Kibbutzim Illustrating the Limits of Authority’s Power on Culture

I would like to examine where culture comes from. Plato argues that they come from education and government-organized social conditioning, and More seems to say that they come from leadership; it was, after all, Utopus that set the tone for a culture of acceptance and tolerance of different beliefs in Utopia. Marx, by contrast, argues that the economy is the root of all culture; every element of our culture and society is really a tool for and product of bourgeois power. I would like to argue that all three of these theories are wrong, and that culture is not as malleable under government’s or the economy’s hand as Plato, More, and Marx argue it to be. My paper will examine the limit of authority’s effect on culture, and point out what forces actually do shape societal attitudes; right now, it appears from my research that these forces are largely biological, and thus, it may be that culture is completely beyond authority’s control.

I plan to examine the success actual societies had in following Marx’s directions, since communism specifically sought to reinvent culture. Specifically, I will look at the success of socialism in kibbutzim. Kibbutzim are communities in Israel that are structured after communist ideology; even though modern kibbutzim have some deviations from the basic format, members of kibbutzim generally all work together on the kibbutz, live together, raise their children together, and share almost all property. Despite their long success—the first kibbutz was founded in 1909[1]–it appears that even kibbutzniks, residents of kibbutzim, have resisted the kibbutz tenets. There have been movements to create a wage system within kibbutzim, and parents have even resisted the kibbutz’s socialization of their children. In fact, in a recent article, “Discontent from Within”, Yael Darr points out the ways that literature overtly published by kibbutzniks for kibbutznik children and adolescents was actually a subversive weapon to voice dissatisfaction with the communal living model[2]. This dissatisfaction indicates the limits of the kibbutz government’s power in controlling kibbutz culture; though it tried to create a tightly controlled environment, it fomented a rebellious undercurrent. Even the generations that have lived their whole lives in kibbutzim are often discontent with the principles of collective property and collective living, according to Melford E. Spiro[3]. Thus, neither those who actively choose to live in kibbutzim (the parents of the 1940s and 1950s) nor the children who lived their whole lives in kibbutzim were able to fully submit to the kibbutz culture. There must, therefore, be an underlying force that opposed the kibbutz authority’s power over culture.

Spiro offers some guidance as to what these forces are. As he points out, the failure of kibbutz socialization may in fact be due to evolutionary psychology; the biological predispositions of kibbutzniks oppose kibbutz socialization. Spiro actually references one study that found that young children had difficulty sharing toys and caregivers’ attention with other children, even though sharing was the most important goal of kibbutz socialization; the biological predispositions of the children overpowered their socialization[4].

I would also like to examine the role of oxytocin, a hormone responsible for bonding, might have in forming an ideal society; one study[5] found that humans are more willing to help people of their own ethnicity. It is possible that the increasing heterogeneity[6] of kibbutzim has decreased a sense of bonding and unity among kibbutzniks, and so has made them less willing to live completely communally.

The fact that the socialization of children within the kibbutz is so limited by biological attitudes could be the downfall of Plato’s theory; the stability of his society relied almost entirely on socializing his citizens from birth in the proper attitudes and beliefs of his city-state. Marx and More similarly thought societal attitudes came from outside the individual; both believed that things as simple as the economy or leadership could revolutionize society, when it appears that values like greed are rooted deeply within each individual. Perhaps it is impossible that anyone can ever create an ideal society; that would require absolute control, as Kumar points out[7], something that biology is not willing to give.

Meanwhile, the studies coming out on oxytocin may show the impracticality of Marx’s communism; if even small kibbutzim are not bonded together tightly enough to live communally, then the large, international proletariat would never be able to hold itself together.

I believe my paper will be original. Spiro is the only article I’ve found thus far that looks at the relationship of evolutionary psychology to the failings of kibbutzim. My paper will be different from his because he did not consider the role of oxytocin in the unraveling of certain kibbutz values, nor did he use that unraveling to criticize the theories of Plato, More, and Marx.

The research for my paper will also be practical. All of the articles thus mentioned are available through the library website, and for more research on evolutionary psychology, I can use the free online journal, Evolutionary Psychology. The library many more available articles on kibbutzim, as well as commentaries on Plato, More, and Marx.

[1] Kerem, Moshe, et al. “Kibbutz Movement.” In Encyclopaedia Judaica, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 121-138. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. Gale Virtual Reference Library,

[2] Yael Darr, “Discontent from Within: Hidden Dissent Against Communal Upbringing in Kibbutz Children’s Literature of the 1940s & 1950s,” Israel Studies 16 no. 2 (2011), 127-150.

[3] Melford E. Spiro, “Utopia and Its Discontents: The Kibbutz and Its Historical Vicissitudes,” American Anthropologist 106 no. 3 (2004), 556-586.

[4] Spiro, “Utopias and Its Discontents,” 564.

[5] De Dreu, Carsten K. W., Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. Van Kleef, Shaul Shalvi, and Michel J. J. Handgraaf, “Oxytocin Promotes Human Ethnocentrism,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108 no. 2 (2011), 1-5.

[6] Kerem, “Kibbutz Movement,” 126.

[7] Krishan Kumar, Utopianism: Concepts in Social Thought (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 19.




Primary Sources

Plato. The Republic. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.

Through the voice of Socrates, Plato outlines a design for an ideal city-state, where all the inhabitants are raised by the state from at least the age of ten, and rulers are chosen based on their success in the educational system. This dependence on socialization is up for criticism in my paper, as it does not seem to have succeeded in kibbutzim.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. “Manifesto of the Communist Party.” In The Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings, edited by Bob Blaisdell, 124-150. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003.

Marx and Engels list the reasons why the proletariat, or working class, must rebel against the bourgeoisie, or the owners of the means of production. They call for an worldwide revolution that would eliminate all personal property and create a classless society. The Communist Manifesto serves as the backbone for kibbutz theory and culture; kibbutzim essentially create the society that Marx dreamed of, with no private property, and theoretically no class.

More, Thomas. Utopia. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997.

Secondary Sources

Darr, Yael. “Discontent from Within: Hidden Dissent Against Communal Upbringing in Kibbutz Children’s Literature of the 1940s & 1950s,” Israel Studies 16 no. 2 (2011): 127-150.

De Dreu, Carsten K. W., Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. Van Kleef, Shaul Shalvi, and Michel J. J. Handgraaf, “Oxytocin Promotes Human Ethnocentrism,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, no. 2 (2011): 1-5.

Kerem, Moshe, et al. “Kibbutz Movement.” In Encyclopaedia Judaica, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 121-138. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. Gale Virtual Reference Library,

This article gives a brief history of the kibbutz movement. Despite its brevity, it gives crucial information regarding the changes in kibbutz culture, such as the movement in the 1980s to have children sleep with their families. These changes could give important indications of dissatisfaction with kibbutz culture, and thus the limit of the kibbutz in socializing kibbutzniks.

Kumar, Krishan. Utopianism: Concepts in Social Thought. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Schon, Regine A., “Natural Parenting: Back to Basics Infant Care,” Evolutionary Psychology 5 no. 1 (2007): 102-183.

Spiro, Melford E. “Utopia and Its Discontents: The Kibbutz and Its Historical Vicissitudes,” American Anthropologist 106 no. 3 (2004): 556-586.

Spiro examines the failings of kibbutzim, or, specifically, the discontentment of kibbutzniks with kibbutz rules. He hypothesizes that this discontentment is due largely to evolutionary psychology, a finding that could be useful to my paper because it illustrates the inability of authority to completely control culture as Marx, Plato, and More believe authority should; authority is at war with biology.

4 thoughts on “Kibbutzim Illustrating the Limits of Authority’s Power on Culture

  1. You’ve improved a lot of things in your proposal. I liked how you related the second paragraph to the rest of the proposal; originally, it seemed a bit out of place. Because it emphasizes the so-what element of your proposal–how you want to relate your essay to the real world–I think it was especially effective that the second paragraph was improved upon. For your statement at the beginning, however, do you still mean to examine the sources of societal attitudes in particular? I remember it was one of the things we discussed in the peer review session. You might want to look at your original draft, and compare its first sentence with the one you have posted here.

    • I also like that you in your last part you explicitly state how your paper will be original and practical. Overall, this is a very interesting proposal that asks and attempts to answer meaningful questions.

  2. Your proposal has improved overall. I agree with Sahil about the second paragraph; that relation to the whole of your ideas made the paper flow much better. It also appears that you have added more secondary sources that you will draw from, and as a result I think you have more to write on while still having a clear objective. The addition of a bibliography also made it easier to see the direction you intended to go in your paper.

  3. Your ideas seem to have better fluency than before. However, you might want to focus more on the role of oxytocin and links which you can draw with Plato and More’s ideas, rather than the evolutionary psychology theory. As you have said that Spiro has already worked with evolutionary psychology, focusing mainly on that may make your work unoriginal.

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