Harmony Hazard, 24, wanted “A safe place for book groups and hula hoops”; Sara Teitelbaum, 23, wanted “People to bring warmth to a home”; Rupert Poole, 30, wanted “Community building, skill-sharing, gardening”; Mariel Berger, 28, wanted “Social, political, and artistic collaborations”; Johanna Bronk, 23, wanted “Communal vegetarian meals and chickens.”
Myself wanting almost all these things, I have to laugh at the yuppie-ness from the outside. However, these quotes weren’t culled from Stuff White People Like, but from the newspaper white people like, the New York Times. The article is about overeducated hipsters trying to mesh postmodernism with humanism. The title, “A Modern Answer to the Commune,” displays their unoriginal originality, and their unradical radicalism.
A quick conservative response is simple. Intentional community? Duhhh … the family.
I’ll keep going, though, because I myself have been enamored with ideas about modern intentional community ever since living in its ideal and origin, the college dorm. Let’s admit it, many of us found exhilarating realizations about life and living while in a dorm – which we did not find in our nuclear family. Part of this is the culture of a single age group; part is also the struggle to reassemble order and humane-ness to our lives after the liberation from family bonds.
In a culture with decreasing social interdicts to define and revere social roles that have been constructed to bring out aspects of our humanity, modern intentional community is certainly a useful tool. Forced social activity is a necessary way to refine and recognize relational and human goods.
Additionally, the nuclear family has rarely been enough, historically, to create community-oriented values. In some ways, modern intentional community fills the gap left by extended family and neighbors, among whom it was possible to exercise a greater degree of choice.
But here is a point I want to stress. The physical infrastructure of our cities and towns are often built without regard (or with disregard) for broader sociality, with social places such as strip malls and restaurants occupying distinct areas from residential, “private” spaces. More importantly, in a country with freedom of religion, the spiritual community is necessarily fractured, a situation that often makes intentional communities attractive to the spiritually sensitive. The bonds of common belief, common cause, and commonly-formed desires through religion find intense connection when coming together. If the hipster Craiglist-formed community is attractive to me, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” is the deeper desideratum.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.