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The US variety of federalism

Mount Rushmore is a testament to the US culture of individualism. www.nps.gov

The United States is the only federal state that is older than Switzerland.

This content was published on August 22, 2002 - 13:55

But although their structures are similar, the US has a different form of federalism.

"Swiss federalism was borne out of cultural diversity and has to be seen and understood in this context," Thomas Fleiner, the head of the federalism institute at the University of Freiburg, told swissinfo.

He added that it was for this reason Switzerland still took great interest in other multicultural nations, such as Canada, Belgium and India.

But in the US, federalism was driven by the need for efficiency and competition between the member states, rather than being based on integration and democracy within a multicultural society, says Fleiner.

It's this difference in the guiding principles of federalism, which made the US an exception among federal nations," Fleiner adds.

"Integration played a much less important role in the US, despite the fact that the nation was made up of heterogeneous groups," Nicole Töpperwien of the federalism institute told swissinfo.

Individualism

Although different groups became integrated eventually, she says, values such as cultural diversity were neglected in favour of individualism. And American federalism failed to take account of minority groups, such as Indians.

By contrast, Switzerland strove to maintain and even encourage cultural diversity, says Töpperwien, although less so when it came to embracing new languages and cultures.

"The traditional cultural differences - such as the numerous languages, religions and cantons - are valued in Switzerland, but not so the new languages and religions [which are less readily accepted]," she explains.

However, this was a problem in all countries, Töpperwien said, with Switzerland at least having succeeded in having different cultural groups living peacefully within its borders.

By Hansjörg Bolliger

US federalism summary

The United States is the only federal state older than Switzerland.

But US-style federalism differs because it was borne from the need for efficiency and competition.

Switzerland's federal system was based on integration and democracy.

The culture of individualism is strong in the US, at the price of cultural diversity.

Switzerland embraced internal cultural diversity but less so new languages and cultures.

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