Cities on a Hill Essay - Critical Essays

Cities on a Hill

“We must consider that we shall be a City Upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us,” said Founding Father John Winthrop to his Massachusetts Bay Colony charges. In that proclamation, journalist Frances FitzGerald finds the thread that connects four contemporary “social experiments": the Castro in San Francisco, the country’s first liberated gay neighborhood; Sun City, an unincorporated and commercially developed retirement village in Florida; the Liberty Baptist Church community in Lynchburg, Virginia, pastored by Religious Right leader Jerry Falwell; and Rajneeshpuram, an Oregon commune founded by an Indian guru and inhabited by highly educated professionals and businesspeople.

In detailing the relatively recent development of these “separatist” groups, FitzGerald observes how the nation’s changing social terrain in the past two decades resurrected a visionary spirit--peculiarly American--that sparked the beginning of new cultural outposts. In a country that thrives on perpetual change, she says, the need for community is intrinsic; and, in the wake of the 1960’s and 1970’s, each of these four communities set forth to build afresh its own version of the American way of life, at once embracing certain freedoms and disclaiming others. (In that regard, especially, notes the author, each community serves as a microcosm of the larger society.)

FitzGerald combines her first-person accounts with extensive interviews, exhaustive investigation, and a historical perspective to construct a telling analysis of these distinctly different cultures. Vast in its comprehension of people and events, CITIES ON A HILL achieves a common ground of humanity that subtly asks the reader to examine his own cultural enclave as it affects his political and religious beliefs and those of his neighbor.