Leopold Kohr (5 October 1909 in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria – 26 February 1994 in Gloucester, England) was an economist, jurist and political scientist known both for his opposition to the "cult of bigness" in social organization and as one of those who inspired the small is beautiful movement. For almost twenty years he was Professor of Economics and Public Administration at the University of Puerto Rico. He described himself as a "philosophical anarchist." His most influential work was The Breakdown of Nations.
Kohr grew up in the small town of Oberndorf near Salzburg, and it remained his ideal of community. He often commented on the fact that the Christmas carol "Silent Night" was written and composed as "Stille Nacht" in his home village. He obtained doctorate degrees in law at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and political science at the University of Vienna. He also studied economics and political theory at the London School of Economics.
In 1937 Kohr became a freelance correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, where he was impressed by the limited, self-contained governments of the separatist states of Catalonia and Aragon, as well as the small Spanish anarchist city states of Alcoy and Caspe. He became close friends with journalist George Orwell and shared offices with correspondents Ernest Hemingway and André Malraux.
Kohr taught economics and political philosophy at New Jersey's Rutgers University from 1943 to 1955. From 1955 to 1973 he served as professor of Economics and Public Administration at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. There he developed his concepts of village renewal and traffic calming. He also advised the independence movement of the nearby island of Anguilla.
After many rejections by American and British publishers, Kohr's first book The Breakdown of Nations was published in 1957 in Britain after a chance meeting with British anarchist Sir Herbert Read.
In 1973 Kohr moved from Puerto Rico to Wales, whose Welsh Independence movement he had long advised and supported. He taught political philosophy at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.
In 1983 in Stockholm, Sweden, Kohr received the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the Alternative Nobel Prize, "for his early inspiration of the movement for a human scale." In 1984 Salzburg created the Leopold Kohr Academy and the Cultural Association "Tauriska" to put his theories of regional autonomy into practice.
Kohr was planning to return to his hometown of Oberndorf to live when he died in 1994. He was buried in Oberndorf. Salzburg journalist Gerald Lehner completed a biography of Kohr, based in part on long audio taped interviews, in 1994.
Kohr described himself as a "philosophical anarchist." Kohr protested the "cult of bigness" and economic growth and promoted the concept of human scale and small community life. He argued that massive external aid to poorer nations stifled local initiatives and participation. His vision called for a dissolution of centralized political and economic structures in favor of local control.
In his first published essay "Disunion Now: A Plea for a Society based upon Small Autonomous Units", published in Commonweal in 1941, Kohr wrote about a Europe at war: "We have ridiculed the many little states, now we are terrorized by their few successors." He called for the breakup of Europe into hundreds of city states. Kohr developed his ideas in a series of books, including The Breakdown of Nations (1957), Development without Aid (1973) and The Overdeveloped Nations (1977).
From Leopold Kohr's most popular work The Breakdown of Nations:
There seems to be only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness. Oversimplified as this may seem, we shall find the idea more easily acceptable if 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. Whenever something is wrong, something is too big. And if the body of a people becomes diseased with the fever of aggression, brutality, collectivism, or massive idiocy, it is not because it has fallen victim to bad leadership or mental derangement. It is because human beings, so charming as individuals or in small aggregations have been welded onto overconcentrated social units.
Kohr was an important inspiration to the Green, bioregional, Fourth World, decentralist, and anarchist movements, Kohr contributed often to John Papworth's `Journal for the Fourth World', Resurgence. One of Kohr's students was economist E. F. Schumacher, another prominent influence on these movements, whose best selling book Small Is Beautiful took its title from one of Kohr's core principles. Similarly, his ideas inspired Kirkpatrick Sale's books Human Scale (1980) and Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision (1985). Sale arranged the first American publication of The Breakdown of Nations in 1978 and wrote the foreword.