Breakdown of Nations

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* Book: The Breakdown of Nations. By Leopold Kohr.


Contextual Quote

"There seems only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness. Oversimplified as this may seem, we shall find the idea more easily acceptable i£ we consider that bigness, or oversize, is really much more than just a social problem. It appears to be the one and only problem permeating all creation. Wherever something is wrong, something is too big."

- Leopold Kohr [1]


Kirkpatrick Sale:

"The importance of Breakdown lies in its perception — unique in the modern world, to my knowledge, perhaps in all political literature since Aristotle — that size governs.[2] What matters in the affairs of a nation, just as in the affairs of a building, say, is the size of the unit. A building is too big when it can no longer provide its dwellers with the services they expect — running water, waste disposal, heat, electricity, elevators, and the like — without these taking up so much room that there is not enough left over for living space, a phenomenon that actually begins to happen in a building over about ninety or a hundred floors. A nation becomes too big when it can no longer provide its citizens with the services they expect — defense, roads, posts, health, coins, courts, and the like — without amassing such complicated institutions and bureaucracies that they actually end up preventing the very ends they are attempting to achieve, a phenomenon that is now commonplace in the modern industrialized world. It is not the character of the building or the nation that matters, nor is it the virtue of the agents or leaders that matters, but rather the size of the unit: even saints asked to administer a building of 400 floors or a nation of 200 million people would find the job impossible.

The notion that size governs is one that has long been familiar to many kinds of specialists. Biologists realize, as J.B. S. Haldane showed many years ago, that if a mouse were to be as big as an elephant, it would have to become an elephant — that is, it would have to develop those features, such as heavy stubby legs, that would allow it to support its extraordinary weight. City planners realize that accumulations of people much above 100,000 create entirely new problems, more difficult and serious than those of smaller cities, and that it is virtually impossible for a city exceeding that limit ever to run in the black since the municipal services it must supply cost more than any feasible amount of taxation it can raise. Hospital administrators, bridge engineers, classroom teachers, sculptors, government bureaucrats, university presidents, astronomers, corporation executives — all realize that the sizes of the units in their own particular areas of concern are vitally important to the way their affairs are run and goals accomplished.

Kohr’s achievement is that he has taken this perception and applied it in a most fruitful and convincing way to the societies in which people live. He has shown that there are inevitable limits to the size of those societies, for, as he puts it, “social problems have the unfortunate tendency to grow at a geometric ratio with the growth of an organism of which they are a part, while the ability of man to cope with them, if it can be extended at all, grows only at an arithmetic ratio.” In the real political world, in other words, there are limits, and usually fairly conscribed limits, beyond which it does not make much sense to grow. It is only in small states, Kohr suggests, that there can be true democracy, because it is only there that the citizen can have some direct influence over the governing institutions; only there that economic problems become tractable and controllable, and economic lives become more rational; only there that culture can flourish without the diversion of money and energy into statist pomp and military adventure; only there that the individual in all dimensions can flourish free of systematic social and governmental pressures. Thus, the purposes of the modern world might better be directed not to the fruitless pursuit of one-worldism but to the fruitful development of small, coherent regions, not to the aggrandizements of states but to the breakdown of nations.

I sat there stunned: this was a truly impressive work. That it should have been greeted with such indifference in 1957 was unfortunate, but not so surprising. That it should not have an audience today, however — in an era in which the overdevelopment of Western nations had brought on unchecked inflation, resource depletion, and worldwide pollution; in which major cities throughout the world were choking to death in their own unabat-ing growth; in which the failure of supranational institutions like the United Nations had become painfully obvious — was simply criminal. Yet one could not reasonably expect vast numbers of people to make their way to the 42nd Street Library in New York City or wait until Norman cleaned out his attic, so I determined that, some way or other, I would try to get the book republished. Whatever one’s position on the debates about growth and giantism and small-is-beautiful, this was one work which no one concerned with the issues should overlook — and, I felt, one by which very few could remain unconvinced."



Chapter One. The Philosophies of Misery

1. Imaginary Cause Theories

2. Secondary Cause Theories

3. The Cultural Theory of Social Misery

a. The Meaning of Western Civilization

b. Culture and Atrocity

4. The National Theory of Social Misery

a. Biology of Aggression

b. History of Aggression

Chapter Two. The Power Theory of Aggression

1. The Cause of Social Brutality

2. The Origin of Crime-condoning Philosophies

3. Critical Magnitudes

4. The Cause of War

5. Lead us not into Temptation

6. Why Russia’s Leaders are beyond the Reach of Reason

7. Objections to the Power Theory

8. Power and Size in the United States

Chapter Three. Disunion Now

1. Europe’s New Political Map

2. The Elimination of War Causes

3. Harmlessness of Small-state Wars

4. The Truce of God

5. The Curse of Unification

Chapter Four. Tyranny in a Small-State World

1. The Limitation of Evil

2. Hitler in Bavaria and Long in Louisiana

3. The Mattress Principle

Chapter Five. The Physics of Politics

The Philosophic Argument

1. Smallness, the Basis of Stability

2. Unity versus Balance

3. The Physics of Politics

4. Mobile versus Stable Balance

5. Division — the Principle of Progress

6. Summation and Hell

Chapter Six. Individual and Average Man

The Political Argument

1. Internal Democracy

2. The Average Man

3. The Collectivisation of Individuals in Large States

4. The Meaning of Neighbourhood

5. The Ideal Size of States

6. External Democracy

7. Freedom from Issues

8. The Unifiers, Aristotle, Shaw, and God

Chapter Seven. The Glory of the Small

The Cultural Argument

1. Cultural Diversion of Aggressive Energies

2. Relief from Social Servitude

3. The Variety of Human Experience

4. The Testimony of History

5. Romans or Florentines

6. The Universal State — Symbol and Cause of Cultural Decline

Chapter Eight. The Efficiency of the Small

The Economic Argument

1. The Living-standard Argument

2. The Creation of Necessities

3. From Princes to Paupers

4. The Size Theory of Business Cycles

5. The Reason for the Illusion of Progress

6. The Law of Diminishing Productivity

7. Small versus Big Business Units

8. Economic Union

Chapter Nine. Union Through Division

The Administrative Argument

1. Successful Federal Experiments

2. Other Successful Federations

3. Unsuccessful Federal Experiments

4. The Principle of Government

Chapter Ten. The Elimination of Great Powers

Can It Be Done?

1. Division through Proportional Representation

2. Restoration of Europe’s Old Nations

3. Preservation of Small-state Pattern

Chapter Eleven. But Will It Be Done?

Chapter Twelve. The American Empire

1. The Road of Bigness

2. The Anti-empire

3. Empire by Implication

4. Empire by Attitude

5. Empire by Sacrifice

6. The Two United Nations

7. War, World State, and a World of Little States