A Utopian Community that Works

Utopian communities rarely last. How have the Hutterites done it over four centuries?


Rooted in the Anabaptist movement, from which groups such as the Amish and the Mennonites also derive, the Hutterites first formed in what is now Austria’s Tyrol in the 16th century under the leadership of Jakob Hutter. The sect fled persecution across the continent before ultimately relocating to Canada and the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For his film The Hutterites (1964), the Canadian director Colin Low was given rare access to a Hutterite colony in Alberta, where he detailed the community’s history, beliefs and social structure, emphasising the ways in which the Hutterites both intersected with and insulated themselves from the modern world. The resulting documentary is a rich portrait of a resilient sectarian society characterised by its strict devotion to simplicity and community inspired by an idiosyncratic interpretation of New Testament Christian values.

1964 film from the National Film Board of Canada
Aeon article


René & Elisabeth on The Hard Problem

What is the relationship between our primitive awareness of existence and the physical brain?

David Chalmers calls this “The Hard Problem”.  It’s also the Interesting Problem for anyone who wonders who we really are, or whether consciousness in any form survives physical death.

Religious dogma affirms that the soul has a separate existence.  Scientific dogma affirms that consciousness is an illusion that arises from nerves firing.

In the 17th Century, René Descartes was both scientist and Christian philosopher.  Elisabeth von der Pfalz was 24-year-old daughter of a Bohemian prince when she wrote to Descartes, challenging his dualism with clear-eyed questions.  There followed a seven-year correspondence between the two, in which Descartes faced up to the fact that the question he had taken on deserved the name of Hard Problem.


«J’ose croire que la joie intérieure a quelque secrète force pour se rendre la fortune plus favorable.»— Descartes

(“I dare to believe that inner joy carries a secret force that attracts good fortune.”)

Read Anthony Gottlieb’s article in Lapham Quarterly.

That spirit can redeem mankind

In their unhallowed principles, the bad
Have fairly earned a victory o’er the weak,
The vacillating, inconsistent good.
Therefore, not unconsoled, I wait–in hope
To see the moment, when the righteous cause
Shall gain defenders zealous and devout
As they who have opposed her; in which Virtue
Will, to her efforts, tolerate no bounds
That are not lofty as her rights; aspiring
By impulse of her own ethereal zeal.
That spirit only can redeem mankind.

— William Wordsworth (1814)

Night of Rising Up for Democracy, Paris 2016

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
— John Stuart Mill

Vita activa & Vita contemplativa

Every kind of activity, even the process of mere thought, must culminate in the absolute quiet of contemplation. Every movement, the movements of body and soul as well as of speech and reasoning, must cease before truth. Truth, be it the ancient truth of Being or the Christian truth of the living God, can reveal itself only in complete human stillness.

— Hannah Arendt

Aristotle Contemplates a Bust of Homer

Fear of Death is a Cultural Artifact

Deep within, in the animal part of us, we are not afraid of death.  This is something that our culture has imposed on us.  Philosophically, we are afraid of annihilation, of becoming nothing, and that concept of death is part of Western “scientific” culture. What surprises me is that so many people I hypnotized — 80% had within them this mystical, yoga-like attitude, though most were not aware of it.
— Helen Wambach 


Is the spider a monster in miniature?
His web is a cruel stair, to be sure,
Designed artfully, cunningly placed,
A delicate trap, carefully spun
To bind the fly (innocent or unaware)
In a net as strong as a chain or a gun.

There are far more spiders than the man in the street supposes
And the philosopher-king imagines, let alone knows!
There are six hundred kinds of spiders and each one
Differs in kind and in unkindness.
In variety of behavior spiders are unrivalled:
The fat garden spider sits motionless, amidst or at the heart
Of the orb of its web: other kinds run,
Scuttling across the floor, falling into bathtubs,
Trapped in the path of its own wrath, by overconfidence drowned and undone.

Other kinds — more and more kinds under the stars and the sun —
Are carnivores: all are relentless, ruthless
Enemies of insects. Their methods of getting food
Are unconventional, numerous, various and sometimes hilarious:
Some spiders spin webs as beautiful
As Japanese drawings, intricate as clocks, strong as rocks:
Others construct traps which consist only
Of two sticky and tricky threads. Yet this ambush is enough
To bind and chain a crawling ant for long enough:
The famished spider feels the vibration
Which transforms patience into sensation and satiation.
The handsome wolf spider moves suddenly freely and relies
Upon lightning suddenness, stealth and surprise,
Possessing accurate eyes, pouncing upon his victim with the speed of surmise.

Courtship is dangerous: there are just as
many elaborate and endless techniques and varieties
As characterize the wooing of more analytic, more
introspective beings: Sometimes the male
Arrives with the gift of a freshly caught fly.
Sometimes he ties down the female, when she is frail,
With deft strokes and quick maneuvres and threads of silk:
But courtship and wooing, whatever their form, are informed
By extreme caution, prudence, and calculation,
For the female spider, lazier and fiercer than the male suitor,
May make a meal of him if she does not feel in the same mood, or if her appetite
Consumes her far more than the revelation of love’s consummation.
Here among spiders, as in the higher forms of nature,
The male runs a terrifying risk when he goes seeking
for the bounty of beautiful Alma Magna Mater:
Yet clearly and truly he must seek and find his mate and
match like every other living creature!

— Delmore Schwartz, born this day in 1913