Barn Raising in a Barnless World

Written by Chase Bethay

Daniel Kemmis, an attorney and Harvard graduate, starting his life in the humble land of eastern Montana. Here, in this rural landscape, Kemmis experienced and learned many lessons that would develop and influence his political beliefs. Kemmis is a civic republican at heart, because of what he learned growing up on his farm in Montana. Because of his upbringing, the civic republican way of life was a must. The choice to be completely independent was impossible, and dependence on your neighbors was a good thing.


These ideas were laid out in a work of his, Barn Raising, in which he describes the trials of surviving harsh winters and the unforgiving landscape of Montana. Here, nobody was rich enough or owned enough stuff to be able to be self-sufficient, and therefore everyone relied on everyone. For Kemmis, this was a good thing. You learned to get along with people you greatly dislike, and you do so because you have a greater common goal that needs to be accomplished. Kemmis explains how this teaches true tolerance and responsibility. To simply raise a barn means that you must rely on your community to bring hands, equipment and time to put this project together. The civic republican way of life was a must, and it was a good thing.

However, Kemmis’ arguments for civic republicanism are easily criticized by pointing out that not everybody lives like he did in rural Montana, and they would be right. They claim that because we live in urban environments where we are able to be self-sufficient, should we rather just embrace liberalism because civic republicanism is unnecessary? Absolutely not – in fact, maybe a little insufficiency would be good for us. Perhaps, as a society, we should move towards a lifestyle like that of young Kemmis, for the sake of strengthening the community.

In my life, I was very active in my high school Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter. Through this organization, I learned a lot about the agriculture community. In fact, I become so involved with other agriculture-minded students that I competed in a lot of FFA events and even raised a pig. The lessons I learned through these adventures opened my mind to completely different kind of lifestyle – that of the civic republican.

I have spent my entire life in the suburbs of Goodyear, Arizona. I have lived a distinct life apart from what Kemmis was raised in. There was no necessary cooperation, no co-dependence. I was self sufficient, and had no reason to embrace anything other than liberalism. However, when I decided to raise and show a pig for my FFA chapter, that all changed.

Completely out of my element and in foreign territory, I relied on the community to provide. In order to purchase a show pig, I needed someone who knew how to get a show pig – my agriculture advisor, Mr. Blattner. He was the one who traveled across state lines to buy pigs for the students and bring them back to Arizona. When I had to find a place to house my pig, my friend offered up a spare pin in her backyard. To feed a pig, I needed someone who knew how to properly care for a pig’s health. I met Mrs. Trump, who taught me how to feed and care for my pig. When my pig was sick, I had to find a veterinarian to bring my pig back to health. I remember going to sell our pigs at the market, and one of my friend’s pigs did not meet the weight threshold to be able to sell her pig. A nearby ranch owner bought her pig so that she would not be out hundreds of dollars as a high school student. I learned that it takes community to accomplish something as small as raising a single pig. The lessons I learned from this venture taught me so much about what it means to be a member of the community, and to care for others.

So yeah, Kemmis’ ideas about barn raising probably don’t hit home to everyone. But his ideas ring true – that raw, gritty, unfiltered community can teach us the importance of civic republican community in a way that we would never otherwise experience. Rather than scrap his ideas, maybe we should take on some sort of rural adventure. Maybe we should embrace a little insufficiency. Maybe we should rely on the community more. Maybe we should all raise a pig. You never know what you could learn.


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5 Responses to Barn Raising in a Barnless World

  1. Anonymous Student says:

    Hi Chase, I liked your post and the way you recapped Kemmis’s argument and presented a landscape that one would imagine while reading his writing on civic republicanism. It’s interesting that you bring up the main criticism of his argument that most people don’t live on farms or in this rural landscape anymore. Although I consider myself a classical liberal, which is reflective of my Colorado upbringing, I understand your argument for civic republicanism. Your story about your pig reflects the need for community and a balance between the two conflicting ideologies in our society.

  2. Anonymous Student says:

    Hi Chase, I understand your argument that maybe a more insufficient lifestyle would create a need for civic republicanism and strengthen community. However, I think that today civic republicanism can come in different forms than described by Kemmis. He needed civic republicanism to survive and his community was strong because of that. Today, civic republicanism brings people together in other ways, such as at community events or gatherings. I do not believe that it is necessary for people to have lesser lifestyles for the sake of community as community can be achieved without the survival factor. Nonetheless, I thought your post was very interesting and provided food for thought.

  3. Anonymous Student says:

    First and foremost, I want to applaud you for your ability to connect an age-old idea of rural communitarianism to the seemingly individualstic ideas surrounding urban life. Admittedly, I am a little biased; my blog post follows the same ideas and I love the ability to connect. Why can’t urban communities partake in some good ol’ communitarian practices? Modernization doesn’t have to separate us from the connections rural America once offered. Community centers, public schools, etc. offer us a way to look after those in need and be assisted in any ways we need. Great post man – really well articulated and supported!

  4. Anonymous Student says:

    I thought that this post was incredibly articulate and explained the ideas of civic republicanism well; the way you tied it into your own life helped give you more authority on a subject that can be difficult for many to apply to their own personal lives. However, when you discuss the difficulty of having a community in “urban life” and then mention that you grew up in a suburb (Goodyear) it took me by a bit of surprise. As someone who also grew up in a suburb of Phoenix, Ahwatukee, I have to say I have a significant sense of community. I know all of the people who work at my local Frys, the Starbucks by my house knows my regular order, and I can barely leave my house without running into people from y high school and middle school. While I recognize that knowing people and relying on others for help is not the same thing, I’d say that to make the claim that all urban or semi-urban areas are completely devoid of community because of self-sufficience is a bit of a generalisation. Although I do agree partly that community is not as important in urban society as it is in agricultural places, I don’t believe it is as extinct as you imply. Overall I really enjoyed reading this piece and to learn about your own personal experience with the pig was incredibly interesting, great blog post!

  5. Anonymous Student says:

    Daniel Kemmis describes his experience of living in poor conditions. Consequently, he had to rely on others to share goods and work towards a more important goal of survival. The background is crucial and could teach others. There are many organizations or political bodies that do not like each other. They might have different values, beliefs, and religion. However, politicians determine the quality of life of the majority. Deals, trades, and peace negotiations could bring stability, increase income, and an opportunity to travel for millions of people. For example, negotiations with North Korean could help people to see the world and become exposed to a different reality. At the same time, such willingness to cooperate might be considered as weakness and abused by terrorists or other groups. It is crucial to maintain a high standard of safety for members of the community to ensure the success of the new concept.

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