Hippie communes were largely popular in the 1960s and are still associated today with that “back-to-the-land” philosophy and the idealistic world-view of the hippie movement. But not all such communities and settlements are driven by spiritual rather than pragmatic principles, and some of them managed to endure and even thrive better than what our prejudice might have predicted for them.
Often misrepresented and ridiculed as being nothing more than unrealistic phantasies for slightly deranged, even though harmless people, the communes actually have a history that goes beyond the hippie movement and are not (only) failed social experiments. They should be seen instead as alternatives to the capitalistic way of life or to larger-scaled human settlements; and as every alternative to an established system, they can be more or less successful, depending. Anyway, not that we’re advertising them as better, but given how the macro-scale world system we’re living in is faring at the moment, when world peace seems to be threatened, we totally understand why some people would prefer to live in a hippie commune.
Here is how such gatherings of people function and a few things you probably didn’t know about them.
1. History of communes
As we were saying, communes didn’t get invented in the 1960s, by far. Their history is older than that of the hippie movement, even in the United States. Basically, whenever utopian communities were discussed, the concept of a commune was involved.
In other parts of the world, namely in European countries, communes have existed successfully as far back as the 19th century. The people within them were gathered and organized either around a leading principle (opposition to a regime, or a political belief such as socialism, or a religious belief), or around a charismatic leader or guru figure. A good example of such an old commune is the one founded by John Vandeleur in 1831, Ireland, even though the commune was short-lived due to its leader’s gambling debts. On the other hand, communes like the Scottish Findhorn-based Ecovillage (founded in 1962) are models of success: the village’s wind turbines (pictured below) make it a net exporter of electricity.
2. Hippie communes still active
The most famous commune in the United States today has got to be The Farm, founded in 1971 and still thriving. The settlement has gone through some economic turbulence and change in the 80s, when the all-pooling way of life wasn’t sustainable anymore and people had to begin self-supporting themselves. In spite of this change, the commune still features communal property and its revolutionary principles are intact. The Farm became very well-known with the release of a documentary about it, called American Commune, produced by the Mundo sisters who grew up in the settlement.
Another famous commune example is the Twin Oaks commune, founded in Virginia in 1967 and still faring well. Pictured above is one of its members making a hammock. It is the largest and one of the most enduring secular communities in North America and its principles are those of cooperation, non-violence, egalitarianism, income-sharing and sustainability. It was founded by six individuals with no prior experience in farming, and yet it managed to thrive. Twin Oaks has 100 members, but doesn’t lack in wannabe members: since 2011 the commune has a waiting list for people who want to join, and an old members has to drop membership before a new one can join.
Ongoing hippie communes situated in less secluded, urban areas, include the Ganas (which you can find on Staten Island, New York), or the Jesus People USA (in Uptown, the North side of Chicago). Here is the “Everything goes” free bookstore and library of the Ganas commune:
3. Info resource on hippie communes
If you’re planning to visit a hippie commune so you can see it with your own eyes, a good place to start looking is this index here. Whether you’re looking for a brief getaway or just curious about how a famous commune functions, a place like that may be so different and exotic compared to what we’re accustomed to that it would be a shame not to be visited.