Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 December 2020
The Helvetic Republic, Une et Indivisible, was established by the Constitution of 12 April 1798. This constitution was imposed by France and was intended to create a nation with a republican system. It abolished federalism so that cantons were reduced to the status of mere administrative units, whilst the communes were stripped of their prerogatives. Sovereignty was no longer a monopoly of privileged families; henceforth it was to be embodied in ‘the totality of citizens’. The nation became the foundation of society. The relationship between the individual and the state underwent a historic shift: from the commune to the Fatherland, that is, to the nation. The intention of the Republic was to replace a non-egalitarian hierarchy with a society made up of free and equal citizens.
For the new regime, the creation of an integrated national entity was a major challenge. It was first considered in terms of its political and civil dimensions: the proper functioning of representative democracy had to be ensured. This new national entity was constructed by means of a double dialectical process of inclusion and exclusion. The inclusion was to be based on the key notions of ‘people’ and ‘citizen’. The exclusion was to be founded on a certain number of criteria judged essential for national cohesion, for the functioning of the republic, and for the security of the new regime.
The emergence of a new model for ‘citizenship’ (citoyenneté) was intrinsically bound up with the development of national society. It took place at a turning point in Swiss history when, by both breaking away from and continuing with what had been inherited from the ancien regimé, the aim was to create a Helvetian people and to integrate citizens into a system that was still being developed. In this context, the notions of ‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’ took on a new and significant resonance. Constructing them was to be an issue for interests that revealed the tensions inherent in the confrontation between a new world view and national imperatives.
In this contribution, I shall first show how a single Helvetic indigénat replaced earlier rights of citizenship. Second, I shall focus in particular on the question of the political integration of citizens and its boundaries.