Revisiting Kohr and Schumacher

A recent discussion on our Facebook page has given me an excuse to reread The Breakdown of Nations by Leopold Kohr and Small is Beautiful by EF Schumacher, after a commenter suggested that Kohr and Schumacher would have supported Brexit.

It is always dangerous to speculate on what those who are no longer with us would have wanted. The temptation to cherry-pick their words to support one’s own position is hard to resist. However, rereading these works has convinced me that the idea that they would instinctively support a “small” United Kingdom leaving a “big” EU grossly oversimplifies their decentralist philosophy.

Schumacher is mostly concerned with economics, and has little to say about how Europe should be governed. He was writing at the time when Britain was first entering the EEC, as it was then, and nothing in Small is Beautiful suggests that he was opposed to the idea.

Kohr, on the other hand, explicitly calls for a United Regions of Europe, based on historic regions. If the Wessex Regionalists have a criticism, it is that he doesn’t go far enough, allowing England to remain as a single unit. On the surface, this seems odd, as he holds up Germany as an example of unsuccessful federation on the grounds that one region, Prussia, was allowed to dominate. Since England would represent a similarly outsize presence within a devolved United Kingdom, there are two conclusions that I can draw. Either Kohr was unaware of his double standard (unlikely, since he’s a smart guy) or he didn’t envision the UK continuing as an entity within his United Regions of Europe.

Both books are well worth revisiting if you haven’t read them in a while, as I hadn’t. Both offer food for thought. But the food in question isn’t gammon.

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