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.