For Erik Reece, life, at last, was good: he was newly married, gainfully employed, living in a creekside cabin in his beloved Kentucky woods. It sounded, as he describes it, "like a country song with a happy ending." And yet he was still haunted by a sense that the world--or, more specifically, his country--could be better. He couldn't ignore his conviction that, in fact, the good ol' USA was in the midst of great social, environmental, and political crises--that for the first time in our history, we were being swept into a future that had no future. Where did we--here, in the land of Jeffersonian optimism and better tomorrows--go wrong?
Rather than despair, Reece turned to those who had dared to imagine radically different futures for America. What followed was a giant road trip and research adventure through the sites of America's utopian communities, both historical and contemporary, known and unknown, successful and catastrophic. What he uncovered was not just a series of lost histories and broken visionaries but also a continuing and vital but hidden idealistic tradition in American intellectual history. Utopia Drive is an important and definitive reconstruction of that tradition. It is also, perhaps, a new framework to help us find a genuinely sustainable way forward.
" … an engaging exploration -- and example -- of the fruitful tunnel-visions of dreamers turned doers." - Publishers Weekly
Visionary hopes, eccentric beliefs, and hard work animate this impassioned history of and meditation on American utopian settlements. Environmental journalist Reece (Lost Mountain) tours sites of famous 19th-century intentional communities, including the Pleasant Hill, Ky., Shaker congregation, whose celibacy commandment channeled energies into making classic furniture; New Harmony, Ind., where industrialist Robert Owen built a benevolent socialist dictatorship; anarchist Josiah Warren's Modern Times village on Long Island, N.Y., which used a "labor notes" currency denoted in working hours to banish exploitation; Thoreau's Walden Pond, Mass., utopia of one; and the Oneida, N.Y., free-love commune of prophet John Humphrey Noyes. Reece also visits Twin Oaks, Va., a flourishing modern-day hippie commune. He regales readers with the colorful oddities and excesses of these groups, and warms to their feminism, anti-racism, and egalitarianism. The book examines utopian theories of what's wrong with the world capitalism, private property, egotism, either sex or monogamy and Reece chimes in with Jeffersonian jeremiads against banks, consumerism, mass production, agribusiness, and genetic engineering, never registering how industry and technology make utopian aspirations practical. (His idea of paradise seems to be an organic farm with solar panels.) The result is an engaging exploration and example of the fruitful tunnel-visions of dreamers turned doers.