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How Hippie Communes Changed America: New at Reason

Sunday, November 20, 2016 9:50
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From Reason‘s December issue, Senior Editor Brian Doherty reviews a new book on how hippie communes changed America:

In 1971, a young man named Bernie Sanders visited Myrtle Hill Farm, a rural Vermont commune for disaffected white middle-class kids. Its residents’ back-to-the-land lifestyle was meant to free them from a culture that had come, in the midst of war and racial unrest, to seem “an unstoppable torrent of death and destruction, all for no reason.”

Myrtle Hill had an all-are-welcome policy—for three days. Then the core owners would decide by consensus whether you were cool to hang around. Sanders’ tendency to just sit around talking politics and avoid actual physical labor got him the boot.

That’s just one of the stories in Kate Daloz’s We Are As Gods, a loving but honest history of hippie communes in Vermont in the 1970s. Daloz has the journalist’s gift for getting people to explain themselves, the historian’s ability to explain the context in which they made their choices, and the novelist’s power for revealing character through action, plot, and the perfectly chosen detail. While she focuses on a small group of communal and quasi-communal rural homesteads within a few miles of each other in Vermont—one of which housed her parents, Judy and Larry—Daloz explains that her characters represented a large and unprecedented cultural and demographic shift.

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