Le bonheur suisse, again

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Michael Lambek. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau5.3.007


Le bonheur suisse, again

Michael LAMBEK, University of Toronto

It is not obvious or straightforward to write about happiness or even to know who or what the subject of our description should be: an individual or a society; a moment, an event, or a life; a semantic category or an embodied experience? Is happiness reached through struggle or found in complacency? It could be considered as an emotion or a virtue, as psychological or social, individual or collective, evanescent or long term, an ideal or a condition. This article finesses some of these distinctions, addressing happiness through the life of a single individual, a retired Swiss farmer. It inquires into happiness in a society that is generally known for its wellbeing, order, and prosperity, but also for its work ethic and perhaps for being boring, confronting stereotypes while implicitly showing the way individual and collective happiness are interconnected. In a series of informal conversations, the elderly farmer describes his life and the things that made him happy, including his cattle, building his farm and devolving it fairly to his children, and attending the Sennenball (the annual midsummer cowherds’ ball) of his youth. He was able to participate in the public life of his Gemeinde (municipality) and canton (Appenzell Ausserrhoden) and he epitomizes the ideal liberal citizen in a political sense. I conclude that I have described a good and happy life, one in which the temporal and ethical dimensions align. In my portrait, happiness can be considered, following Aristotle’s remark, as good activity not amusement and deriving from the exercise of the capacities, as described by Macpherson.

Keywords: happiness, a life, Switzerland, Appenzell, ethics, succession, civic engagement

Happiness is good activity not amusement.
Aristotle, Ethics X, 6

Happiness raises serious challenges as a subject; difficult to speak about without sounding either trite or ironic.1 As Tolstoy famously wrote, happy families are all the same. The absence of happiness is evidently a different matter. Tolstoy’s compatriot Akhmatova was led to ask, “Whoever said you were supposed to be happy?” And Kolakowski (2012) takes the question a step further, wondering, “Is God Happy?” [112]It is also difficult to ask people directly about happiness, whereas you can generally hear what makes people unhappy without asking. Unhappiness is perhaps the best diagnostic of happiness. But the larger problem is how to escape from the discourse of happiness to the substance. As we say repeatedly in North America, after swallowing our antidepressants, happy birthday, merry Christmas, and have a nice day. Or as Kolakowski bluntly remarks, “Happiness is something we can imagine but not experience” (2012: 16).

Although Kolakowski was speaking about one’s own happiness, this may be a lesson for ethnographers as well—the happiness of others is only something we can imagine, not experience. This is not only because the state or condition is elusive or because we can never fully know another or know exactly how he or she feels, but also because of a fundamental uncertainty as to what happiness “is” and how we might define or describe it, let alone authoritatively establish its presence. How we perceive the happiness of another is linked to how we conceive of it as a concept. It is naïve to assume that we simply know what it is—or will know it when we see it—before we start to study it.

“Happiness” contains the same difficulty as all words that are located somewhere between, or simultaneously as, an emotion and a moral quality, or a value and a virtue. Work on such “moral sentiments” (Smith [1759] 1976) wavers between being overly linguistic (semantic or pragmatic) in analysis, and overly psychological, without grasping them as broader features of the world.2 Is happiness (to be) understood as biological, psychological, phenomenological, ethical, cultural, or political (a happy, prosperous nation), and in what ways are these connected? Is it personal, interpersonal, or transpersonal?

There are also existential questions. Is happiness ordinary or extraordinary? Is it characterized by tranquility or intensity, contentment or joy? Is it a limited good or like a love triangle—my happiness at your expense? Can we be happy in knowledge of the misery of others? Can happiness last? Can we really live “happily ever after”?

It is unresolved, perhaps irresolvable, whether happiness is an ideal or a condition, and many complex arguments arise, whether we take one or the other tack. For instance, there is the translation problem: if happiness and wellbeing are more distinct in English than in French, or happiness and luck than in German, imagine the differences between English and Malagasy, or with Greek eudaimonia. And the evidence problem: If happiness is a condition, how do we know it when we see [113]it? Should we rely on personal reports or indexical signs?3 If I am aware that I am happy, does not my self-consciousness already mitigate the condition?4 Is happiness only a judgment after the fact? Moreover, one can fool others and even oneself. Should one speak, after Harvey Sacks (1984), of “doing being happy”?

I have decided to cut through these difficulties by taking as the unit of happiness not a statement, bodily expression, or feeling, but a life. I treat happiness not as an abstract ideal, value, or attribution, nor as an immediate sensation or emotion, but as what is tacitly affirmed and manifest in the living and recollecting of an actual life. I describe a man who regards his life with contentment. It is a life in which the protagonist has embraced local models, expectations, and criteria and has excelled. Hence it is a life of virtue in the classical sense and in the eyes of his contemporaries. However, I do not say that only this kind of life could be happy; it is one kind of happy life. It is also a Protestant (Reformiert) life, characterized by a strong work ethic and a certain sobriety, lived at a period of history when opportunities presented themselves to hard-working and self-directed individuals to fulfill their goals, earn a reasonable livelihood, and participate actively in their community. Like all lives, it is inflected by moral luck (Williams 1981).

It is also a Swiss life. Hence a second aim of the article is to depict a Swiss way of life. This is difficult because Switzerland has been subject to so much popular representation that no one, Swiss included, can approach their lives except through a veil of stereotypes. Happiness is one epithet that has been applied to the Swiss collectively, as they have been imagined, by themselves and by many observers. On the very day I sat down to revise this essay, the BBC carried a headline “Switzerland is ’world’s happiest’ country in new poll.”5 Indeed, among the factors that led me to Switzerland were, first, that it is a place about which no one speaks without some kind of value judgment, and, second, because I thought it would be interesting to study a society that was prosperous and peaceful (cf. Steinberg 1976). What would the human condition look like in or from such a place? Because so much contemporary anthropology concerns places and people characterized by poverty, submission, or suffering, it could be of interest to restore some balance. Thus, one of the questions that brought me to Switzerland is rather like the ones that motivated the editors of this collection.6[114]

I was heartened to discover that Luc Boltanski addressed very similar issues in Le bonheur suisse (1966).7 Boltanski raises the significant question of how to picture a society already inundated and captivated by portraits of itself. How do you move beyond evident and omnipresent stereotypes without dismissing what may be true in them? He makes an important methodological move, pointing out that he is studying self-definition, the expressed ideology, rather than national character per se; in my earlier language, the ideal rather than the condition. He also observes that while the dominant Swiss virtues appear to be the same across the language borders, the relationships that people bear toward the virtues, notably their ability to live up to them, vary by class and across the urban/rural divide.

Another question that Switzerland and its stereotypes raise is the relationship, conceptually and empirically, between happiness and boredom. Is Switzerland happy or boring? Is happiness distinct from and opposed to boredom, or might happiness itself be boring? Is that not one of the objections intellectuals have made to the bourgeoisie? Is that not one of the objections people make to the idea of Switzerland? Does happiness emerge in acts of engagement or struggle, or is it to be found in complacency? These questions are also internal to Switzerland, evident in the polarized ideal types of the hardy mountaineer and the satisfied bourgeois, but also transcended by two significant features, both noted by Boltanski, namely that (a) the work ethic was as characteristic of urban as of rural Swiss and (b) all Swiss citizens are by one definition bourgeois, being identified saliently and in the first instance as having the responsibilities of citizenship of specific municipalities, of whatever size.8

As it turns out, and despite Swiss irony about themselves (which is considerable), I recount the life of a man who conforms somewhat to type and without intentional irony. Willi Preisig is neither a banker, hotelkeeper, nor psychoanalyst, but a retired dairy farmer, a citizen of Appenzell Ausserrhoden9 and an inhabitant of the “pre-Alps” rather than the high Alps. He is not a stereotype, but a type, a legitimate figure (Barker, Harms, and Lindquist 2013) in the Swiss landscape, and a serious, dignified individual. Switzerland is a country characterized by a quite particular juxtaposition of bureaucracy, conformity, and freedom. Most contemporary [115]farmers in Switzerland are not entirely happy people; they own farms too small to be viable, survive on government subsidies, and are subjected to strict environmental regulations and impracticable bureaucratic controls.10 Willi is a generation or more older than these people, and his experience speaks more to the freedom side of the story. But many of his generation were also unhappy, largely owing to poverty, and they expressed their unhappiness by emigrating.

I draw on Willi to illustrate a certain form of life (obviously not the only one to be found in Switzerland). I claim neither that every participant in this form of life will be happy, nor that I offer a full life history or an intimate portrait of a unique individual, nor yet that I can provide objective criteria for identifying, let alone measuring, happiness. My subject in this article is Willi’s life as he presented it to me; it is not Willi himself, not his subjectivity; it is not a complex personal portrait that takes into account a person’s inner doubts or contradictions. The exercise is rather to draw on Willi’s life as he described it both for purposes of ethnographic exposition and to think about happiness by means of consideration of a life, that is, as an attribute of a life, and possibly of a way of life, rather than of a person or personality.11

* * *

I met Willi at the Sonne, the small hotel that served also as restaurant, bar, and café for people of a small Gemeinde (municipality) in western Appenzell Ausserrhoden. Willi would roar up dangerously on his motorcycle. Dismounting, he removed his helmet and goggles, adjusted his rucksack, and grasped two canes in order to hobble painfully up the steps. I spoke with him mostly through the help of the waitress, Kathy. Kathy was the girlfriend of the cook; she was unhappy, and indeed the family of her partner was not a happy one, the father and former owner of the Sonne having unexpectedly committed suicide some years prior to my stay. Ostensibly high rates of suicide are the reverse side of Swiss happiness.12

The hotel owners were a family of the Dorf, the nucleated part of the Gemeinde, whereas Willi was a farmer (Bauer) and herder (Senn), though now living in a [116]flat in the Dorf. Appenzeller farms are dispersed; elongated farmhouses with attached barns dot the landscape. The lines between farmers and villagers were not strict, people insisted, but in practice there were some differences, including the fact that most residents of the village were shopkeepers, small business owners, butchers, bakers, mechanics, or white-collar workers. What lay just below the surface of the bucolic countryside, historically and literally, was industrial labor; most farmhouses once had weaving looms in their basements (Weberkeller), while the bourgeois owners and suppliers built more substantial houses in the Dorf and neighboring town, a few families rising to considerable wealth and political prominence. From the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century, Reformed (Protestant) Appenzell Ausserrhoden was perhaps the most industrialized and, aside from Malta, the most densely populated part of Europe (Schläpfer 1977: 45).13 The ascendants of many present-day Ausserrhoders were undernourished child laborers working long hours in dark basements, the difference from Manchester being that their workplaces were within their own homes. Max Weber, or “Weaver,” as my research suddenly made clear to me, would have been fascinated by the fact that the adjacent Catholic half-canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden had no weaving industry, providing a laboratory ripe for a historical sociologist. The half-cantons split apart in what they proudly represent today as a peaceful partition (Landteilung) in 1597.

In the not distant past, there was also a sharper distinction between the Bauern and Sennen families. The former owned the hay fields and barns and a few head of cattle. The Sennen were vertical transhumants who migrated annually between the relatively low lands of the Bauern and the summer pastures up on the mountain, where they milked the herd and made cheese. During the winters, Bauern families hosted Sennen families, the women cooking side by side. Sennen cattle fed on the stubble and on stored hay and deposited their manure to grow the next crop. The annual move to the summer pastures, the Alpfahrt, was highly ritualized and remains celebrated today: male Sennen wear colorful clothing, with eastern dyes once purchased in the markets in Milan, and carry heavy cowbells over their shoulders. Virtually every Appenzeller I met, whatever his or her age or occupation, maintained an emotional attachment to the mountain, the Alpstein. People gaze at the mountain from their windows or from benches set along the forest edges all over Appenzell and they hike it on weekends and holidays. Some people still graze flocks at the cliff face in the summer months and participate in a cheese cooperative. The mountain makes people happy, or perhaps serves as a mirror to reflect their happiness back to them, helping them to realize their happiness.

* * *

I first met Willi in 2003, when he was eighty-eight. He looked back at his life with considerable satisfaction, rather like the grandfather invoked by Rita Astuti in her essay on Vezo kinship in Madagascar (2000). He spoke with pride about children and grandchildren, but even more about the growth of his farming enterprise and his successful transferral of it to his offspring. What he recalled with most happiness [117]was his youthful trip to the Sennenball, the annual midsummer cowherds’ ball, an event that through his eyes has become legendary in mine, and one to which I will invite you shortly.

As we talked over glasses of red wine, he told me that he (actually his middle son) looked after ninety cows, distributed over three Alpen (highland pastures), with a big barn on one high pasture housing fifty head of cattle and with twentysix on his farm. Willi had nine children, thirty-three grandchildren, and thirteen great-grandchildren. He had owned an Alp as well as a farm and farmhouse. This had not come easily, he said, and he was proud of his success; reflecting on it was certainly one of the things that made him happy in the present. Willi had worked hard on other people’s farms in his youth in order to earn the money to purchase his property.

As a child, Willi heard his Sunday school teacher compare herders to the pastoralists of the Old Testament and knew he wanted to be a farmer. However, his father disapproved; the latter worked as a carpenter in a factory in town and also made good money designing embroidery patterns.14 His mother worked as an office cleaner at the same company. His father asked the company for a job for his son but, to his great anger, Willi refused. This was a time when work was hard to find; many people were unemployed. However, Willi’s teacher knew someone who was seeking a farmhand. Willi was able to work on this man’s farm during the summer and went to school to learn farming in winter. At the first farm, Willi earned only 20 Swiss francs per month, which, he said, was very little. But the farmer fed, housed, and clothed him, so it was enough. Willi was the youngest child in his family and the only one to become a farmer.15

Willi finally saved enough to rent a farm and his enterprise gradually grew. He said people today didn’t know that he began with only three cows and a pig. The next day, as we continued the conversation, he explained how hard his wife, Katarina had worked, both on the farm and raising so many children. She had been a servant at the farm where he was hired. He was seeking a girlfriend and a wife; he looked far and wide and didn’t recognize that she was right in front of him. Later he thanked God for realizing this. “She was sent from heaven.” Willi said he always believed in God, and that God helped him through many problems. In the 1930s, the Catholics and the Protestants (die Reformierten) did not get along well. But it is the same God, he affirmed. “God is the same in Switzerland and in Canada. People make things complicated, but God makes things simple.” Willi leaned toward me with urgency and said, “It is important to believe. We all have a Maker. And we will all return to our Maker.” Willi himself, like virtually all elderly people in Ausserrhoden, was Reformiert. He didn’t often go to church because he could no longer hear the preacher well, but he had been there on the Sunday prior to our talk.

Willi met his future wife at the age of twenty and married her at twenty-six. They stayed with the farmer, who had hired them for six years. In those days, he [118]explained, you weren’t allowed to have a relationship with a fellow farm worker, a girlfriend, not in the same house, so their situation was quite unusual. They married in 1941, but then had to be apart when he was mobilized. However, the war enabled him to earn some money he could put toward the rental and later purchase of his own farm. In 2003, he volunteered that they had been married sixty-two years. Willi always spoke with great numerical precision.

* * *

What Willi recalled from his courtship was the Sennenball. This took place (as it still did in 2003) once a year on the first Monday after Jakobi (St. Jacob’s day), which is July 25.16 It was held at the Rossfall, a restaurant halfway up to the Schwägalp. The ball was held for herders from the entire western part of Appenzell Ausserrhoden; Catholics of Innerrhoden had their own ball. You could attend only if you had your boss’s permission and he agreed to take over your work for those hours. Also, you had to have a girlfriend; you couldn’t go alone. Every year, Willi searched for a woman and couldn’t find one until God said, look beside you. You had to attend as a couple, but, Willi added mischievously, no same-sex ones. You also had to have special clothes. Today many people come to watch; it’s become partly a tourist attraction, like a show. You wear the traditional clothes and do special dances with your partner and in a group.17

When Willi was young, it was unusual to have a day off. For the Sennenball he got only half a day. He had to walk very fast down from the Alp, for two and a half hours. “Only a man in love would do this.” Katarina joined him there, coming up from the farm. They went to the ball once before they married and once after. Willi said he wanted to show me the Rossfall, and later we made the expedition.

The next day, Willi returned to the Sonne with photos and memorabilia. He showed me a photo of his farm (Liegenschaft) located on a hill not far from our windows. The house dates to 1505. It is constructed of wood with flowerboxes and an adjacent flower and vegetable garden and barn.18 Willi first rented and then bought it. At the age of sixty-eight he passed it on to his youngest son, who has expanded it since.

There were photos of Willi giving a speech to his yodeling club, and many of the Alpen—both the one he worked at as a youth and the one he later purchased. There was a dance card from the Rossfall with an image of a man in yellow breeches and several shots of the annual procession to the Alp. A girl walks in front, leading the goats. A man walks at the head of the cows, dressed also in yellow breeches. When the path is very steep, Willi explained, the men take the heavy bells off the cows and wear them themselves, walking with a special stride so that they ring musically. Although they went up in a festive group, only one or two of the men stayed the whole summer, looking after the cows and making the cheese. During his youth, [119]Willi spent seven summers on the Alp of his employer; he liked the work but said it could get lonely. Willi wore traditional clothes every day on the Alp.

There was a photo of Willi surrounded by children and grandchildren on his seventieth birthday and a poem in Swiss German written by a son-in-law. A whole album was devoted to the erection of a new barn on the Alp. The barn, belonging to his second son, had two rows of twenty-five stalls, thus room for fifty cows. Willi stained all the wood; he was seventy-five at the time. When the roof beams were finished, they raised a small fir tree decorated with colored ribbons, placed as thanks that no one was injured and also for good luck. The workers drank a glass of wine to celebrate and sang in the local and beloved form of polyphonic yodeling known as Zäuerli.19 In 1991 Willi’s middle son made his first Alpfahrt wearing the brown vest and breeches signifying ownership of the herd. The back of the photo album had some blank pages; “left for my funeral,” said Willi dryly.

The barn raising points to the orderliness and precision of pre-mortem inheritance, a subject Willi discussed at length. Willi and his wife had six daughters followed by three sons. When the children were growing, they helped on the farm, and once they reached a certain age, he paid them for the work. It was clear to his children that the first son to marry would inherit the farmhouse and farm. Usually this is the oldest, but in this case the boy was disinclined. From an early age, he indicated that he didn’t want goats for Christmas, whereas the other two boys received them as presents and gradually built up their herds and learned to care for the animals. When they got a bit older, they received calves for Christmas and birthdays; the girls received household items. When the youngest of the three boys decided to marry, Willi called his children together to divide the estate. The youngest son purchased the farm, at a price far below market value. Willi then allocated the Alp to his second son.20

From the payments received from the two sons, Willi gave 10,000 francs to each of the other siblings. He said proudly that while division of the estate is often a big problem, this was not the case in his own family.21 He planned everything carefully. If something were to go wrong for the son who has the farm, the other brothers have first rights to buy it from him. This point was written up and deposited at the municipality office. It remained a real possibility because the son had only two children of his own, both daughters, and they learned other trades and weren’t much interested in farming. So one concern of Willi’s remained: Who would inherit the farm after his son? One of Willi’s daughters who is a farmer’s wife could buy her [120]brother’s farm; the point is that it should go to someone who will operate it, that is, to someone who chooses farming as a living.22 The second son, who inherited the Alp, has a farm in a neighboring Gemeinde. He married a farmer’s daughter where there were no sons, so he and his wife will likely inherit that property. He currently rented it from his wife’s parents.

In addition to the farm and the Alp, the two sons had to purchase cows from Willi. Because they had received a salary from him all along, they were able to do so. (Kinship and commoditization are not understood as antithetical.) By the time he sold, Willi’s herd had grown from three to fifty-eight head of cattle. The money from the sale of the farm didn’t go far once he had paid the remaining children, so Willi and his wife needed the money from the cows to live on (they also received a modest pension). The goats had always been the exclusive property of the sons; their milk was taken to the factory to make goat cheese or consumed at home. When Willi was young, families made their own cheese and butter and sold some but consumed most. Now the milk is taken daily to the factories for production.23

The oldest son never married and took a job selling agricultural implements in the neighboring town. Willi reiterated that you give to the first son who gets married and wants to farm. A man without a wife has too many problems to run a farm. To this, Kathy the waitress added that single male farmers often took to drink.

* * *

A week later Kathy, Willi, and I drove up to Schwägalp, at the base of the immense rock face of the Säntis peak, and toured the cheese factory, run as a cooperative of fifty-seven farms and with the facility to process 6,100 liters of milk daily. Rounds of Schwägalpkäse sold at 22 francs per kilo. Willi expressed his pleasure at visiting the Alp and called it the most beautiful place he had ever been to. The whole area is very dramatic, composed of meadows, forest, streams, and rock. The huts, carved partly into the hillsides, are within view of one another and cattle wander between them. The air is fresh and there are trout in the streams to supplement the milk diet.

On the way down, we stopped at the Rossfall. The ballroom was on the second floor. It was a lovely place, square with an uncharacteristically high ceiling and large windows on three sides. The windows contained semicircles with stained glass arranged in star-like geometric patterns. A painted frieze showed scenes from each season of the year: the procession of animals up to the Alp; wild animals; harvests; hay pulled in horse-drawn sleds over the snow. The men in the paintings [121]wore yellow breeches, high white socks, white shirts, red vests, and black hats with flowers. Antlers, stuffed birds, and large cowbells also adorn the room.24

In Willi’s youth, the Rossfall was at the end of the road; once the road was pushed further and new restaurants built higher up, it lost business and was threatened with closure. The citizens of the Gemeinde made a special effort and formed a coop to buy and save it; later it was in private hands.25 More than one elderly person came to reminisce, the owner told me, and indeed Willi settled with no hesitation at the Stammtisch (regulars’ table), where he knew several of the other men.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Gasthaus Rossfall Urnäsch, AR. Photo taken from website.

* * *

Another day at the Sonne, we were joined by an elderly gentleman, Hans L, a villager not a farmer. Kathy later explained that the two men loved to talk and argue with each other. They almost never agreed on politics, but they respected and liked each other. The talk would get especially heated before a referendum or election. [122]They each knew lots of people, and their conversation covered details of marriage and kinship in addition to politics.

Willi mentioned the Stimmbürger, the voting citizens. “We voters decide.” But he added that a lot of people didn’t vote. I asked why and he said, “They’re not interested.” Hans interjected, “If we had more problems, like hunger, perhaps more people would vote. But everything works, people are reasonably satisfied.” (Le bonheur suisse.) Willi added that citizens are asked to vote too often about seemingly small and trivial things; there are too many referenda. A salient part of Swiss democracy, citizen-initiated referenda to remove unpopular regulations take place when enough signatures are gathered. A Volksinitiative, to add text to the Swiss constitution, requires a majority of cantons as well as a popular majority. Willi thought this right, since rural cantons have different interests than urban ones, whereas Hans affirmed that the majority of people was the more important principle. Debating this sort of question is central to the Swiss ethos, their respective positions emphasizing a more conservative and a more liberal outlook, respectively.

Willi was never a member of a political party, preferring to be independent. Yet his civic engagement was extensive. He served on the municipal council (Gemeinderat) for seven years. He received 8 francs for each meeting attended, but they would go for dinner after the meeting and spend more than that. As a council member he was appointed Bürgerpräsident, a position he held from 1964 to 1972. His responsibility was to prepare the cases of everyone who applied for Einbürgerung (naturalization, citizenship) in the citizens’ assembly that voted in new citizens.26 Willi told me about one case, a young Italian man of very good reputation. A lawyer argued they shouldn’t grant citizenship to a Catholic. Then Willi took the floor and said, we have freedom of religion in Switzerland. We can’t deny him citizenship on this basis, and even if we did, he could take the case to the high court and win. So the opinion of the assembly was turned and people voted him in.

Willi had not wanted to join the municipal council in the first place, but said he did so to ensure representation from the agricultural faction. In addition to serving as Bürgerpräsident, he sat on the agricultural, children’s home, building, and health committees, the auction committee to dispense the goods of bankrupt farmers, and the forest, legal guardianship, and young offenders committees. The latter provided work as punishment. Willi said he declined to stand for cantonal representative, because he wanted time with family.

The public office most important to Willi was presidency of the Viehzuchtgenossenschaft, the livestock-breeding cooperative. He accepted the position once his children were old enough to take responsibility at the farm and held it for some twenty years, not for the money but because he loved cattle. He evaluated the quality of the cows, judged their value and health, and recorded any signs of illness or weakness. He said proudly that Appenzeller cattle were unequaled, adding jokingly that if they were side by side, he would rather look at a cow than a woman.

Willi was not a vet and didn’t doctor cows for the canton, although he treated his own. He gave cows points for their beauty and fitness. He had learned a lot about [123]cows from the time he spent on the Alp and had gone to a special agricultural school (Landwirtschaftschule) from the age of sixteen to eighteen. This was not usual at the time, he explained, so he knew more than many other people. Attending the school was his choice; he paid for it with his own money, having nothing left over for any kind of enjoyment. The only government subsidy he ever received was to help build a paved road to his farmhouse. “You get support from the Bund [Federal government] if you switch to bio [organic] agriculture, but the bureaucratic dimension is enormous. There are lots of rules, regulations, and requirements, and if you miss out on even a single one you don’t get the money. It’s very difficult and cannot really be followed in practice.” That’s why Swiss farmers emigrated to Canada. “There are too many rules here!” He added that Swiss people liked to be autonomous, free of rules, to be able to do what they wanted. I remarked on the paradox that this society was so highly regulated.

Willi did try to preserve the farming way of life, and to this end in 1963 he helped found the Landjugendgruppe, an association providing young people from farm families with a chance to meet suitable marriage partners who also wanted to stay on the land. It led to many a marriage, he said, and members still celebrated each other’s weddings.

We briefly discussed the expansion of voting in the Landsgemeinde to include women. This was the annual public assembly of all cantonal citizens in which votes were taken by a raising of hands (J. Bendix 1993). Women were included in Appenzell Ausserrhoden in 1989, and eight years later the assembly voted itself out of existence; it continues in Appenzell Innerrhoden, where it is also a tourist attraction. Here the men wore bourgeois clothing, not herders’ outfits, and carried swords. Willi explained that the men wore dark clothes so that their white hands were visible. He called it the Urdemokratie, the original democracy.

Willi originally was uncertain whether giving women the vote was a good thing. He always discussed each issue with his wife before voting and took her opinion into account, but admitted that the man had the final say. Willi reflected that when he was young, women stayed home and looked after the children and so they had little understanding of public affairs. Now that a lot of women either had no children or went to work anyway, they understood them better (and so there was more reason they should have the vote). However, he did not approve of women working: “They should look after their children!” He explained that the family was the most important institution. “If the family isn’t happy, the whole of Switzerland could have problems!

Willi was president of his Lesegesellschaft for four years. These “reading societies” were originally district (Bezirk) discussion groups, and some proved the foundation of the modern political parties (and illustrate the Habermasian public sphere). They met monthly over the winter. At first, people were too poor to have their own subscriptions to newspapers and periodicals so they pooled them. The Lesegesellschaften bought and then circulated them among the members, functioning rather like libraries, Willi explained. A number of Lesegesellschaften still existed.27 Willi’s group had around forty members, including not only farmers but also teachers [124]and others, from all walks of life. Willi explained that the Lesegesellschaften were nonpartisan, politically neutral places for thinking things through together. They discussed policy and forthcoming issues, “so we went to the Landsgemeinde well prepared to vote.” In his early years, people didn’t have time to go to read the papers in the restaurants, so, although voices were equal, someone, usually the president, had to come to each meeting well prepared to talk. In any case, Willi never just sat and listened; that was why, he said, they wanted to give him more and more responsibility. They discussed primarily local issues, örtliche Probleme, like the schools, but also external issues, concerning NATO, for example. Willi thought it was good for Switzerland to join the United Nations, but not the European Union.

When I suggested that the reading societies might have been the foundation of democracy, Willi agreed strongly. “Parties today may be larger and stronger, but not necessarily better! Parties are too interested in money. Decisions are better reached within the Lesegesellschaften since politics with conscience is the basis. Thank God we still have some conscience!” he concluded, “even in the Bundesrat.”

Willi also spoke positively about the cooperatives (Genossenschaften) of foresters, cheese makers, and so forth. These, he said, illustrating with his hands, emerged from below, not from the top down. Switzerland, he concluded, was the oldest democracy in the world. To people like Willi, these were not mere words but the product of lived experiences and the model for living.

* * *

On later occasions, I visited Willi in his flat, once alone and the following year together with Bea Schwitter, from the University of Zürich. There I met Willi’s wife, Katarina. On the first visit, the couple graciously set aside their Parcheesi game and invited me in for coffee and cake. Since unsuccessful operations to replace her hips a decade earlier, Katarina moved about in a wheelchair. Willi shopped and cooked, following his wife’s instructions. He wasn’t accustomed to household duties at first, he said, but was very glad to have some work to do. The apartment was large and airy. They were happy to have a beautiful view of the Alpstein from their windows. The rooms were clean and tidy, with adjacent duvets neatly folded on the bed. Katarina had a workroom where she knitted blankets and socks for her grandchildren. “I have the time,” she explained.

On the walls were a lovely painting of an Alp, in a style Willi called naïf, old photos of their parents, and a photo of three generations of men at the Alp: Willi, his middle son, and the son’s oldest son, who would also become a farmer. There was a framed picture of Willi and Katarina’s sixtieth wedding anniversary in front of the Sonne, with all the children and grandchildren.

They turned next to photo albums evoking further details of their lives There was a photo of the young couple at the Rossfall—Katarina in a Toggenburg Tracht (outfit)28—and photos of their engagement when they were each twenty-five and of their marriage six months later. Willi got two days off army service to get engaged, at Katarina’s father’s farm. They exchanged gold rings. She still wore hers; Willi’s “got lost inside a cow!” He was helping the cow give birth, it was very slippery and somehow the ring came off. There was an album devoted to their children’s families, [125]with precisely two pages for each, including a wedding photo, a shot of their house, and a photo of their children. They had optimistically left two blank pages blank for the eldest son, who was then fifty. The daughters all married farmers. Willi and Katarina listed the professions of each grandchild. Some were farmers or in farmrelated business. One grandson-in-law had a farm too small to live from so he was also a butcher and a driver. The wife worked in a hospital. One daughter had married a farmer in canton Zürich; their daughter in turn was a schoolteacher, married to a Canadian.

There were photos of the houses in which they had lived, and one of the house where Willi grew up, taken much later. Looking at it, he said he had had a good youth. There were pictures of the Alp where he first worked and later their own Alp. In their wedding photos and those of their children, people wore traditional dress, the husbands in beautiful Sennen outfits with shiny gold ornaments and red vests. But when the newest generation married, the brides wore white and the men suits. They ducked under arches of flowers set up outside the churches. The stacks of photos shifted from images of grandchildren, to calves, to udders. Katarina also showed me postcards sent from all over the world by various grandchildren.

When I contacted him again in 2004, Willi pronounced himself happy to hear from me and asked whether I had already published something about him. He received us that same afternoon in his house. Asking whether we planned to take notes, he immediately led us to the kitchen table, which contained two hardback volumes of Appenzeller Geschichte and a couple of novels. The Parcheesi board was laid out on another table. Willi wore suspenders, his old-fashioned trousers, and a pale blue lightly embroidered shirt characteristic of local farmers. Katarina moved in and out of the conversation. She inspected the cake we brought and put it away. Willi offered us coffee and opened a bottle of sparkling mineral water. He asked Bea her last name and her Heimatort, eager to place her and happy to discover her origins were not in a large city.

They showed us more photo albums and reviewed their children and grandchildren. Five of the six daughters trained as homecare nurses once their children were grown and they were free to make some money. The latest granddaughter to wed worked as a Senn and married a mountain farmer (Bergbauer). Other grandchildren were between twenty-one and thirty and might still marry, they said, hopefully. People married later than before, because women worked now. I suggested that Katarina had worked when she was young, but they said this was just an apprenticeship.

In those days, the late 1930s, Katarina explained, your parents looked after you on their farm so long as you went to school. Then you had to go work on someone else’s farm. Her father had a large farm and was quite well off, but she was sent to a different farm to make money directly after confirmation, at the age of sixteen. She’d attended an agricultural housekeeping school. Willi and Katarina worked together on a big farm. Katarina did housework but also cut hay and so forth. Everyone helped; there were horses, no machinery. They were not unhappy. I asked Willi if he had been exploited and he said decisively, “No.” I assume this is because he, like Katarina, understood his work there at the farm as an apprenticeship, because he chose the work, because it enabled him to build toward his own enterprise, and, finally, because he worked alongside the owners and relations with [126]them were warm.29 The farmer attended their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and later moved in with them at Willi’s farm for the last eighteen months of his life.

Katarina was from a big Sennen family, one of nine siblings, her father one of thirteen. I asked whether big families were good. “In big families children learn to share, an advantage for the rest of your life. When there are only one or two children, they are not accustomed to do without. One bears one’s upbringing throughout life. Things from early life become ingrained.”

Willi knew the Sennenball had been held the past Monday. One of his grandsons had danced there; they had his picture from the newspaper. One dance is composed of a team of eight young men holding hands in a circle, with the alternate four held almost horizontal very close to the floor between their upright partners; “It requires a great deal of strength,” Willi emphasized. This grandson was currently working as a Senn on an Alp. In former days, they reflected, there were only a very few times you had free from work. There were no holidays. “’Holidays’ meant going on military service, but sometimes that was no holiday!

Willi and Katarina showed us a wonderful photo of themselves as a very young couple from 1936. It was color tinted by hand and gave them very rosy cheeks. It was taken at the Sennenball, the occasion of their first kiss! Willi laughed. He rented a large farm and people told him he was crazy, because it was such a difficult time for farmers. But he put his faith in God. He quoted Jeremias Gotthelf, an early nineteenth-century Swiss novelist and pastor, who said, “Im Haus muss beginnen was im Staate leuchten soll” (“What shines in the state must begin at home”). Like many Swiss, when Willi thought about politics in the public sphere, he understood it as emerging from values rooted in the household.

Willi had had hip operations some years earlier; that was why he walked with sticks. He thought perhaps the hip problems came from working very hard in his youth. In the Alp, you often had to carry loads of wood, and he was proud of lifting very heavy weights. When the doctor first examined his hip, he was amazed he’d postponed the operation for so long, as the bones were rubbing against each other. He had lived in pain for several years but hadn’t wanted the operation. Afterwards he admitted he should have done it years earlier. “But one survives.”

It was getting difficult for them to attend grandchildren’s weddings, but they received frequent visits from them and enjoyed staying home. “We don’t know how long we can go on living here, so the time here counts. It is a gift, staying at home at our age.” Both were eighty-nine.

I asked about the values Willi had lived by. “Real values,” he said at once. He started with almost nothing, he continued. Then followed six years of military service (because of the war and when he could otherwise have been accumulating cattle). But they were always healthy, and that was very important. “Trust in God,” he added. Even today, this was the foundation of their daily life. I asked why people were leaving the church. “If people leave the church, that is their business. But no one can run away from God, only from the church. No human being can make a [127]decision until they are born and no one can choose his or her death, unless they commit suicide. Even then, many are unsuccessful.”

Willi said he hoped he had passed his values on to his children. “But you can’t prescribe them. You show by the example of your own life. Nothing else, but I tried my best.” He learned his values from his mother and father; they had the same values (although they were not farmers). He was confirmed in the church but never worked for it directly. “One can just as well do things in the background; it doesn’t matter whether others see it or not.”

Kathy had told me that Willi used pious sayings and written folk wisdom to guide his life, and indeed these are ubiquitous in German-speaking Switzerland, and can be seen, for example, inscribed on signs hung along mountain paths. Before we left, Willi showed Bea the wooden plaque on his wall commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Viehzuchtgenossenschaft (1892–1967) that took place during his presidency. On it was carved a poem that, he affirmed, was very important.

Der Bauer steht auf verlässlichem Grund
Ihn bindet ein alter verschwiegener Bund
Die Arbeit macht seine Hände steif
Die Arbeit macht seine Seele reif
Ein jedes Werk das er vollbringt
Ist das Werk das um ein Wunder ringt
Ist auf Verheissung aufgebaut
Weil’er der eignen Kraft vertraut

The farmer stands on sturdy ground
He maintains an old concealed alliance
Labor makes his hand stiff
Labor makes his soul ripe
Every work that he accomplishes
Is a work that strives for a miracle
It is built on a promise
From confidence in his own strength.30

* * *

I have used Willi’s conversation to illustrate aspects of farming life at a certain period in this part of Switzerland. It may be that I have taken his description of his life at face value, but my aim has not been to understand his inner life so much as to depict his own depiction of contentment. And even if you do not want to be a Swiss farmer yourself, with worn-out hips, a stiff hand, and never a day off, you have to acknowledge that Willi has a “ripe soul.”

I draw on Willi’s life to illustrate something about the social conditions of his time and place that enabled a good life of a certain kind. I am not interested either in [128]generalizing about men like Willi or in describing happiness in the abstract. Willi is not unduly self-conscious. He did not go out of the way to describe himself as happy, and it is not for me to describe his happiness in an emotional sense (nor was it an explicit object of my questions). But he evidently manifests a happy life, a life well lived. He exemplifies the virtues he describes; he simply has the character he has, is the person he is. My concern is not with Willi’s subjectivity or the depths of his character but with what he presented of himself to me (and as I received it). His world is one in which both rational calculation and divine will play their part. He has a Protestant work ethic, even a Weberian calling (Beruf); without being born into a farming family, he developed the ethos of a self-sufficient farmer and achieved success according to local ideals of the farmer’s life and of civic engagement. I take Willi to epitomize a certain liberal ideal of wellbeing and an ideal liberal citizen in a political sense.31

Willi was, I conclude, a good and happy man, and I have been describing a good and happy life (without, of course, advocating it as the best or only good life). This is not to deny there may have been periods of conflict or unhappiness in his life or even some concealed regrets, or that one could interrogate his sense of satisfaction. What I offer is an interpretation, based on the evidence I have presented here.

I cannot, of course, either solve the mystery of human happiness or give an original philosophical response to it, and it has not been my intention to do either. With respect to the happiness of this life, I would emphasize the way the temporal and the ethical dimensions intertwine. Central is Willi’s satisfaction at accomplishments over time, a sense of direction, fruition, and resolution, as evident in his career and the smooth generational succession he enabled. These are achievements over which many Swiss farmers worry. At least in retrospect, Willi had the sense he always knew where he was going, and when he didn’t, he says, God stepped in and showed him the way. Willi also recognizes where he has been. He understands his freedom not as existential but as a matter of faith and of meeting his practical needs and familial and civic responsibilities. His autonomy is never individualistic or isolated but mediated through work, family, and political engagement. Not wealth but work and family. Not just simple labor, daily toil (Arbeit), in Arendt’s sense ([1958] 1998), but also work in the sense of something produced, something that lasts (Werk), and that is framed within the commitment to a calling.32

Willi said he felt called to livestock from his first childhood lessons in the Bible. Labor was indeed long, repetitive, arduous, and sometimes lonely, but he showed nostalgia for the Alp and its connotations of masculine independence as well as a real interest in cows. There was also the courtship and happy marriage and the settlement of the children, livestock, and land. Willi argues for the primacy of the family over the political sphere, but this is precisely because he sees a direct connection between them. Wellbeing and ethical conduct are simultaneously conditions of family, municipality, and country. Here he exemplifies the Swiss political ethos, which has been one of starting at the local community and placing the most weight [129]on the smallest level of inclusion (in striking contrast to the French model).33 Willi has been an engaged and active citizen, seeing one duty of citizenship as critically evaluating and discussing the issues before voting, and another as holding office. His life also illustrates the inseparability of the ethical from the aesthetic, evident in the love, appreciation, and care of landscape, tradition, and livestock. His interest in the latter is comparable to ethnographic descriptions of eastern and southern Africa (Evans-Pritchard 1940 and Solway 1998, respectively), albeit the attention of the African livestock holders is turned to the beauty of oxen or bulls, and that of Swiss farmers like Willi to lactating cows.

The values by which men like Willi live have sometimes been described as ascetic. I would protest that this diminishes them and risks parody. My approach in this article has been evidently broadly Aristotelian. To return to Aristotle’s words in my epigraph, “Happiness is good activity not amusement.” In this tradition, a good human life requires the exercise of the capacities rather than simply the fulfillment of needs (Lambek 2008a, after Macpherson 1973). The availability of the means for, and appreciation of, such exercise—in work, politics, art, music, philosophy, nurture, or love—is salient. Phrased another way, the values intrinsic to the means, or internal to practices, must not be overshadowed by those external to them (MacIntyre 1981).34 Perhaps most striking in this region, until recently, civic engagement has been a significant field in which a man could exercise his capacities, not unlike male citizenship in the ancient Greek polis. Willi took full advantage of the opportunities and has also been lucky. His own view is also Aristotelian in the sense that he advocates discipline over rule following and that his sense of freedom emerges as a judicious but not unthinking or unforceful adherence to social convention.35

At the beginning of the article, I addressed a common stereotype of Switzerland and the Swiss as boring. It is one thing to depict the lives of others, from the outside, as boring; it is quite another to experience boredom for oneself. The conditions necessary to preclude boredom are not reducible to objective features, like the number of venues for entertainment, or even more subjective ones, like the edginess of the art scene. Practices through which to exercise the capacities must be available and meaningful. It is hard to be happy when frustrated, undirected, understimulated (or perhaps overstimulated). Stimulation comes from activity—this may be quiet contemplation, intellectual enjoyment, or reading literature; it may be something more vigorous or creative, like writing, hiking, or singing; and it may be something more practical, like raising livestock or children, or deliberating and administering the political life of one’s community. And of course practice entails the balancing among such activities.36[130]

To answer the earlier provocation, happiness is precisely not boredom, and Swiss citizens like Willi are a far cry from the inhabitants of provincial Russian cities, as described by writers like Chekov or anthropologists like Anna Kruglova (2015), who struggle with and against what Kruglova calls “acedia.” Happy people may sometimes appear boring to writers and intellectuals in their midst, but that is not the same as to say that they are bored themselves. One reason, then, for making happiness a focus of ethnographic investigation is precisely to use it as a lens to see what interests people, what engages, and challenges them. “Happiness” in this sense is more an ethnographic means than an ethnographic end, much as happiness in ethnographic practice is to be found in the means of our work rather than in externalized ends. (My happiness comes more in the conduct of fieldwork and the struggle of writing this article than in seeing it in print.)

Of course, this means that we do not experience our work as alienated from our being. Willi’s is what I would call an integrated life. Work, property, autonomy, family, God, political conversation and engagement, landscape, and love—all come together in a harmonious whole.37 To draw from various accounts of ethics, there is a relation between good character, social justice, and self-realization, between virtue and happiness. Willi is justifiably well respected. A feature of his life, characterized by its absence, is abjection; Willi never had to suffer social shame for his origins, citizenship, class, religion, or sexuality. Likewise there is little indication of loneliness.

The life-course is not fully individual, but articulated with consociates and people of alternate generations. To conclude, I want to emphasize, as Willi does, that succession is critical, each generation taking the place of the one previous to it, mutually confirming their actions. Ideally, the young are happy to succeed their parents, the old to see the young doing so. But succession is also fraught with uncertainty and danger—competition, ambivalence, unexpected events, changed circumstances, and difficult choices. It is bittersweet insofar as the arrival of one generation signals the eventual departure of another. Nor does the happiness of one generation confirm the happiness of the next. Social conditions were right for talented, hard-working, and patient people like Willi to succeed; whether this is still possible for the following cohorts of Swiss farmers is more doubtful.


Research and writing have been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada with a standard research grant and a Canada Research Chair. Thanks to Iris Blum, Eva Keller, Peter Witschi, and especially Bea Schwitter for multiple forms of assistance, and Iza Kavedžija, Harry Walker, Frank Muttenzer, Jeanne Rey-Pellissier, and Giovanni da Col for additional astute comments. Earlier drafts were read by five referees (three of whom read them twice) who provided serious and helpful feedback. Their responses speak directly to the difficulty of [131]portraying happiness. Earlier versions of the article were delivered at the London School of Economics and Political Science workshop on happiness and the Ethnology seminar at the University of Zürich.


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Le bonheur suisse, encore

Résumé : Il n’est pas evident ou facile d’écrire sur le bonheur, ou même de savoir ce que le sujet de notre description devrait être: est-ce un individu ou une société? un moment, un événement, ou une vie? Une catégorie sémantique ou une experience concrète? Atteint-on le bonheur par combat ou en se reposant sur ses lauriers? Le bonheur est peut-être une émotion ou une vertu, un fait psychologique ou bien social, individuel ou collectif, évanescent ou durable, un idéal ou une condition. Cet article raffine certaines de ces distinctions, en considérant le bonheur à partir de la perspective d’un individu, un fermier Suisse à la retraite. Cet article se penche sur le bonheur d’une société connue pour son bien-être, son ordre et sa prospérité, mais aussi pour son éthique du travail et peut-être pour l’ennui qu’elle inspire; l’article confronte ces stéréotypes tout en montrant implicitement la manière dont le bonheur collectif et individuel sont connectés. Dans une série de conversations informelles, le fermier décrit sa vie et ce qui l’a rendu heureux, notamment ses bêtes, la construction de sa ferme et sa transmission à ses enfants, et les bals de Sennenball (le bal annuel des vachers à la mi-été) de sa jeunesse. Il prit part à la vie publique de son Gemeinde (municipalité) et de son canton (Appenzell Ausserrhoden), et agit comme l’archétype du citoyen libéral au sens politique. Je conclus cet article en suggérant avoir décrit une vie heureuse et bonne, une vie dont les dimensions temporelles et éthiques sont alignées. Dans mon portrait, le bonheur peut être conçu, suivant une remarque d’Aristote, comme une activité bonne et non comme un amusement, et une activité dérivant de l’exercise de capacités, au sens de Macpherson.


Michael LAMBEK holds a Canada Research Chair and is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He carries out the majority of his fieldwork in the [134]Western Indian Ocean and is the author or editor of a dozen books, most recently The ethical condition (University of Chicago Press, 2015), A companion to the anthropology of religion (edited with Janice Boddy; Wiley-Blackwell, paper edition 2015), and Four lectures on ethics: Anthropological perspectives (with Veena Das, Didier Fassin, and Webb Keane; HAU Books, 2015).


Michael Lambek
Department of Anthropology
University of Toronto
19 Russell Street
Ontario M5S 2S2


1. The title of this article is after Luc Boltanski, Le bonheur suisse.

2. Although happiness can be seen as the end of ethics by both utilitarian philosophers and virtue ethicists, and could even be called a metavalue (Lambek 2008b), philosophy has not generally treated it directly as an emotion or a subjective state. Anthropological work on ethics, including my own, has largely ignored the emotional quality of ethical states or attributions, while the literature on emotion (e.g., Lutz 1988) does draw attention to the ethical dimension of emotion talk. See also Leys (2007) on guilt and shame, Fassin (2013) on resentment and ressentiment, and more generally from philosophy Strawson (2008) and Baker (2010), all of which deal with negative sentiments. For recent attempts to bring emotion into ethical accounts, see Throop (this collection) and Cassaniti (2015).

3. There is also the measurement problem. Elizabeth Colson quotes herself approvingly from 1962: “We cannot measure or record happiness” (2012: 7).

4. This would seem to follow from Dean Falk’s suggestion (2012: 8–9) that happiness is a matter of focused attention. Conversely, perhaps self-awareness is a constitutive feature of happiness?

5. Interestingly, the survey appeared to say nothing about the psychological state of individuals. “The study . . . takes into account variables such as real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, corruption levels and social freedoms” (April 24, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32443396).

6. These ideas were developed long before Joel Robbins’ provocative article on the subject (2013). Need I add that any study of prosperity, happiness, or wellbeing must transpire with a degree of irony?

7. The book was published one year after Denis de Rougemont’s La Suisse ou l’histoire d’un peuple heureux (1965). Boltanski’s book is curious insofar as it reports on a project led by Isac Chiva, Ariane Deluz, and Nathalie Stern, who first engaged him to statistically analyze survey questionnaires. Nevertheless, Boltanski writes as already a Bourdieusian, beginning many sentences with “tout se passe comme si . . ./everything takes place as if . . .” and taking pleasure in exposing forms of deception.

8. In Switzerland, the term “bourgeois” refers to local citizenship rather than class, but the implication is also that this is more salient than class; to be bourgeois is to be equal to others. Residents who are not citizens are manifestly unequal. Regarding the work ethic, it is a relative ascription, differently viewed from France than from Germany, perhaps, and subject to stereotypes across internal lines.

9. Appenzell is a small canton subject to its own stereotypes within Switzerland as rural and conservative. It is divided into two half cantons; Appenzell Ausserrhoden is largely Protestant and considered by other Swiss less distinctive and conservative than Appenzell Innerrhoden, which is Roman Catholic.

10. Droz and Forney (2007) argue that agrarian reforms are destroying the farming way of life.

11. Hence, although it draws on only one person, this essay is not conceived as a fully person-centered ethnography in the sense of Levy and Hollan (2015), nor did I know Willi long enough to produce a full-length, well-rounded, or intimate portrait of the order of Crapanzano (1980) or Shostak (1981). I do not discount or dismiss the study of subjectivity as an ethnographic endeavor, but the subject of this article is a life in its outward forms and achievements (as described by the man who lived it), not a person or a self, or inner experience. Conversely, the article does not claim to offer a full analysis of society in this part of Switzerland, though it uses the discussion of a single life (a key interlocutor) toward that end. Despite some important studies (R. Bendix 1985; J. Bendix 1993; Witschi 1994; Blum, Inauen, and Weishaupt 2003; see also Lambek 2007 for a different individual portrait), there is, to my knowledge, no comprehensive ethnography of Appenzell Ausserrhoden or Innerrhoden.

12. This would not have surprised the Freud of Civilization and its discontents ([1929] 1991), who argued that social harmony and peace turn personal aggression inward.

13. The population of Appenzell Ausserrhoden reached its peak of 57,973 in 1910, when 50 percent of the work was still in textiles, but by 1941 it had declined sharply to 44,476 (Schläpfer 1977: 48).

14. Neither Willi nor his father worked at weaving or actual embroidery.

15. One sister never married, but served in households her whole life; the other became a nurse. A brother trained as a mechanic and eventually became a salesman.

16. Willi said there used to be a ball in winter also, but this no longer existed.

17. Here and elsewhere, I am paraphrasing Willi’s speech as I recorded it in my notes. Willi is perfectly conscious of the way tradition has become objectified but distinguishes that from the way he has experienced it.

18. See Hermann (2004) on Appenzell farmhouses.

19. Zäuerli is still practiced by young people and is, as a knowledgeable referee pointed out, “an enormous source of happiness and nostalgia.” For professional recordings see Zemp (1980); for current ones, search online for Zäuerli. A brief segment surprisingly appears in the recent film The Grand Budapest Hotel.

20. Willi’s farm was thirteen hectares of which ten were cultivated and three forest. Willi’s youngest son rented an additional thirteen hectares of Weide (grazing meadows) from a retired farmer and did not bring his cattle to an Alp in the summer. Willi’s middle son had use of fifty-two hectares on the Alp, one parcel of which was his own and the rest rented. He spent fifteen weeks a year on the Alp.

21. Willi attributed conflict in the family of the hotel owners to the inability of the mother to gracefully hand over control to the next generation.

22. This is in part because of strict zoning laws.

23. In nine months, a lactating cow gives around six thousand liters of milk, around twenty-two liters per day. Cows are milked twice daily; an exceptional cow, milked three times, might give between thirty-five and forty liters of milk a day at her best period. Calves are allowed to drink for half a year. Heifers begin to calve at three and Willi let them calve three times before selling. At six they need more food. The purchasers were farmers in lower areas who had better fodder. Steers were sold at one or two years. Farmers differed with respect to the age of the livestock they chose to keep, and Willi’s son had fewer calves than he did.

24. Most of the stained glass and paintings were done by local workmen after the old building collapsed in 1981.There were two portraits of men smoking pipes, wearing skullcaps and earrings said to be at least a century old. In one corner of the room, there was a small platform for musicians, the Gigestahl. The traditional orchestra had two violins, a bass, and a Hackbrett, a string instrument hit with hammers. The restoration cost almost three million francs; donor families had their names inscribed on the windows.

25. In fall 2012 it appeared to be for sale over the Internet.

26. On acquisition of citizenship, see Centlivres (1990). In 2003, the federal high court declared the method of Einbürgerung by means of a public citizens’ vote unconstitutional and a violation of human rights. It had already been disbanded in Herisau during the 1970s.

27. There were five Lesegesellschaften in Herisau during the time Willi was active. Although literacy was part of the Protestant tradition, the Lesegesellschaften were definitely not religious (Peter Witschi, pers. comm.).

28. Katarina was from a farm high up in the neighboring Toggenburg valley.

29. By contrast, there have been recent stories in the Swiss news of “contract children” who in earlier decades were sent by social workers to farms where their labor was exploited (BBC Switzerland: “Stolen childhoods,” November 2, 2014: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0297188).

30. Written by Huckenberger, a farmer in canton Thurgau. Bea corrected my transcription and translation but told me that she did not fully understand the poem, finding the language old-fashioned and poor. The translation does not fully bring out the distinction between “Arbeit” and “Werk” (for which, see Arendt [1958] 1998).

31. Liberalism is part of a general Swiss ethos, but Appenzell Ausserrhoden has considered itself particularly liberal; the word “liberal” recurred frequently in my discussions with citizens and in the historical sources

32. It seems to me that for Willi and people like him, Arbeit has many of the positive qualities that Arendt somewhat snobbishly reserved for Werk.

33. See Weinberg (1975). As one manifestation, municipal tax is higher than federal.

34. I have also argued (Lambek 2008b) that happiness might be considered the metavalue, that is, the value internal to the art of living, understood as the metapractice.

35. For further discussion of the ethics of freedom and judgment, see the contributions to Lambek (2010) as well as Lambek (2015).

36. There is also a balance among the virtues or practices such as piety (Mahmood 2005; Hirschkind 2006) or freedom (Laidlaw 2002) highlighted in recent anthropological work elsewhere.

37. Pieces that don’t fit, like the oldest son’s divergent interests, are partly acknowledged— he received different kinds of gifts on his birthdays—and partly not—Willi still hopes for his eventual marriage.