The two figureheads at the Lyceum
In 1819, the education reformer Eduard Pfyffer appointed non-theologians to three of the seven professorships in order to prepare the college for the changing times. Two of these appointments proved fortuitous to the Higher Education Institution, and would have been a great credit to any university:
Joseph Eutych Kopp was appointed as professor of philosophy. He was a pioneer of critical historical research about the formation of the Swiss confederation, based on the meticulous analysis of sources.
Paul Vital Troxler, a medical doctor from Beromünster, was appointed professor of philosophy and general history. He was a charismatic teacher and promoted popular sovereignty, equality before the law and liberal rights to freedom. However, this was not well received by the conservative Catholic government.
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For a brief period, two scholars who could have adorned any university of the time worked at the reorganized Lyceum: the philologist Joseph Eutych Kopp (1793-1866) and the philosopher Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler (1780-1866). As much as they differed in temperament and political stance, their careers were remarkably similar. Neither man was born into a privileged patrician family in Lucerne, instead both grew up in modest circumstances in the market town of Beromünster. Both achieved outstanding academic performance with a remarkable energy for work and academic ambition. After completing the Abbey School in Beromünster and the Lyceum in Lucerne, they were among the very first Lucerne natives to study at universities in Germany and acquire academic degrees. Both had extremely versatile talents – Kopp made a name for himself as a classical philologist, researcher of the middle ages and playwright. While Troxler was a recognised medical doctor, philosopher and pioneer of the Swiss federal state, which was founded in 1848. In addition, both men took political office – Kopp as a moderate Catholic conservative and Troxler as a radical democrat.
Joseph Eutych Kopp spent his entire professional career at the Lyceum, where he taught ancient languages up until 1865. He gained national importance as a pioneer of critical historical science based on the meticulous analysis of sources. He published ‘Urkunden zur Geschichte der eidgenössischen Bünde” (Documents on the History of the Confederations) (1835/51), and wrote the ‘Geschichte der eidgenössischen Bünde” (History of the Confederations), (1845ff.). With these publications, he inaugurated surprisingly early, a new, myth-free picture of the origins of the Federal Republic. He omitted from his story of the foundation of the early federal confederations the founding legend of Wilhelm Tell and the entire liberation tradition. This interpretation earned him the hostility of many Tell enthusiasts, as well as conservative and liberal patriots. More than a century later, critical research largely confirmed his findings. Kopp placed the academic search for the truth above political opportunity – just like any incorruptible scholar should.
Unlike Kopp, Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler only briefly taught in Lucerne, before the Daily Council dismissed this freedom-loving unconventional professor. Troxler had made a name for himself verbally and in writing as an advocate of popular sovereignty, of equality before the law and liberal rights to freedom. This was regarded as a direct attack on itself by the conservative restoration regime, which did not believe in participation by the people, nor in the separation of powers and in conducting real parliamentary work. In August 1821, the conflict that had been smoldering since Troxler's appointment came to a head. At the time, many prominent aristocratic figures from both home and abroad were in Lucerne to celebrate the inauguration of the Lion Monument with prominent local citizens. This massive monument which was carved out of rock according to a design by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen commemorates an event in 1792: the defence of the Tuileries by hundreds of Confederate mercenaries and their honorable or, depending on one’s viewpoint, pointless death in the service of France’s King Louis XVI. Troxler is said to have contemptuously scorned the lion in front of his students, as a ‘monument to slave labor’. Ten days later, in his work ‘Fürst und Volk nach Buchanan’s und Milton’s Lehre’ Prince and people according to the teaching of Buchanan and Milton) he defended the sovereignty of the people as the only legitimate form of government. Without notice, the authorities summarily dismissed this passionate pioneer for democracy.
This dismissal did not cause Troxler any lasting damage. At first, he kept himself afloat as a doctor in the liberal-minded Aargau. Then, in 1830, he received his first professorship in philosophy at the venerable University of Basel. However, because he displayed his sympathy for the canton of Basel Landschaft, which had rebelled against the rule of the city, the authorities sent him packing once again after what had been only a very brief spell. In 1834, the newly founded University of Bern appointed him to the chair for philosophy. From there, in the years that followed, he advocated a radical revision of the federation and the establishment of a Swiss federal state. After the Sonderbund war, Troxler inspired the constitutional fathers with a brochure advocating a bicameral parliamentary system based on the American model. The aim was to resolve the contradictions between the will of the people and the interests of the cantons. On 6th November 1848, the National Council and the Council of States met for the first time. Since then, the bicameral system has been one of the pillars of Swiss politics. Only a few people today know that this is thanks to a politically committed scholar, long decried a radical hothead in his home canton.