by C.R. Wiley
When it comes to the opinion of the people who matter, the Shakers are hip. They had all the correct views: They practiced sustainable agriculture, they had gender equality, and they even reduced their carbon footprint to almost zero. (At this writing, there are said to be only three Shakers left in North America—that’s what celibacy will do for you if you don’t watch out.)
Today, Shaker villages appear to be populated mostly by supporters of National Public Radio. Amish communities do not seem to have the same appeal. A superficial assessment might lead you to believe that, if you love one, you should love the other: long dresses, straw hats, cows, the simple life, community—both have them. But there are differences in the ways the two sects relate the individual to the common life, and the common life to the natural order, that I think correspond to differences between the thought patterns of several identifiably different castes. If you like Fox News, you probably like the Amish; if you prefer the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer, you likely favor the Shakers.
So why is that? On the one hand, it comes down to sex. If you are the sort who sees a telos in sex—namely, children—then you should like the Amish. But if you’re the sort who thinks sex should serve personal goals—if you see children as an avoidable and even unfortunate consequence of sex—then you probably like the Shakers.