COMMUNES IN THE COUNTER CULTURE: Origins, Theories, Styles of Life by Keith Melville

COMMUNES IN THE COUNTER CULTURE: Origins, Theories, Styles of Life

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Melville, a sociologist, combines journalistic description of contemporary rural communes and analysis of countercultural goals and values with brief retrospection of 19th-century utopian communitarian theory and experiments. Questioning whether ""hippies"" and ""activists"" may be contrasted as they once were, Melville suggests that they are, after all, both ""radical,"" rejecting existing ""middle-class"" society, though the communards seek ""the liberation of everyday life"" as opposed to ""abstract politics."" The counterculture is compared with the German youth movement which, as Melville notes, was easily assimilated by the Naxis, but this, he thinks, was an historical aberration, and, because they reject all authority, counterculturalists would never follow a super-leader. Melville tends to pose this kind of opposition -- Skinnerian controls versus anarchic experiments -- without examining what they have in common. He is not a wholehearted booster of the counterculture -- he thinks it tends to ""adolescentize"" valid ideas like anarchism and Zen; but he provides no theoretical basis for criticizing the ""do-your-own-thingism"" and the anti-intellectualism whose extremes he deplores. His sociological generalizations are reasonable, if not terribly original: young people are rejecting the individualism and urbanity which were once prized as freedom from small-town strictures as well as the nuclear family idea with its anti-social tendencies. Some particular comments and observations are acute: ""In their permissive climate, there is often a debilitating low-thyroid do-nothingness that looks like nothing so much as the reverse image of the compulsive busyness of their parents"" and it turns out that communes frequently practice ""a familiar form of serial monogamy"" instead of lurid libertinism. Still one may question whether Melville grasps the full essence of the phenomenon: he asks, ""Who would have predicted five years ago a religious explosion among the middle-class young?"" -- anyone historically familiar with past counterculturism. Best read as a gentle challenge to stuffy prejudices, rather than as an anatomy of the potentialities of the movement.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1972
Publisher: Morrow