The Benevolent Dictator

woman laughing while holding white roll

photo by Janaya Dasiuk

In general, those interested in the intentional community movement tend to insist on egalitarian governance and prefer shared ownership models. Yet often there are individuals or groups who don’t have wealth, nor access to credit. Some residential cooperative communities choose to have graduated levels of buy-in with commensurate increases in decision-making authority. Work-contribution contracts or rent-to-own can be a path to co-ownership. Some members do have wealth but lack the capacity to manage it well. In many cases, it is understandable and may be necessary for one individual or group to maintain ownership. This keeps the majority of decision-making power in the hands of one leader or a group such as a non-profit board. This has been a long-standing method of ensuring that a rogue leader doesn’t change the whole culture and purpose of an organization, to the detriment of others who have a long-standing commitment and contribution to it.

Beneficiaries of Centralized Leadership

Potential beneficiaries of a non-egalitarian intentional community include disadvantaged people in need of affordable housing. A non-egalitarian IC can help disadvantaged people gain access to shelter and other necessities of life. They may eventually reach a point of stability in which they can join fully in governance of the community, even tho they may not have the capacity initially. See the Community Types pages under the category Care and Social Safety Net for descriptions and examples.

Some will inherit wealth but lack capacity to manage it well. In these cases, benefactors would do well to invest in funding an intentional community that is willing to house and provide meals for the inheritor as a life-long contractual obligation. For example, parents of an only child with no close family, who has emotional and/or mental impairment could contract with a suitable intentional community. The IC would act as the substitute family, to provide a room and meals for the inheritor if and when needed. This IC could extend its resources to those with similar needs who are not fortunate to have parents able to pass on an inheritance. In these cases, ideally the inheritor is still held to the same rules and work contribution requirements as other members. Even if they are never at risk of losing membership, they should meet the same standards of behavior to qualify for the same privileges.

Pros and Cons of Centralized Leadership

If sharing power is not a workable option, wield it as wisely and transparently as possible. One community leader, Paul Wheaton, describes in a podcast some advantages of centralized power in intentional community.

The main disadvantage is that centralized leadership has the potential to become overbearing, even abusive. Read more at the following pages.