marrying their cousins at rates that the arabs do today, or not even like the southern italians of the 1960s, but something along the lines of some of the scots in the 1800s.

so perhaps the swiss are inbetweeners BOTH because they started outbreeding a bit late (900s? 1000s?) AND because they resumed inbreeding again — somewhat — about four hundred years ago.

anyway…more on the swiss anon!

previously: more on mating patterns from deutschland (and switzerland) and the radical reformation

(note: comments do not require an email. swiss miss!)



  1. Obvious linguistic divide. The German and Italian cantons are more likely to vote yes than the French ones. It’s interesting considering that Germany and Italy have much fewer blacks and muslims proportionally than France does.

    There seems to be a religious divide too. The Catholic cantons seemed to vote more for the immigration restrictions, whereas the Protestant ones voted more against.


  2. I’m not sure the Swiss are outliers. I follow the news pretty carefully and the UK govt is terrified of an upstart party, UK Independence Party, that wants to leave the EU. Mainly because the “free movement” of people has brought millions of poorer Eastern Europeans. I don’t get the feeling they dislike the EE’s per se, just that there has been way too many, way too fast.

    There are similar parties throughout Western Europe (except Germany, still stigmatized by WW II). That includes France, with the Front National.

    The Swiss are not in the EU, have a more “direct democracy” than the other countries. It’s just that simple. Sometimes the answer is in plain sight.

    I bet similar results would be found in the UK, but the govt there is not about to test the waters and the citizens cannot force a vote as in Switzerland. Too bad.


  3. No knowledge just anecdotes: my village relatives in the middle Switzerland ( canton Bern) are still stubbornly independent and anti-government thinkers in the rural areas but the younger ones are being persuaded by the education system promoting “liberal values” that this kind of Swiss thought is old fashioned.

    I have asked myself how they ended up with a working participatory democracy. Much economic ( including taxation) and political power is devolved to the cantons although this is changing due to significant elite pressure.

    Maybe the “highlander” gene/culture distrust meant that the government could only really achieve acceptance in small regional units. Roughly about 9/26 cantons have tiny populations in the tens of thousands and about 11/26 have populations still under 1/2 a million. Only 2 have populations over 1 million people. You belong to the canton your family was born in and cantons approve citizenship applications.

    They are not violent feuders like other hill people but display many of the characteristics that could support feuding. ( the joke is that Switzerland does not have an army; Switzerland IS an army). People are judged on family reputation as much as independent activity. Family memories are kept alive for a long time and family ties are still strong in rural areas as evidenced by children living at home for economic reasons ( working in family businesses) or very near home even when they move away.

    They see the elites as imposing a foreign culture and foreign dilution. Although the majority of immigrants to Switzerland are from Germany and France and therefor not too culturally dissimilar to OUR eyes this is not the point. They are not Swiss even if they are German and the French are certainly seen as a problem. Underlying the whole issue is that the Swiss are very disturbed by the influx of Moslems – religion and African/Iraqi/Afghanistan dark skinned refugees. The cities are more pc but the country is very frank about the economic drain and the cultural challenge these groups.


  4. There is another voting pattern too: major urban area vs countryside

    Canton Zürich as a whole voted no,. The city itself voted 67.6% no *but* the rest of the canton 51.9% yes

    The pattern is similar for the French/German-speaking canton of Fribourg/Freiburg: The bilingual district where the capital city is situated voted 60% no, and the smallest district Veveyse voted no 52% the other five districts voted yes regardless of majority language. (http://www.fr.ch/cha/fr/pub/votations.htm)


  5. I’ve got a few comments.

    Ok, to get it out of the way: the cuckoo-clock isn’t Swiss. I realize this is completely irrelevant to the topic, but I’m really tired of the cliché.

    More to the point, you are going to have a really hard time arguing that the Swiss are “clannish” (I did read your “clannishness defined”). Clannishness as a remnant of tribal society is, of course found, and as everywhere much more in rural areas than in cities. But Switzerland is highly (post-)industrialised and densely populated, with urban population close to 74%. But even before industrialisation, the whole project of “Switzerland” was one of overcoming tribalism. The Old Confederacy in the 14th century started as a collaboration between populations (who actually saw themselves separate “races”, Uri=”Goths”, Schwyz=”Swedes”, Unterwalden=”Romans”). By the end of the 15th century, they acted as a single political entity. In the early modern period, this was cast in terms of Republicanism (meaning, I hasten to add, modelling society on the ideal of the Athenian city state and the Italian city Republics, but with the addition that the Confederacy was a bond *between* republics, in a super-state called Republica Helvetiorum or Republique des Suisses). Of course the “clannish” feuds persisted, but the whole history of the Confederacy, 14th to 19th centuries, is full of calls to overcome clannishness and work together as good “Eidgenossen”: they were really trying to fix this, and over time they succeeded. When modern Switzerland was formed in 1848, it was precisely the period when everyone (and especially the Germans) was clamouring for their nation state. The Swiss, still stuck with the problem of clannishness (cantonal loyalties) but with multi-lingual and multi-racial (according to the meaning of the term race at the time) decided to form a “Willensnation” instead. This is precisely the kind of rational and anti-clannish, outbreeding approach to society that the European Union is struggling with today, and failing. So, it you want to study a population that is not free of clannishness, but has a 500 year history of perceiving their own problems with clannisness and actively trying to deal with them, I think the Swiss are going to top your list of examples.

    Now, the immigration vote is a really difficult example. First, lack of comparanda outside of Switzerland: the peculiarity of the Swiss system is that people got to vote on it in the first place. Second, dozens of prior votes on similar questions which turned out completely different. In 2006, the Swiss public voted in support of paying one billion to the new member states of the EU, in which Switzerland is not even a member(!), with no compensation or counter-trade. They just agreed to give away a billion to poorer nations in Eastern Europe. I put it to you that while politicians elsewhere in Europe may conceivably come up with similar schemes, it is almost inconceivable that the voting public in any other nation would be anti-clannish enough to do anything remotely as altruistic. Add to this a dozen referenda on xenophobic proposals beginning in 1970 which were soundly rejected. The map of the referendum outcome shows a superposition of several aspects, including bona-fide clannishness in Alpine valleys, the generic rural-urban divide, and (in the case of Ticino) vast differences in economic plight. The Ticniesi voted yes because they are swamped by Italian commuters to the point where their already weak economy (by Swiss standards) is about to collapse.
    Also note that the Telegraph’s claim of “Interestingly, those areas with the most immigrants, and therefore with the most overcrowding, typically voted against the proposals” is just made up by journalists. It was widely repeated by Swiss media to be sure, because it is the narrative the mainstream media would like to push, but as soon as somebody decided to look at the actual numbers it turned out that the claimed correlation did not exist. In other words, it’s just journalists repeating lies, don’t use it to argue any hypothesis.

    Finally, the question if the “Swiss” are historically inbreeding or outbreeding is futile. It seems that the hbd-sphere is beginning to take seriously the genetic differences within cultural groups or “nations” (as in “Albion’s Seed”, German cliché map, etc.). You will again probably find no better example for this than the Swiss, which are so notoriously diverse that they never even considered forming a “nation”, they self-identified (until the 20th century at least) as a confederacy between diverse races. Which makes perfect sense if you look at any map of cultures or supposed migrations since the Neolithic: The Alps serve as a refugium and reservoir for marginalized populations, while the Swiss Plateau is a kind of invader’s highway, while the Brünig-Napf-Reuss line separated Gallo-Roman-Burgundian populations from Raetic-Germanic-Alemannic ones since the Iron Age. So while you can meaningfully ask if Tarasp or Entlebuch were inbreeding or outbreeding, this will tell you nothing about Basel or Geneva. My point is that the question is ill-formed, because it is meaningless to treat the Swiss as “a population” in this context.


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