Anchored in twenty years of academic and onsite research, Dan McKanan’s Camphill and the Future is a scholarly search for survival for the communal Camphill movement at its eightieth anniversary. Camphill began with a small group of mostly Jewish refugees who escaped after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. Led by Doctor Karl König, residents began to serve the educational, medical, and social needs of intellectually disabled children on an estate named Camphill near Aberdeen, Scotland. Today, 120 Camphill intentional communities minister to young and adult disabled residents on four continents, ranking them with the Hutterites of North America and the Kibbutzim of Israel among the most successful groups in communal history. McKanan’s purpose is to suggest means, methods, and motivation that could lead Camphill into continued adjustment and vitality.
In penetrating detail, McKanan uses his expertise in theology and communitarianism to trace the history of ideas, events, and examples that brought Camphill into existence and may be the secret to its future survival. Doctor König, his educator wife Tilla, and their founding friends laid a spiritual and practical foundation for their community and movement based on Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophy, a philosophical system that advocates educational, therapeutic, and meditative means to optimize physical, mental, and spiritual health. For Camphillers, it became the driving impetus to create curative schools, residential havens, and workshops for meaningful lives, spiritual strength, and on-site employment of the disabled.
The book effectively combines communal, spiritual, and disability studies. McKanan presents the three “strands” of communities and their educational and service ideologies that König declared came together in the Camphill movement. The Rosicrucian communities carried forward the spiritual work of the Templars. The Moravians traced their radical pietistic roots to Bishop Nicholas von Zinzendorf, and their commitment to universal education to Bishop John Amos Comenius. A more unexpected influence recognized by König came from Robert Owen’s nineteenth-century progressive school for the children at his cotton mills in New Lanark, Scotland, and his communal experiment based on utopian socialism at New Harmony in America.
McKanan identifies reconciling the roles, needs, and rights of the three distinct groups that compose Camphill communities—disabled villagers being served, coworkers sharing life and income, and volunteers—as the highest hurdle for the movement’s communal survival. He makes clear that, now, after eight decades, Camphill is at a crossroads with two possible futures. Some Camphillers hope that the movement may be on the threshold of a new transition “in which it finally realizes its original vision of creating a community in which people of all abilities are truly equal” (187). Others feel that if lifesharing and income sharing really are “at odds with the true empowerment of people with special needs…this would be a powerful reason for Camphill to follow the path of ‘evolving beyond community,’ as a way of fully honoring its founding commitment to the human dignity of persons with special needs” (193). This post-communal path is encouraged and complicated for Camphill facilities by government regulations protecting the freedom-of-choice rights of disabled individuals who are cared for partly with government funds. Camphill is also shaped by the five generations identified by McKanan: the founders, those who came, the baby boomers, the Gen Xers, and the millennials. The baby boomers arrived, stayed, and provided lasting leadership. Mostly because the boomers were so persistent, the less settled Gen Xers have not significantly impacted Camphill history. However, as the boomers aged, millennials began to take leadership roles and are now the ones wrestling with the movement’s critical decisions about its future amid a decline in anthroposophical commitment in some Camphill communities.
McKanan puts each stage of Camphill’s evolution into its broader theoretical context. Transformative utopianism explains how the movement adopted and adapted communal and ideological features from Rosicrucians, Moravians, and Owenites. Developmental communalism shows how Camphill successfully adjusted to changing realities to preserve its unique communities and may eventually evolve beyond the communal method of organization itself. McKanan’s own theory of creative symbiosis highlights a mutually beneficial and evolutionary relationship between Camphill intentional communities and surrounding society. He points out that Steiner himself saw the true spirit of anthroposophy not as conservative but evolutionary and encouraged the movement to embrace the inherent “developmental processes active in the larger society” (206).
Diligent scholarship grounded in solid theoretical moorings and punctuated with perceptive personal interviews will make Camphill and the Future the definitive work on the first eighty years of this laudable humanitarian communal movement. It may well help shape that future.