An Overview of Community

The Art and Science of Social Harmony


"Excellent persons do not dwell alone. They are sure to have neighbors."

Confucius, Analects


The community exists on a scale above that of the family and below that of the nation. It consists of those who are in sufficiently close physical and psychological proximity to offer and receive immediate care and/or enrichment. The relationships may be either formal, as in those between the citizens of a city or town and their elected officials, or may be personal, as in those between friends and club or church members. Sometimes the relationships of community mix the formal and the personal; for example, such relationships sometimes exist between graduate students and professors. As in such cases, and ideally in most cases, formal relationships would simply serve as a structuring of the personal relationships; but such has rarely been the case.

Indeed, rational community of any sort has rarely existed; however, when it has been even closely approximated to, it has sometimes produced astonishing results. We have in mind here the cases of fifth century Athens, Florence of the Italian Renaissance, and Paris of the Enlightenment. It is apparent that it is the community that exists on the scale to which human nature is best suited and within which it is best nurtured. Annonymity and community make poor bed-fellows, yet today nearly all "communities" are largely anonymous and merely formal, lacking in warmth, affection, honesty, and the sort of genuine concern that is so essential to human thriving. In communities, as in so much else, small is not only "beautiful", it is essential. (All institutions that are "too big to fail" are much too big to exist.)

Rational or Intentional Community

To bridge the gap between family and society on the larger scale, intentional communities have sometimes been ventured. In general, intentional communities may build either upon a network of friendships, or else upon shared values, but, better yet, both. (This is one reason why, at Everything Progressive, we place so much emphasis on philosophy, conceived in part as providing the best methodology for arriving at good values.) To serve well, the intentional community should be relatively small, and its participants should live within a short distance of one another. Pooling of financial resources is possible, though likely to prove contentious. Sharing of financial obligations, such as mutual ownership of the land upon which homes in an intentional community are built is also possible, and rather less likely to prove contentious. Yet another possiblity is the work cooperative, which is community structured around some sort of economic enterprise. The corporation is a corrupted form of such a community; the kibbutz and Mondragon cooperative provide far better examples.

The intentional community is a relatively new social form, and like all innovations (and all networks of human relationships), has shown some tedencies to failure that need further examination and study. Despite these tendencies, intentional community is almost certain to outperform anonymous "community" in the long run. The mere familiarity of anonymous "community" should do nothing to recommend it to us. In fact, the failures of anonymous "community" (and of large, community-abandoning banks and corporations) literally surround us today, and are the root cause of social decay.

The Institutions of Intentional Community

If we take the intentional residential community as the most typical sort of case, then the possiblity arises of "meta" resources such as schools, businesses, farms, and hospitals. These would simply represent the shared resources of a group of closely aligned or affiliated intentional communities.

Organizing Intentional Community

Any number of bases for the organization of intentional community can (and should) exist. For example, elderly individuals have both specialized social and medical needs, so that physical facilities organized around these needs would make an enormous amount of sense. However, it's possible for communities to be organized in such a fashion that a number of ends are met simultaneously. For example, values-based communities are one starting point, while the need to simultaneously achieve environmental sustainability and economic self-sufficiency could be "bundled". In every case, and on every issue, where societies as a whole are falling short (the few exceptions are primarily Scandinavian) the gap could be at least partially bridged by intentional community. For example, it's apparent that the political influence of energy companies is everywhere greatly excessive, which is leading directly to global climate destruction. Communities could seize the initiative here by being organized around an imperative for achieving sustainable energy self-sufficiency.

Community at Everything Progressive

A guide to resources pertaining to Intentional Community at Everything Progressive will soon be found here.


The Editor / Everything Progressive