The Philosopher’s Mail, the blog of Alain de Botton and the followers of atheism 2.0, published an article about the Epicureans. Its most interesting aspect is that, in a nutshell, it proposes that Epicurean communitarianism is based on its founder’s minimalist definition of happiness:
With his analysis of happiness in hand, Epicurus made three important innovations:
Firstly, he decided that he would live together with friends. Enough of seeing them only now and then. He bought a modestly priced plot of land outside of Athens and built a place where he and his friends could live side by side on a permanent basis. Everyone had their rooms, and there were common areas downstairs and in the grounds. That way, the residents would always be surrounded by people who shared their outlooks, were entertaining and kind. Children were looked after in rota. Everyone ate together. One could chat in the corridors late at night. It was the world’s first proper commune.
Secondly, everyone in the commune stopped working for other people. They accepted cuts in their income in return for being able to focus on fulfilling work. Some of Epicurus’s friends devoted themselves to farming, others to cooking, a few to making furniture and art. They had far less money, but ample intrinsic satisfaction.
And thirdly, Epicurus and his friends devoted themselves to finding calm through rational analysis and insight. They spent periods of every day reflecting on their anxieties, improving their understanding of their psyches and mastering the great questions of philosophy.
Epicurus’s experiment in living caught on. Epicurean communities opened up all around the Mediterranean and drew in thousands of followers. The centres thrived for generations – until they were brutally suppressed by a jealous and aggressive Christian Church in the 5th century. But even then, their essence survived when many of them were turned into monasteries.
De Botton forgets that that Epicurean, familiar, and mixed monasticism of the 5th century, common and even dominant in places like the Iberian peninsula and the island of Ireland, was gradually enclosed from Rome and finally removed with the Gregorian reform. The spirit of Epicurean communitarianism would then begin to thrive in a very different environment. But that’s another story.