Intentional Communities

What Are Intentional Communities

An intentional community is, in the words of G. Kozeny, “a group of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose, working cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared core values.” Such shared values might be social, political, religious, or spiritual. Intentional communities take shape within existing nation-states and have little or no formal legal autonomy. However, their aim often is to represent a grassroots bid for self-determination or de-facto autonomy.

These communities are sometimes created to escape the modern city’s anonymity or promote close relationships and a common identity. Shared values within such a community produce a sense of unity and purpose. In addition, since residents of intentional communities tend to seek out people with the same values, the communities are less prone to conflict. Local governance does not have to compromise between many different groups and preferences.

Intentional communities are often not necessarily explicitly political in their goals. They don’t tend to challenge their host state’s sovereignty or try to win significant concessions from it. Instead, community rules, at least on paper, tend to exist “on top of” the laws and regulations of the state. As a result, the experience of living inside such a community can be very different than living outside.

An Escape from Unwanted Rules

Although an intentional community may not enjoy formal autonomy, it can have “community rules” enforced by reputation and social consensus rather than physical force. This makes such communities attractive relocation destinations for those dissatisfied with the political or social status quo where they live.

Historically, intentional communities have usually been centered around ideas such as environmental friendliness and living in more harmony with nature, communal living and ownership, shared faith, and local self-sufficiency. In these forms, intentional communities have a rich history going back decades or even centuries — since the very beginning of the nation-state as the dominant political unit.

Varying Levels of Stability and Autonomy

Intentional communities can obtain varying degrees of autonomy. The simplest form of intentional community is a “sympathy settlement” of like-minded people living close to each other. Such settlements may be either temporary or permanent and may be almost fully interconnected with the rest of society. We can see such examples of sympathy settlements in neighborhoods within many major cities where immigrants of the same background are concentrated and form explicit local communities, such as Chinatowns or Little Italies. However, sympathy settlements can take many different forms.

A more advanced form of intentional community is an “organized settlement.” The key distinguishing feature of the settlement is a document where the local “rules of living together” are codified. These districts can be motivated by the desire of the residents to move to a particular geographic location. They often want higher levels of internal security, better environmental protection, or specific local communal services. Many organized settlements take the form of a membership organization — an arrangement that makes them legally legible to the outside world.

Finally, the most comprehensive form of the intentional community can be described as a “private settlement.” Although located within a sovereign state, this kind of settlement has an undisputed subsidiary boundary within that state. Moreover, it may have institutions that supplement or even supplant the operation of usual state agencies.

Amish villages in the US represent an example of private settlement communities. These communities provide their own security, dispute resolution systems, schools, and other services typically provided by the state. Jewish intentional communities called Kibbutzim, both in Israel and around the world, are another famous example. Even if centered around religion, these communities may engage in politics to maintain good relations with local government administrations. This process can support the community’s de-facto partial autonomy.

A History of Success

These different forms of intentional communities share – and offer prospective members – a “society within a society.” Shared values enable inhabitants to live under a set of rules that are closer to their hearts. For someone whose personal values resonate with those of an intentional community, relocating may be an attractive path to living one’s best, freest, and most fulfilling life.

There are thousands of intentional communities around the world, centered around an incredibly diverse range of people. Most of them have been founded on left-wing, socialist, or environmentalist ideals. In a world where it is common to engage in politics to try and steer the whole society one way or the other whether people wish to or not, intentional communities are the shining beacons of the alternative — of building something local, real, and successful instead.

Many intentional communities have been created as the so-called “utopian societies” or “utopian experiments”, uniting those who believed in radical or revolutionary ideas. Plenty of these experiments have proven that their respective alternative political and social arrangements can function well among like-minded, voluntarily participating members. These intentional communities are living examples of the power of common goals and shared visions.

At the Free Cities Foundation, we aim to highlight the rich history of past and present intentional communities. They represent grassroots attempts to create Free Cities not through legal and political negotiations but through lived experience and de-facto self-governance. The Foundation aims to work with willing intentional communities to help them improve their legal standing and chances of long-term success. If any intentional community is willing to take the next logical step in its development to become a legally recognized Special Administrative Zone with explicit regulatory concessions, this can enable the community to further grow and prosper with a sense of security and permanency. We can provide the knowledge and expertise necessary to engage in such negotiations.

To find out more about specific international communities, visit the Foundation for Intentional Community — a worldwide intentional communities hub and directory.