The past and present of American utopianism

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Residents of the utopian community Oneida Community House enjoy time together outdoors. Photo courtesy of the Oneida Community House.

Well before the counterculture years of the ‘60s and ‘70s , 17th and 18th century America offered fertile grounds for those with utopian impulses. Groups like the Shakers, the Oneida community, and even the ideas of the Transcendentalists were founded on the notion that their societies would be so appealing and perfect that they would give rise to larger movements. 

Most collapsed, torn apart by the realities of life and human nature. Today they provide interesting critiques of the worlds in which they came to be, and some even carry lasting legacies, like public schools and libraries. KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian talks with Chris Jennings, writer and author of “Paradise Now; The Story of American Utopianism,” and traces the history of some of America’s earliest brick and mortar utopian communities


Chris Jennings is a writer and the author of “Paradise Now; The Story of American Utopianism. Photo by Terri Loewenthal

The majority of those 18th and 19th century America’s utopian visions were on the extreme end of the spectrum — imposing strict rules to achieve a perfect society had a habit of bumping up against human nature. Today, however, there are plenty of intentional communities all over the U.S., perhaps with less rigid rules and more realistic ideals. Many of them center around creative ways to share land and housing. KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian talks with Anna Newcomb, founder and 20-year resident of Blueberry Hill,  a cohousing community in Northern Virginia, about the joys and appeal of community living. 


Anna Newcomb is the founder and 20-year resident of Blueberry Hill,  a cohousing community in Northern Virginia. Photo by Brian Kent.

Credits

Guests:

Producer:

Andrea Brody