Cooperative Communities and the Libertarian Movement
On the occasion when I explain my upbringing in Ananda Village, California, to fellow libertarians, I am often met with funny looks or a halfhearted, “That’s neat,” in response. Ananda, founded by J. Donald Walters (also known as Swami Kriyananda), is an intentional cooperative community celebrating its 43rd anniversary this year. The community of Ananda is, quite simply, a gathering of individuals who follow the spiritual teachings of the Indian yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of “Autobiography of a Yogi”). I was born and raised in Ananda, and the community itself is a haven of individual creativity, dedication, and entrepreneurship.
There is no rule book or set constitution for communities to adopt. There is nothing mandating that communities have to be collective socialist communes where no one can so much as own their own shirt. Communities are basic structures, they are whatever people create of them. Some individuals might prefer a community that focuses on promoting entrepreneurship, others a community that centers on building birdhouses and widgets. Regardless of the intended community focus, the key concept is an intentional community provides a foundation for like-minded individuals to come together, collaborate, and work toward a common goal.
Libertarians often try to change things through a legislative process in government, which is a great and noble goal. However, the libertarian movement dedicated to individual liberty, free markets, and voluntary interactions must face the reality that the beast of an overextended government is not easily tamed. Focusing the majority of your energy to change an overextended government through the government may not be the best course of action. Libertarians, and all those dedicated to individual freedom and responsibility, must take it upon themselves to directly bring about an alternative lifestyle or society that promotes and protects libertarian ideals.
This is an area where libertarians can, believe it or not, learn from the Green movement. The Green movement has spent billions of dollars lobbying government and attempting to elect government officials who promise to promote environmental causes; this is a similar approach to many libertarian groups and movements today. What’s noteworthy, however, is how some in the Green movement have seen the need to do more than lobby government to achieve their goals of environmental stewardship, instead working to create voluntary ecovillage communities focused on environmental education and preservation. These ecovillage communities provide a hub for true environmentalists to come together to directly engage in environmental preservation, grow local food, and practice sustainable living techniques.
In the same way that some in the Green movement are starting ecovillage communities around the world, libertarians should shift their energy and consider beginning libertarian communities. Libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, and voluntaryists can do much more than just talk about the ideals of a truly free society, they can create a free society one person at a time. Two libertarian projects, The Free State Project and Southeast Liberty Project, are already using the principles of communities to further the goals of the libertarian movement. All great ideas and projects must start small; rather than trying to save an entire forest, start with saving several trees. Cooperative communities are a valuable addition to the libertarian tool chest; the tyranny of an overreaching government can be chiseled away by creating practical small-scale alternatives to the state.