Leopold Kohr

Leopold Kohr.jpg

Despite his his originality and his influence as a thinker, the work of Leopold Kohr remains too little known.  His philosophy in a nutshell was contained in his crucial book The Breakdown of Nations, published in 1957, where he wrote: "...there seems to be only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness...Whenever something is wrong, something is too big."  The idea that everything has its proper size had been developed in the biological sciences by D'arcy Thompson in his 1917 book On Growth and Form, and later by J.B.S. Haldane in his essay "On Being the Right Size,"  but Kohr was the first, so far as I know, to apply it to the human and social worlds, creating what Ivan lllich called a "social morphology."  E. F. Schumacher was Kohr's student, and brought Kohr's idea to wide attention in Small Is Beautiful (1973).  Illich, likewise, acknowledged Kohr as his teacher and inspiration in books like Tools for Conviviality and others.

I was lucky to meet Kohr in the summer of 1989 when he came to Toronto to lecture at a gathering of his fellow decentralists.  He was already in his eightieth year and somewhat deaf, but still a lively and charming speaker and companion.   Happily, he had a couple of hours free to sit down and talk with me in the Ideas studio.  The following programme was broadcast shortly afterwards.  A transcript can be found on the Transcripts page which I have recently added to the site...