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A Book Report on The Breakdown of Nations

Bud Wood
Posted Feb 4, 2011

This is a book, written in 1957 by Leopold Kohr, which discusses the probable breakdown of nations. The subject specifically relates to large, overdeveloped nations (the subject of another more recent book is “The Overdeveloped Nations”, 1977). This book, The Breakdown of Nations, was published in England and subsequently translated into several languages.

The theme of The Breakdown of Nations is that problems primarily relate to size. More specifically, to increases in sizes beyond what is normal. That is, when growth exceeds natural boundaries, growth in most anything cause problems to arise. Limits to bigness permeates all creation, and when natural limits are exceeded, the host suffers. Like cancer cells expanding, illness and ultimately death follow. The only question is “when”? the “how” is discussed in detail in this book.

In a period of widespread tyranny (think 20th Century), there is widespread social misery. Many causes can be discerned. However, the primary cause is that challenges increase at a geometric rate while people’s ability to come to grips with the challenges increases at a linear rate. That is, difficulties increase much faster than do solutions. We are seeing that in current financial crises arising in the western world.

Consider why the heraldic animal symbols are mostly beasts of prey. England has its lion, the USA has its bald eagle, Russia has its bear, China its dragon, etc. New Zealand, not noted for aggression, is one of a few countries that do not use beasts of prey in its symbol; NZ uses the kiwi bird and the seahorse. The point is that aggression is foremost in the national symbols of large nations. That suggests that warfare (aggression) is a typical policy employed by governments of large nations. For those directly affected by warfare, this policy underlines national causes of social misery.

Needless to say, the fruits of warfare are typically bitter. Not only does warfare produce unwanted results but the warfare breeds acceptance of aggressiveness in societies. Thus, we can observe that general policies of large states can promote if not actually cause social brutality. Such is dramatically increasing in the western world.

The key is aggressiveness. Although aggressiveness is not always in evidence, aggressive power lurks in large nations and can “go-off” at any moment. That can be seen in cities which have passed beyond a natural size (think Cairo, today). Crime and thoughtless aggression make streets in large metro areas much less safe than streets in their smaller counterparts.

The continuing growth of cities and nations is promoted as “good.” Progressive activities are glorified on the basis that “bigger is better.” The problem is, though, that it’s a fact that residents in small cities and small nations are typically happier than those residents who bear the burden of large nations. Remember, “great cities” are not to be confused with large cities. Some of the most cultural advances sprouted from small cities. Think of the renaissance in Italy’s modestly sized city states or the great symphonic advances in early Vienna. Or for that matter, think of Newton’s scientific advances and Adam Smith’s and Hume’s economic concepts in early Edinburgh.

Of course, problems do not all disappear in small states. People are not inherently good - they are inherently subjective (often lacking in charity to neighbors). But, at least in small states, there are limitations to evil. Certainly, revolutions and even wars in the small states of South America are problems. Such difficulties can often be ignored by peoples of most other nations. On the other hand, most of the world was affected by WWII. Closer to home, the civil war in the USA was promoted as the need to do away with slavery. That cost over half a million lives because of the combatants' powers. Slavery was eliminated in many other nations around the same time without any great human and property disasters because powers of other nations were not as concentrated as in the USA.

Also, when business cycles cause problems, one can usually discern that such difficulties have grown from the bigness of the enterprises. Sure, we enjoy the conveniences of having an abundance of material goods, but are we having more enjoyable lives and are we happier? Probably not.

Regarding “too-big businesses,” there are many overgrown businesses which are problematic in both their internal “corporate” structures and their relationships to society in general. The universal want for “more” is emphasized in corporations because those at the top are typically aggressive people. It takes aggressiveness to get to the top in corporations, hence the want for more is discerned as “good.” But history shows that such “good” are mirages. Although it’s nice to be big and powerful, that’s not where contentment and pleasure reside for most of us. In fact, many of the corporate mergers have not been good according to independent observers. When one comes right down to advantages, there are more illusions than benefits. Just like in overdeveloped nations.

The solutions to most “bigness,” whether in the density of cities (metro areas), the centralization of political activities, or monopolistic business practices, are the break-up of big organizations. Although this is opposite to what we have been led to believe, common sense coupled with observations of human contentment when involved in “human size” organization readily shows that small is beautiful. In all probability, smallness (decentralization) will come. However, while towers of bigness are in existence, there’s a chance that most of humanity will be subject to the ills of bigness during most of their lives.

Note that this book was written in 1957 which was long before the break-up of the Soviet Union. The points made then essentially predicted break-ups of such oversized organizations. That may be what the strains in the European Union are telling us. Ditto, the mutterings of “nullifications” in the USA. A further point is that prudence suggests that break-ups can be damaging to people who may be hit as the towers of Babel come tumbling down. My advice is to “Look Out Below”!


Bud Wood

Bud Wood is manager of Ancal, Inc., a Nevada corporation. Ancal distributes technical products worldwide. Bud Wood is a vet of WWII. Although he didn’t see action in WWII, his father was in the USA Army and was disabled in France during WWI; hence he is acquainted with the bitter fruits of war. Bud Wood is a graduate of Stanford university, where he studied both “humanities” and engineering. He is married to Dr Dorothy Wood, who has a clinical psychology PhD. Bud and Dorothy have been married for 55 years and have five sons.

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