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The Virtues of Smallness


Whenever something is wrong, something is too big.
~ Leopold Kohr

Recent events in Japan bring to mind Leopold Kohr’s book, The Breakdown of Nations, wherein he develops the "size theory of social misery." In words that help to explain the processes of decentralization that are transforming vertically-structured organizations into horizontal networks, Kohr tells us that "only relatively small bodies – though not the smallest, as we shall see – have stability. . . .Beyond a certain size, everything collapses or explodes." He adds that "the instability of the too large . . . is a destructive one. Instead of being stabilized by growth, its instability is emphasized by it." [Emphasis in original.] An economist of Austrian birth, and with a strong anarchist bent, Kohr was a great influence on E.F. Schumacher, best known for his book, Small Is Beautiful.

Kohr’s views confront, head-on, the alleged virtue of "bigness" in which our institutionally-directed culture has been thoroughly indoctrinated. The benefits that derive from "economies of scale;" the "bottom-line" authority of "power" to resolve difficulties; the ego-gratification that some people find in being part of a world-dominating "empire;" are just some of the attractions that seduce us into embracing the cult of size. What sound is more prevalent at sporting events than the chant "we’re number one"?


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