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Liberals almost rediscover the family

Original Article

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place. –G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (1925)

In the wake of the massive economic downturn pundits on the Left—owing to their Keynesian economic philosophy—urge us to “go out and spend” rather than work hard, save, and invest as my supply-side colleague George Gilder and the late Jack Kemp would advise. Yet some liberals are dissenting from Keynesian orthodoxy; not in philosophy, but in practice.

Outside Santa Monica, California, the first “Cul-de-sac Commune” has formed, according to National Public Radio (NPR).

“It couldn’t possibly be that I have to buy in order to be green,” laments Stephanie Smith of Ecoshack, LLC whose project “Wanna Start a Commune?” promotes “a return to an old idea, but with a new attitude.”

“I have to buy a Prius; I have to buy a fluorescent light bulb; I have to buy a solar array. And I, frankly, just couldn’t afford to be green—and that scared me,” Smith told NPR.

Smith’s solution is communal living—raising chickens together, generating their own energy supply, etc.—with a twist: It will happen not in the wilderness but in suburbia.

Smith and her group believe isolation from society led to the collapse of the communes of yesteryear. “So what we’re interested in doing is [to] make them effective as part of a culture, not a counter-culture this time,” says Smith.

One former commune-builder I spoke with gave an alternative diagnosis. Communes failed because of “two fatally flawed ideas”: One, property is theft. And two, sex should be unfettered.

The disastrous result of the former idea was that communes often “devolved from idealistic communities into self-righteous hobo camps” since no one took care of the property. The tragedy of the latter idea was that many couples broke up soon after arrival because of “experimentation.” Thus, ironically, there was little stable community within many communes.

The return of communes prompts us to ask, whence this quasi-religious angst for community and shared responsibility? Why in the 1960s, and why now? Such concerns seem foreign to most times and places other than late 20th and early 21st century America.

Pondering communes’ return, the concept seemed strangely familiar. This idea of handing down clothes, sharing living space and responsibility for chores, making food together, pooling resources and caring for one another’s needs: It all sounds like a big family. The kind we rarely see anymore.

Could Americans’ anxiety over their lack of rootedness, stable community, and economic security result from the decreased number of family connections?

To many young people, marriage is not as important as it once was—the sort of thing one does after accomplishing other ambitions. Even among married couples, children seem less of a priority nowadays; dogs are enough. But to be fair, the colossal cost of government also means Americans have less money to provide for potential families.

On this thesis, it’s not surprising communes are a product of the Left rather than the Right. As social scientist Arthur C. Brooks observes, “if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That’s a ‘fertility gap’ of 41%.”

Come to think about it, Wanna Start a Commune?’s slogan about returning “to an old idea” is more apt than they know. But there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Logan Paul Gage

Logan Paul Gage is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Dr. Gage received his B.A. in history, philosophy, and American studies from Whitworth College (2004) and his M.A. (2011) and Ph.D. (2014) in philosophy from Baylor University. His dissertation, written under the supervision of Trent Dougherty, was a defense of the phenomenal conception of evidence and conservative principles in epistemology.