On The Breakdown Of Nations

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Tim Price via Sovereign Man blog,

Several years ago we highlighted the work of Leopold Kohr. Kohr was an Austrian Jew who only narrowly escaped the Holocaust.

The village in which he was born, Oberndorf in central Austria, with a population of just 2,000 or so, would come to exert a disproportionate influence on Kohr’s thinking.

Kohr went on to study at the LSE with the likes of fellow Austrian thinker Friedrich von Hayek. In 1938 he left Europe for America, a place he would make his home for the next 25 years.

In September 1941, just as the mass murder of the Jewish inhabitants of Vilnius was beginning, Kohr wrote the first part of what would become his masterwork, ‘The Breakdown of Nations’.

In it he argued that Europe should be “cantonized” back into the sort of small, political regions that had existed in the past and that still persisted in democratic hold-outs like Switzerland.

It all comes down to scale. As Kirkpatrick Sale puts it in his foreword to ‘The Breakdown of Nations’,

“What matters in the affairs of a nation, just as in the affairs of a building, say, is the size of the unit.


“A building is too big when it can no longer provide its dwellers with the services they expect – running water, waste disposal, heat, electricity, elevators and the like – without these taking up so much room that there is not enough left over for living space, a phenomenon that actually begins to happen in a building over about ninety or a hundred floors.


“A nation becomes too big when it can no longer provide its citizens with the services they expect – defence, roads, post, health, coins, courts and the like – without amassing such complex institutions and bureaucracies that they actually end up preventing the very ends they are intending to achieve, a phenomenon that is now commonplace in the modern industrialized world.


“It is not the character of the building or the nation that matters, nor is it the virtue of the agents or leaders that matters, but rather the size of the unit: even saints asked to administer a building of 400 floors or a nation of 200 million people would find the job impossible.”

Kohr showed that there are unavoidable limits to the growth of societies:

“..social problems have the unfortunate tendency to grow at a geometric ratio with the growth of an organism of which they are a part, while the ability of man to cope with them, if it can be extended at all, grows only at an arithmetic ratio.”

In the real world, there are finite limits beyond which it does not make sense to grow.

Kohr argued that only small states can have true democracies, because only in small states can the citizen have some direct influence over the governing authorities.

When asked what had most influenced his political and social ideas, Kohr replied: “Mostly that I was born in a small village.”

The euro zone in particular is an object lesson in an unwieldy, oversized, dysfunctional political construct haphazardly cobbled together among irreconcilable cultural entities.

Wherever something is wrong, wrote Kohr, something is too big. The answer is not to grow, embracing even more disparate states within a failing currency union with make-it-up-as- you-go-along rules. The answer is to stop growing.

The answer to the ‘too big’ problem lies not in ever greater union, but in division.

And if the larger states in Europe ultimately decide that the political union is more than their electorates can bear, and that what they really want is to slaughter each other, they should not expect the United Kingdom, once again, to wade into the abattoir and sacrifice its own in the process.

“We have ridiculed the many little states,” wrote Kohr, sadly; “Now we are terrorized by their few successors.”

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DollarIsDead's picture

Yeah... but we're too big to fail... TPTB will make sure that the printing presses are operating a max capacity to make sure of that.


Zirpedge's picture

Point taken but I don't think credit creation and bond issuace is literally "printing money". Actual printed currency is a rare and beautiful thing, next to it's electronic counterparts. I'm long on the US dollar, because the Taliban warlords we bribe with pallets of it and the Drug cartels who soak most of the currency up have a hard time getting it back into circulation.

NidStyles's picture

Good luck getting those assholes to give up their "free-ride" through life though.

nasdaq99's picture

just like colonial america, just like post modern europe......"Taxation without representation......"

Jumbotron's picture

Biology has a word for it.


TheReplacement's picture

What?  Is the UK not to send it's horde of Muslim fanatics to fight with or against either Germany's or France's hordes of Muslim fanatics?

wisefool's picture

The modern Federal U.S. taxcode shall provide for all. If they need incentive it is there. If they need help it is there. If they need a celebrity machine look no further than Warren Buffet who pays no taxes and Bill Gates who can help you pay taxes. If you need a challenge, there is 80,000 pages of crap written by Al Gore. If you want to predict the future see what he does next.


darteaus's picture

The only thing "too big", is the pot of money controlled by the government.  That honey pot attracts all sorts of losers trying to get their hands in.

The end result is too many losers writing too many regulations in order to get more honey-honey, which only comes from the increasingly fewer productive citizens.

LawsofPhysics's picture

..."regulations" and "laws" that cannot be enforced are irrelevant.  Something about the "cost of doing business", at least "openly" doing business...

angryBuddhist's picture

I am building a small guest house on my property (I have 17 acres out in the country and this is something I am planning on renting out as a vacation rental when it is completed). I moved out here 24 years ago and built my home at that time with my own hands and did it pretty much on the fly, learning as I went along. Back then, in order to get started, I went to the county building and zoning department which was located in a small and very old building that housed pretty much everything having to do with the county government, and filled out a single page application and handed over $20 for my building permit. The lady on the other side of the counter took my money and dug out a sharpie and wrote my info onto a red cardboard building permit sign and handed it to me with instructions for me to put it in a prominant location where I am planning on doing my construction. The whole thing took not more than 5 minutes.

Fast forward 24 years and I am back at the same building and zoning department (this time located in a brand new office complex built like the Taj Mahal) and asked to get a building permit for the small cottage I was planning on constructing (less than 600 sq' total). They handed me a stack of forms to fill out, one each for the framing, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and septic along with a few other documents to complete). Finally, after filling out all this stuff, I handed it all back and was told that they would get back with me on what it would cost.

A week later, I am notified that I need to have the health department come out and review my plans for how I was going to be handling the septic. Well, the health inspector came out about a week after that and discovered that I planned on connecting the septic tothe septic field located on another part of my property and that would require that I dig a trench across a small state maintained dirt road that runs across part of my property in order to make the hookup. Well, my permit for the septic got put on hold until I could arrange with the engineer from my state's DOT, who took another week to show, to take a look at and approve my plans for this operation, which he did, but not after telling me that I would have to put up a $2,500 bond to guarantee that I put the dirt back into the trench that I dig across the dirt road and don't screw it up.

Ok, another week passes and the health inspector finally approves my plan based on the okay issued by the DOT engineer and I am able to fill out the required paperwork for my septic permit, which when I submit it, I am told the fee will be $450, even though I am taking the cottage's septic line and hooking it up to my existing drain field that already exists on my own property! Unless I pay this the health department won't approve my request, and more importantly, they won't give the go ahead for the building and zoning department to issue me a building permit. With that gun pointed to my head I write them their ransom check for $450 and take my receipt.

Several days later my septic permit is finally officially issued and I now take it across to the other side of town and present it to the building and zoning department so I can get my building permit. After a lot more signing of papers, the lady on the other side of the counter, who is busy entering all of this into their computer system, tells me that they have to cross reference my application with the treasury department to make sure I am not delinquent on my property taxes. To be sure, my taxes are all paid up so this should not be a problem. Well, when she is keying in the info into her system, she alerts me that the column on the left side of her screen is off by 60¢ from the total that is at the bottom. She seeks out the aid of a co-worker and also has a woman from the treasury department on the phone with all three of them trying to figour out how to fix this. I am like "I'll give each of you 60¢ it that will fix the friggin problem!" Turns out that the system won't let her click "submit" unless the numbers all add up correctly. Finally, after 45 minutes of all three of them working at solving this massively vexing problem, they somehow manage to get it straightened out and she is able to complete the process.

Finally, the lady on the other side of the counter took my payment of $380 (this in addition to the $450 that I already paid) and dug out a sharpie and wrote my info onto a red cardboard building permit sign and handed it to me with instructions for me to put it in a prominant location where I am planning on doing my construction. The whole thing took more than 5 weeks. You can't make this shit up!

northerngirl's picture

Yet, we keep voting the same people into elected office.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Let me be clear; At the end of the day all economies are local.  Get your tribe in order...

nuclearsquid's picture

My tribe's bigger than your tribe.  

Ying-Yang's picture

Is tribbing a tribal function of a tribe?

Colonel Klink's picture

Yes but that's on the Isle of Lesbo!

wisefool's picture

I know nothing of Lois Learner.

marathonman's picture

My tribe is nuts and is on SS disability.  We're on our own.

King_Julian's picture

They will not listen, they do not know how...

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

some small few benefit from concentrated power centers, you know who they are by the wealth power and fame they sometimes show..they care not if the ave citizens life is a life of serfs and poverty, as much of history is writ large with societies ruled by privileged few. return to the mean.

squid427's picture

A nation is doomed to fail when the leaders legalize the theft of the citizen's private property and wealth.

Rainman's picture

No matter how you carve up territory, the european continent has always been ' an unwieldy , oversized , dysfunctional ' construct. Today the continent is simply long overdue for blood spilling, historically speaking.

Zerozen's picture

How is that any different than any other continent?

And how exactly is Europe oversized? You mean geographically??

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

"Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres."

for starters

donsluck's picture

Nice try, you couldn't fool ME! There is no "continent" called Europe. It is a political division, and "continent" is a geographical division ie: Eurasia.

El Vaquero's picture

I tend to think that the problem is that there is too much complexity.  Good luck *not* violating some law every day.  Good luck doing business without violating some archane regulation that you've never heard of.  Good luck understanding the US tax code.  Good luck understanding all of the financial instruments out there.  Good luck pronouncing some of the ingredients in your food (much less understanding how it got to your table.) 


And if you're talking about the EU, good luck getting political union under monetary union with all of those different cultures.


There are costs to all of this, and we cannot foot the bill.

Mike in GA's picture

Yet we will pay the price.

Miner's picture

> Good luck *not* violating some law every day.
> Good luck doing business without violating some archane regulation that you've never heard of.
> Good luck understanding the US tax code. 

This was driven home for me today when I had the pleasure of browsing the complete US Code.  There are 50 Titles.  I happened to be in Title 42 "The Public Health and Welfare."  This particular book is divided into 152 Chapters and 17,386 Sections.  A Section can be a single paragraph or dozens of pages.  Section 2000 is divided into dozens of subsections.

It's madness.

El Vaquero's picture

Last time Congressional Research Services tried to count how many federal crimes there were, they got to 10,000 or so in the USC, and then determined that there were so many cross references between the USC and the CFR that included crimes, they gave up because it was too complex.  So 10,000 in the USC, and an unknown number generated in the CFR and by cross references between the USC and the CFR.  The last time they were asked to count it since then, they basically told congress that it was too complex of a task for them to do and that they weren't even going to try.

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

I suppose it's just another version of' diminishing returns', Tyler, if division doesn't alleviate the situation.  No?

"All animals are diminished but some animals are more diminished than others."

Ellesmere's picture

It's not just Europe - it's everywhere big debt is.

GeezerGeek's picture

DC can't properly govern 300+ million Americans. Either it must return power back to the states or drastically reduce the population. That may be why we have opened borders (did anyone notice the story today about all those TB cases?) It also may be why we're sending 3000 soldiers to fight ebola. (I asked a military friend and he confirmed that the Army has no magic bullets for fighting ebola.) Just wait till some come back carrying the virus.

The US federal system was designed to take advantage of the concept of subsidiarity. Human depravity guided the US toward increasing centralization of power in DC. Going back to the original plan would probably work for a while, until some assholes decided that cantralization and the accumulation of power is the way to go.

NotApplicable's picture

Lucky for them, "properly" governing is the last thing on any divide and conquerer's mind.

BandGap's picture

Funny how epidemics run particularly fast through military camps. Or start in them.



Mike in GA's picture

I just hope it collapses of its own weight.  Soon.  Large, complex societies tend to devolve and collapse just as we seem to be doing.

BustainMovealota's picture

I'm tired of waiting,  lets get on with it!!

JRev's picture

I understand your sentiment, but a slow, continued, Fabian degradation of the American economy is in our best interest. As bad as things are, economic conditions haven't yet made robust, underground, local economies a necessity. The proverbial "Shadow Economy" is making a slow return, but there's still much progress to be made.

If things were to devolve before that happened... I shudder at the thought. No amount of "prepping" could prepare you for the true depravity of Man.

NeedtoSecede's picture

Ya'll know where I stand.


Secession anyone?

BustainMovealota's picture

Too late.   Not with local police getting getting military grade equipment to stop any citizen upheaval.   Don't be fooled into thinking that would not be considered a revolt and you be deemed a threat to the "state".

BandGap's picture

1. They can't cover everybody don't care how many bullets you have

2. Local enforcement lives locally and is known by the locals

3. It's a big country

NeedtoSecede's picture

No need to look further than Iraq and Afghanistan to see how effective all that fancy hardware is vs. a determined foe... 

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

Sherman's march through Georgia anyone?

geno-econ's picture

Author fails to make distinction between Nation States and big multinational corporations that have no national allegencies.

The latter is the real problem and leads to many problems such as unemployment within developed economies because multinationals tend to manufacture in cheap labor countries like China. Additionally, global multinationals control polititians through lobbyists and election campaign financing which reduces social programs but in any case increases debt financing by governments to sustain consumer demand in a failing or no growth economy such as EU and US. In other cases,  multinationals promote War to resolve problems such as acces to oil and natural resources or to placate the military industrial complex and Neocons. In general the tendency in modern society is for increased government to obtain efficiecies of scale and larger tax base, but the real villans are the big, monopolistic, multinationals.  We need another Teddy Roosvelt or Vlad Putin  to break up the multinational oligarchs 

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

geno, ya sure multinational corps are bad, but what governments allow them to do all that bad stuff you wrote, you kinda missed the point..larger and larger centralized .govs swap spit with these mega corps did you miss hank paulson little .gov job in 08? wake up.

geno-econ's picture

Sorry forgot to include global bankers, financial institutions and Fed that causd the bubble and credit freeze of 08.  Hank quickly came to their rescue as well as bankers in EU through credit default swaps, QE and infusion of money into banking system.  So which governments told the megecorporations to employ more people and to avoid tax loopholes and overseas tax havens?  Lots of talk but Congress continues to provide tax breaks for multinationals by attaching amendments to existing legislation whille Americans such as you are asleep  

bid the soldiers shoot's picture


Multinational corps are the vanguard of the New World Order.

Let's show 'em a little respect.

dreadnaught's picture

Future Democratic and Republican convention floors will be dotted with pole-standards that used to bear the names of the 50 states. Those standards will soon bear the names of the FORTUNE 500......

RovingGrokster's picture

I don't think he needs to make the distinction.
From having worked in corporations of varying sizes, I can tell you that the only large corporations where I felt I had the latitude to get the job done were ones where the divisions had considerable autonomy - IE felt like small corporations.

Others have argued that, as the United States has grown, it has developed distinct regional personalities, and would work better if subdivided. I don't necessarily agree with that, but a return to proper Federalism would be a very welcome change over the monolithic state which we have become.

Smaller does work better - NH is one of the few places where the ratio of citizens per state legislator is only a few thousand to one - and you can smell the roasting of reps' feet clear across Massachusetts!