Inland America is pocked with the unmarked graves of communitarian utopias—primitive socialist and communist experiments—that tried to rebuild the world on what was assumed to be virgin soil. Ephrata, Pennsylvania; Germantown, Tennessee; Utopia, Ohio; Brentwood, New York; Iowa’s Amana Colonies: these and many other towns were originally settled by communalists with lofty visions of abolishing private property, quashing material inequity, and transcending divisive individualism.
It makes sense that those seeking the fringe of a New World might be driven by powerful ideological convictions. But while European settlers dreamed of abolishing old hierarchies in the map’s blank spots, these blanks were always a fantasy. The allure of self-directed freedom in unsullied lands largely folded back into a vanguard of dispossession and genocide, with naïve radicals paving the way for the extension of the very structures they had hoped to escape. Their intentions complicate the mythic image of a land settled by rugged individualists, but their ultimate fates suggest bleak prospects for liberation conceived as escape, rather than transformational conflict.
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