The United States is made up of communities. Even the most isolated, homesteading, back-to-the-land person in the country, is still conceptually connected to some community because he or she did not appear spontaneously on the Earth. At some point in their past, or the past of their parents or grandparents, they were part of a community.
Communities take many forms. A small town is different than a city, and both are different from the lives of those in a forced community like a prison. Another form of community is a commune.
A commune is a rare occurrence, and yet, with all its rarity, still there are communes in the U.S. today, and there have been in America for over 300 years: tens of thousands throughout the history of the country . Timothy Miller has written a trilogy of books which together are a survey of American communes that were in existence from 1900 – 2000. The books actually cover a greater arc since some communes that started before 1900 were still in existence in 1900, and many in existence in 2000 are still around today.
The books do not attempt to document all American communes. That would be almost impossible. There have been tens of thousands of communes throughout 300 years of American communal history. Some came and went without leaving much of a trace. The books give a sampling of history to illustrate the many flavors of communes, and to show how they influenced each other.
According to Miller, a group of likeminded people living together must meet seven conditions in order for their living arrangement to be considered a commune for the purpose of his studies. For example, their community must have:
1. A sense of common purpose and of separation from society.
2. Some form and level of self denial, of voluntary suppression of individual choice for the good of the group.
3. Geographic proximity.
4. Personal interaction.
Sometmes a group only meets some of Miller’s conditions. I have defined a new term to describe such a group: protocommune.
A protocommune is not quite a commune.
A protocommune (1) has set the groundwork for a commune, and (2) actively strives to reach the threshold of being a commune.
Thus, a protocommune is a partially built commune which is advancing towards becoming a commune. The people in the protocommune participate in regular meetings, or at least engage in regular communications, that propel the protocommune forward towards commune status.