Leopold Kohr: Unsung Hero of Twentieth Century Social Philosophy for the Twenty First Century

As an outsider, I’ve tended to gravitate towards other outsiders … not because they are outsiders but because very often they have something to say, something which got past the gatekeepers of their time and survived because it was important. Such a person was the economist and social philosopher Leopold Kohr (1909 – 1994).

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve penned what I hope will prove to be a definitive essay on Kohr’s work and life. You can read it here:  Leopold Kohr: Prophet of a Coming Decentralization. I have a very slightly different version here (I fixed a couple of typos and minor verbal mishaps): 06 LEOPOLD KOHR PROPHET OF DECENTRALIZATION definitive version.

Kohr illustrates a point made in last week’s post: the fundamental unsolved problem of political philosophy, practical as well as theoretical, is the containment of power, i.e., the containment of those who are fascinated with power and measure all value and worth in its exercise. Kohr’s work is somewhat depressing in his contention, for which there is abundant evidence, that in this fallen world, it is lack of opportunity rather than any commitment to ethical principle or a moral view of the universe that limits power. The only means of limiting power is to keep our organizations small, be they governments or corporations. Of course, for us, it is too late. But clearly both governments and corporations are unsustainably large, and heading for eventual decomposition. So Kohr’s work is encouraging in that it means that even if the “new world order” feared across the political spectrum gets built, it won’t last for long. Its continued existence would depend on something it could not maintain: institutional loyalty.

Its decomposition would be incredibly messy, however. As will likely be the decomposition of the governmental and economic arrangements we have now.

Kohr was a prophet (sort of) of the small political unit, but he had trouble telling us how best to get there. One of his side projects was advising both secessionist groups and urban planners. Today he would probably be advising secessionist groups and preppers, hoping for the right level of organization and noting that we have something of a choice of where we want to end up. We could end up in a neo-medieval world run by networks of landowning warlords who would control everything by controlling access to whatever technology survived the collapse. Or we could end up with a network of small units of governance, one might call them. The former could well be the result of an unplanned decomposition of our present order. The latter would require extensive planning based on conversations we need to be having now: conversations about what works (autonomous, local free markets) versus what history is proving does not work (a financialized money system based on debt and ultimately, therefore, on control). The question before us: are we ready to have that conversation?

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About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
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