America's Communial Utopias. Edited by Donald E. Pitzer. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997. xxi + 537 pp. $24.95 paper.
This edited collection describing America's communitarian societies and movements is impressive in its scope. In addition to the "classic" communal groups (Shakers, Harmony, New Harmony, Brook Farm, Amana, Oneida, and the Hutterites), others less familiar are also given their place, including the Mormon United Order, the Icarian communities, the Bishop Hill colony, the Koreshan Unity, and Father Divine. Righting a sad neglect, there are essays on the Roman Catholic monastic presence in the United States, Jewish agricultural colonies, Californian socialist utopias, and the Theosophical communities. Each selection contains a chronology of the group's history. A forty-two page appendix listing the communal utopias founded by 1965 is followed by an impressive bibliographic essay. Those wishing an introduction to American communal groups will find this volume to be an excellent guide.
The editor presents in his Introduction the framework of "developmental communalism" to study how certain groups organized, developed communal ideologies, and then discarded communalism to avoid stagnation or an untimely collapse and dispersal. This approach is called a "new thrust of scholarly interest that has emerged during the past three decades." Unfortunately, only a few essays mention the developmental model. The attempts to use this model are so minimal that it is barely mentioned although it shows promise.
Instead, the analysis is consistently chronological; the reader is given the history of each group, psychological (often superficial) profiles and biographies of the founders and leaders as well as numbing description of events, some picturesque, but seldom analytical.