Wednesday 28 September 2011

Wherever something is wrong, something is too big.

I've just come across this excellent article by Paul Kingsnorth on the Guardian website from last Sunday, reminding us of Leopold Kohr's warning 50 years ago that the global system would grow, and grow until it imploded. Kohr also argued that small states and small economies are more peaceful and prosperous than great powers or superstates. Here are some quotes from the article. You can read the full article on

"Wherever something is wrong," he (Kohr) insisted, "something is too big."

"Settling in the US, Kohr began to write the book that would define his thinking. Published in 1957, The Breakdown of Nations laid out what at the time was a radical case: that small states, small nations and small economies are more peaceful, more prosperous and more creative than great powers or superstates."

"The world should be broken up into small states, roughly equivalent in size and power, which would be able to limit the growth and thus domination of any one unit. Small states and small economies were more flexible, more able to weather economic storms, less capable of waging serious wars, and more accountable to their people. Not only that, but they were more creative. On a whistlestop tour of medieval and early modern Europe, The Breakdown of Nations does a brilliant job of persuading the reader that many of the glories of western culture, from cathedrals to great art to scientific innovations, were the product of small states."

You can buy 'The Breakdown of Nations' by Leopold Kohr from Amazon or any good independent book store.

The following comment was received via email, the contributor was having problems leaving a comment. Some very good points... I have therefore decided to incorporate it into the post.
This is a good book and certainly one to read.

Two points - Kohr lived for years in Aberystwyth - a fact missed by the Guardian author for some reason. His contribution to Welsh political thought has been great and I believe, Wales affected him too.

The one irritating point with the book is the title and the common mistake in English of confusing a 'state' with a 'nation'. So, for instance, when Estonia became independent in 1991 it wasn't a 'new nation' (it's a very ancient nation) it was a 'new state'. Likewise, from a Welsh nationalist point of view, most African countries are not 'nations' they are 'states' and so their demise is not, in itself, a cause for concern. Of more concern is the cultural and linguistic situation of the nations/linguistic communities within those states. So, Kohr's title is misleading.

The title would be much clearer if it was 'The Breakdown of States' as what Kohr is proposing, in the European scenario, is the reintroduction or emergence of the historic nations of Europe - Wales, Scotland, Brittany etc. and then the historic regions - Bavaria, Picardy etc. The theory being is that smaller states are closer to the people and that, even if you do get some crack-pot dictator then it's only the small part of the continent which is in danger not the whole continent - compare Albania's Hoxha to USSR's Stalin or had Napoleon stayed in Corsica rather than governed France.

This process has mostly been completed in Eastern Europe (some of his suggestions and maps are a bit quirky and lacking in historic and geographical detail and reality) but Eastern Europe has mostly turned out as Kohr (and Welsh, Estonian, Slovak etc.) nationalists campaigned for. Western Europe - Britain, France and Spain, to a much lesser extent.

His other insight is that a Welsh peasant in WWI would have no quarrel with a Bavarian or Silesian peasant but that a 'British' peasant did with a 'German' one.

In any case, certainly worth a read.

PS - where's the plack or bust to Kohr in Baker Street, Aberystwyth!? C'mon Plaid councillors on Aber town council!


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