Kohr Principles – NYTimes.com

5 Jun

Leonard Kohr argued that nations like the USA are too large, making catastrophic failure inevitable in the long run.

Unsurprisingly, Kohr’s guiding principle was anarchism, “the noblest of philosophies.” But its inherent nobility, he recognized, also made it utopian: a truly anarchist society could do away with governments and states only if all individuals were ethical enough to respect one another’s boundaries. Kohr cleverly turned this utopianism upside down, from weakness to strength: any party, any leader, any ideology promising utopia is automatically wrong, or lying [7]. Acceptance of utopia’s unattainability, in other words, is the best insurance against totalitarianism.

But if the ideal state cannot be attained, at least it can be approached, Kohr thought, by reducing the scale of government. Which sounds a lot like the famous quote from Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”: “That government is best which governs least.” But in Kohr’s vision, smaller government should mean, first and foremost, a smaller area to govern. In such smallness, greatness resides. Counterintuitive as that may sound, didn’t Greece and Italy have their Golden Ages when they were divided into countless city-states? Not a coincidence, according to Kohr: smaller states produce more culture, wealth and happiness.

It might be easy to confine Kohr’s non-violent anarchism to the salon, where, over a fine glass of sherry, quixotic ideas may be lofted and shot down like intellectual clay pigeons. But he thought his gradualist approach eminently practicable, and tried to put it to good use in the field.

During his long career, Kohr supported the independence movements of Puerto Rico, Wales and Anguilla [8], and opposed grand unification projects like the European Union. He appealed for the breakup of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, long before they happened. And he publicized his ideas about how such small states should be formed and governed. He even devised a concrete upper limit for “smallness”: “The absolute maximum to which a society can expand without having its basic functions degrade, is about 12 to 15 million people.”

The answer was “not union, but division”: in a world where companies merge into megacorporations and countries into unaccountable supra-states, Kohr’s vision is both counterintuitive and refreshing. One of his 10 basic laws is the so-called Beanstalk Principle: For every animal, object, institution or system, there is an optimal limit beyond which it ought not to grow.

via Kohr Principles – NYTimes.com.


One Response to “Kohr Principles – NYTimes.com”

  1. Charles Keil November 7, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Glad I came upon this Kohr Principles here. Nice tight little summary. But nothing beats the opening chapters on bad bigness in The Breakdown of Nations (still not the right title after all these years).
    The Beanstalk Principle certainly applies to my cluttered desks. It can’t be allowed to grow bigger.

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