Intentional communities are associations of people with a shared social, political, religious, or spiritual vision. They have boundaries within an existing nation-state and have little or no formal legal autonomy. However, they often aim to foster a grassroots bid for self-determination.
These communities are sometimes created to escape the modern city’s anonymity or promote close relationships and a common identity. Shared values within such a community produce a sense of unity and purpose. In addition, since residents of intentional communities tend to seek out people with the same values, the communities are less prone to conflict. Local governance does not have to compromise between many different groups and preferences.
Intentional communities are usually not explicitly political in their goals. They don’t tend to challenge their host state’s sovereignty or try to win significant concessions from it. Instead, community rules tend to exist “on top of” the laws and regulations of the state. As a result, the experience of living inside such a community can be very different than living outside.
Although an intentional community may not enjoy formal autonomy, it can have “community rules” enforced by reputation and peer pressure rather than physical force. This makes such communities attractive relocation destinations for those dissatisfied with the political status quo where they live.
Intentional communities can obtain varying degrees of autonomy. The simplest form of intentional community is a “sympathy settlement” of like-minded people living close to each other.
Such settlements may be temporary, like Ephemerisle, an annual week-long floating gathering of seasteading enthusiasts. Or they may be permanent, like the Free State Project, a movement of American libertarians relocating to New Hampshire to serve as both a political voting unit in favor of more libertarian policies and a community of like-minded people.
A more advanced form of intentional community is an “organized settlement.” The key distinguishing feature of the settlement is a document where the local “rules of living together” are codified. These districts can be motivated by the desire of the residents to move to a particular geographic location. They often want higher levels of security, a more orderly and clean living environment, protection of their property values, or specific local communal services. One example is the Homeowners’ Association, commonplace in the United States.
Finally, the most comprehensive form of intentional community is a “private settlement.” Although located within a sovereign state, this kind of settlement has an undisputed boundary within that state. Moreover, it may have institutions that supplement or even supplant the operation of usual state agencies.
Amish villages in the US represent an example of private settlement communities. These communities provide their own security, dispute resolution systems, schools, and other services typically provided by the state. Even if centered around religion, they may engage in politics to maintain good relations with local government administrations. This process can support the community’s de-facto partial autonomy.
These different forms of intentional communities share – and offer prospective members – a “society within a society.” Shared values enable inhabitants to live under different rules to those of their host state. For someone whose personal values resonate with those of an intentional community, relocating may be an attractive path to living one’s best, freest, and most fulfilling life.