President of Switzerland Alain Berset spoke to Penn Law School students Sept. 27 about the threats democracy faces in the 21st century.
Students gathered in Silverman Hall to hear Berset discuss the Swiss model of government, and how its unique structure may help combat the challenges faced by modern democracy in the era of fake news.
Berset introduced Switzerland’s system of semi-direct democracy, in which Swiss citizens decide on policy directly without intermediaries. Berset said this system facilitates an open and secure atmosphere.
“The social stability we enjoy is in no small part because of our political culture," Berset said. "In political terms, we are constantly in flux. Our diversity is almost as complicated as our political system.”
Switzerland's democracy encourages its citizens to learn more about prominent issues, since they have the voting power to directly influence laws and policy through multiple referenda, Berset said. He added that Switzerland's form of democracy also serves as "an early warning system."
“In a direct democracy, everything is up for debate. It serves as a good vent for frustration," Berset said.
The lecture centered primarily on how a more direct democracy can combat fake news. Berset stressed a policy of international cooperation and dialogue to oppose this rising threat. He also highlighted the effectiveness of direct democracy as an antidote to the fake news epidemic.
Berset and attendees discussed ways to address fake news. The President emphasized education as the most realistic solution.
"We need to educate, to accept debate, to bring better arguments, to speak clearly, be more clear, and to be easy to understand," Berset said.
Reaction to the lecture was positive, with students and faculty alike praising Berset for tackling the issue of fake news and democracy in the current political climate.
First-year Penn Law student Jeff Turben appreciated the timing of Berset’s presentation, saying “it’s certainly timely with midterms coming up, with a lot of important points made.” Turben noted, however, he was less satisfied with the solutions Berset presented to combat fake news.
Master of Laws student Radhika Saxena agreed that Berset’s discussion was well thought-out, saying that "it was very relevant for the current political regime in the United States.”
"He really hit the nail on the head with raising issues about fake news and international cooperation," she added.
Berset also stressed that compassion must not be left out of the political equation. "We must consider what effect each political decision has on the weakest in our society," he said.
“It is by strengthening others that we strengthen ourselves. Nobody needs to lose for you to win," Berset added. "The world is not a zero-sum game.”