View current page
...more recent posts
Roots of Communal Revival 1962-1966
One of the great flowerings of communitarianism in America came with the era of the hippies in the 1960s and early 1970s. The rural hippie communes were media attention-grabbers, full of photo opportunities, wild anecdotes, and the weirdest-looking people most Americans had ever seen. Press coverage was massive from about 1969 through 1972, and a string of popular books soon emerged, most of them travelogues of the authors' visits to communes. A fair body of scholarship eventually developed as well.
One standard theme in all of that coverage and scholarship, however, was oddly misguided. In case after case, observers of the new communalism seeking to explain the origins of the communes concluded that they were products of the decay of urban hippie life in the Haight-Ashbury, the East Village, and other enclaves. The hip urban centers, so the thesis ran, might have briefly been joyous centers of peace and love and expanded consciousness, but they soon devolved into cesspools of hard drugs, street crime, and official repression of dissident lifestyles. The hippies at that point fled for the friendly precincts of the countryside, where they built communes as new places for working out the hip vision.
Examples of this explanation of the origins of hippie communalism abound in both popular and scholarly writings. Maren Lockwood Carden, for example, writing in 1976, says matter-of- factly that the hippies' "first communes were created within the urban areas in which they already lived," and that beginning in 1966 "and especially during 1967 and 1968, such community-oriented hippies left the city." Helen Constas and Kenneth Westhues purport to trace the history of the counterculture "from its charismatic beginnings in the old urban bohemias to its current locale in rural communes," concluding that "communes signify the routinization of hippiedom."
Actually, however, the new communes began to appear before there was a clearly recognizable overall hippie culture, much less a decaying one; they represented a new outcropping of the much larger venerable American tradition of alternative culture, a part of which has involved communal living. Catalyzed by shifts in American culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the hip communes were not, in the beginning, products of hippiedom, but crucibles that played a major role in shaping and defining hip culture. In other words, the urban hippies did not create the first hip communes; it would be closer to the truth to say that the earliest communes helped create the hippies. While communes were indeed founded by hippies who fled the cities, they were johnnies- come-lately to the hip communal scene. When did the hippies first appear?