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What is a commune?

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October 08, 2009 12:44AM

A commune is also called an "intentional community." It is a relatively small community whose members share common interests, work and income and often own property collectively.

It is an autonomous community whose members have agreed, by free choice, to live a life of sharing by the principle 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need' . Commune members place the group ahead of the nuclear family unit, generally maintain a 'common-purse' and collective household and make intimate as well as general decisions as a group." Some groups do not share so much on the material plane but much more on the social plane, and this is where, in the ideal notion, the family and the commune almost become one.

Perhaps the best answer is that a commune is a group that defines itself as such. An Intentional Community is a relatively new term, coined because of the reluctance of many communities to use the word "commune", as a result of stigmas including its presumed similarity to communism. In actual fact, the term is much less exclusive than the world commune, because it covers any group of people living together, who have a common purpose. Thus the FIC List of Intentional Communities, available on internet, includes a wide variety of committed groups, including at least one monastery.

An intentional community is a relatively small group of people who have created a whole way of life for the attainment of a certain set of goals. The two elements of the term are equally important. Intentional communities have emerged as a result of a number of people consciously and purposefully coalescing as a group in order to realize a set of aims. These aims attempt to create an entire way of life, hence, unlike organizations or social movements, they are intentional communities. Their being a community has two further qualities: they are (1) characterized by face-to-face relations and (2) they embrace communalism as an ethical end in itself

Without specifying quantities, I suggest that an intentional community exists if, "by and large", the following conditions are met: (1) It was founded as a conscious and purposive act; (2) Membership is voluntary and based on a conscious act (even if the member was born in the community); (3) The group sees itself as separate from and different to its environment and relates as a group to (or withdraws as a group from) its environment; (4) The community is relatively self-contained - most members can potentially live their entire lives in it (or for the period during which they are members); (5) Sharing is part of the community's ideology; (6) The community has collective goals and needs and expects members to work towards their satisfaction; (7) The ideology claims that the goals of the community, even if orientated to the benefit of the individual, can only be obtained in a collective framework; (8) Ultimately the community, or people appointed by the community, but not the individual, is the source of authority; (9) The general way of life of the community is considered to be inherently good, i.e. is an end in itself over and above its instrumental value; (10) The community's existence has a moral value and purpose, which transcend the time-span of individual membership.

We should emphasize that these qualities can exist not only in varying degrees, but in various ways. Sharing, equality, self-containment and so on can be interpreted in many ways and, as we shall see, this is an important factor in the persistence of intentional communities. The point is that where these qualities exist in the eyes of both the outside observer and the members themselves, we have an intentional community.