The Death of Communal Liberty: A History of Freedom in a Swiss Mountain Canton

The Death of Communal Liberty: A History of Freedom in a Swiss Mountain Canton

Benjamin R. Barber
Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 314
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Death of Communal Liberty: A History of Freedom in a Swiss Mountain Canton
    Book Description:

    Switzerland today is faced with a profound dilemma-its village life is dying, a casualty of the collision between communal norms and the need for national survival in an industrial, urbanizing world. Benjamin Barber traces the origins and evolution of communal liberty in the group of alpine villages that make up modern Canton Graubunden, and recreates their poignant thousand-year struggle to maintain this tradition in the face of a hostile environment, hierarchical feudal institutions, and European power polities.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6717-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note on Names and Translation
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. PART I: Introduction
    • CHAPTER I Political Theory and Swiss Practice
      (pp. 3-18)

      The apparent pluralism and professed heterogeneity of current political thought sometimes lead us to forget its stunning parochialism. Many of our political ideas and most of our political practices have been distilled from an Anglo-American tradition that is as insular as it is fertile, as narrow as it is long, as dogmatic as it is convincing. This tradition takes its theoretic orientation from the psychological hedonism and atomistic individualism of Thomas Hobbes, and relies on terms like power and interest to get at the political. It has been conditioned by the history of constitutionalism, limited government, and natural rights it...

  6. PART II: The History of Raetia
    • CHAPTER II Raetia to 1524—the Formative Years
      (pp. 21-47)

      History has a certain tiresome fascination of its own. Names and dates accumulate, epochs fall away, and we are finally drawn into the least interesting records of man’s past. Nevertheless, that fascination has overwhelming limitations and the details into which we must now enter are hardly significant, let alone entertaining, for us unless they can be regarded as a background against which the more vital dilemmas of Raetia’s political experience can be viewed with proper contrast. Raetia’s chronological history, like just about every country’s, unfolds as a succession of kingships and wars, of constitutions and usurpations, of personal heroics and...

    • CHAPTER III Raetia to 1800—The Republic of the Three Leagues
      (pp. 48-76)

      Graubünden had spent over 700 years acquiring independence; it would spend nearly 300 more defending it, only to see it lost to Napoleon’s armies. As burdensome and terrible as the years of independence often were, they were years of glory for the Raetian people. They constitute a separate chapter not only in this survey of the Raetian past but also in the very history of Europe.

      The Swabian War had pointed to the need for closer cooperation among the three Raetian leagues. The unexpectedly complex responsibilities of ruling the Tellina valley transformed the need into a political imperative. The religious...

  7. PART III: Old Free Raetia and the Emergence of Freedom
    • CHAPTER IV The Alpine Environment
      (pp. 79-106)

      From Aristotle through Montesquieu to contemporary geopolitical theorists like the Sprouts, students of politics have insisted on the interdependence of politics and the physical environment. Geography has been treated as a natural generic factor in the study of almost every major political construct in the theorist’s lexicon, and freedom is not an exception. Thus, the emergence of freedom in Graubünden, a land in which geographical influences have always been predominant, appears to be particularly amenable to a study of the conditioning effects of the physical environment. To neglect the geographical in exploring the conditions of freedom inAlt Frei Raetia...

    • CHAPTER V Feudalism and Communality
      (pp. 107-139)

      Feudalism stands between modern man and both his civilized Greco-Roman roots and his primeval tribal origins—a second womb for a life process that had in fact been going on for millennia. Though we may look to Mediterranean civilization for clues to the abstract character of our culture and thought, we generally go no further than medieval feudalism in seeking the concrete historical antecedents of our political institutions—thus, Joseph R. Strayer’s masterful little bookOn the Medieval Origins of the Modern State

      Having been both enlightened and stymied by our examination of the indecisive influence of geography in its...

    • CHAPTER VI Surviving Independence
      (pp. 140-169)

      An important chapter in Switzerland’s book of traditional wisdom is devoted to the presumed interdependence of freedom and sovereign independence. Independence is thought to be indispensable to freedom: hence, “territorial inviolability also means moral and spiritual independence.”¹ Yet at the same time freedom is regarded as prerequisite to independence: thus, “the first line of our national defense is our domestic politics.”² Appealing as this line of reasoning may seem in a land that has enjoyed both free institutions and independence for centuries, there is nothing self-evident about it. Padraig Pearse is said to have proclaimed: “I would rather be a...

    • CHAPTER VII Direct Democracy in the Communes
      (pp. 170-204)

      There is an old, slightly boastful, altogether telling story that the people of Graubünden like to recall about an encounter between a Raetian muleteer and a foreign prince on the narrow steeps of the Bernina pass: “Give way!” the nobleman is supposed to have thundered, impatient to be by the lumbering mule train. But the obdurate Bündner, standing squarely in the path, merely retorts, “I am a Raetian freeman.” The noble lord repeats his command, punctuating it by haughtily making known his princely rank. With this the muleteer springs up and hurls the lord from his horse into the snow,...

  8. PART IV: Modern Graubünden and the Conservation of Freedom
    • CHAPTER VIII Communal Autonomy and Swiss Federalism
      (pp. 207-236)

      Many years ago a tiny commune with only sixty-five active citizens rebuked the canton’s overbearing administration bent on intervention in the commune’s affairs in the following startling manner: “This commune existed long before there ever was a canton: it is a sovereign Bündner commune and it denies to the canton any right whatsoever to decide questions concerning its ultimate existence or justification.”¹ The commune in Graubünden was in truth heir to an associational tradition with roots in the tribal common association, the canton was but a contrivance of the recent past, more imposed upon than chosen by the Raetian people....

    • CHAPTER IX The Confrontation with Modernity
      (pp. 237-274)

      There are still 220 communes in Graubünden and over 3,000 in Switzerland, but more and more the rural village community appears as an anachronism in an age with no tolerance for throwbacks. The self-conscious Swiss government, still cringing at Karl Barth’s 1963 remark suggesting that Switzerland was fast becoming “the village idiot of Europe,”¹ and trying ardently to prove that theirs is not “the most archaic governmental system in the West,”² seems willing to reconsider the entire political past. Traditions that do not meet the test of centralist aspirations and of bureaucratic efficiency become immediate targets of official propaganda. Talk...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • [Illustration]
      (pp. None)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-292)
  10. Index
    (pp. 293-302)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)