Campgrounds for the Perplexed

From New Harmony on, the lesson has always been the same. America and the Western World is hard on utopias. In the mid 1960′s there was a utopic commune in California called ”Morning Star” which was closed down for failing to meet the standards of an organized camp among other civil infractions that helped bring on an injunction in 1968.

Apart from certain details of style, drugs primarily, the mid to late 1960′s saw a flourishing of rural communes that recalled the classic American utopias that flourished in the 1800′s. Both were a considerable movement. Writing in 1870, John Humphrey Noyes, the historian of early American socialism , counted forty-seven colonies that had already come and gone, a list that ran from the Alphadelphia Phalanx to the Peace Union settlement. Some of these utopias were farming colonies of pious German immigrants,such as the Shakers, but other roads to salvation were sought by the colonists at Brook farm, Mass, Oneida in New York and New Harmony in Indiana.

”But although Owen provided New Harmony with everything he could imagine that it would need to succeed, it was missing the essential component that made other communities, like the Shakers, cohesive. Because Owen did not believe in God, their was no centr al covenant that committed the residents of New Harmony to their enterprise. Although they were united by their communal labor, and to the idea of utopian life, the very rational concepts upon which Owen had based the community were antithetical to commu nal life. Because they lacked the strong central belief which served to unite other utopian groups, the members of the community were lacking the commitment to carry out the mission that Owen envisioned. New Harmony dissolved in less than three years.”

Pieter Bruegel, ''The Land of Cockaigne'' 1567. A legendary paradise where wine bubbled up from springs and roasted pigs ran around with knives in their backs, ready for carving.

Pieter Bruegel, ''The Land of Cockaigne'' 1567. A legendary paradise where wine bubbled up from springs and roasted pigs ran around with knives in their backs, ready for carving.

The transcendental world view of Brook Farm, the free love at Oneida, the constant dissonance between the ideal and the practical at New Harmony, all echoed, to some degree, latter-day utopias such as Timothy Leary’s Millbrook colony in rural New York , Drop City, which was a village of geodesic domes built from junk automobile tops near Trinidad Colorado; the Tolstoy colony near Davenport, Washington and Morningstar in California. Most of these hippie colonies operative principles were an amalgam of primitive Christianity, Zen, Yoga, social nudism and philosophical anarchism. the common catch phrase was,”everybody’s free to do his own thing”. ¬†” I am come to this country to introduce an entire new state of society; to change it from an ignorant, selfish system to an enlightened social system which shall gradually unite all interests into one, and remove all causes for contests between individuals”.( Robert Owen, 1825, founder of New Harmony)

Lou Gottleib, founder of Morningstar Ranch

Lou Gottleib, founder of Morningstar Ranch


”We are a pilot study in survival. The hippies are really the first wave of the technological unemployed. …the problem is to get a piece of land and see who it attracts. We are attempting a definition of a style of life”. ( Lou Gottleib, Morningstar, 1967) Most of these hippie communes had a pure and literal anarchy that outraged any middle-class sensibilities ¬†towards order and organization. The style of life pushed permissiveness to its outer limits. No one was rarely assigned to any particular duty and it was a miracle that any work managed to get done. They were often plagued by acts of violence that demonstrated the impossibility of a utopia’s cutting itself off entirely from the dominant pressures of the outside world. ” Oh if you could see some of the rough uncouth creatures here, I think you would find it rather hard to look upon them exactly in the light of brothers and sisters.” ( Sarah Pears, letter from New Harmony, 1826)

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