Leopold Kohr

Awarded 1983

Austria

For his early inspiration of the movement for a human scale.

Leopold Kohr (1909-1994) was a leading thinker, a philosophical anarchist and an international university professor from Austria. He originated and firmly developed the concept of the human scale and the idea of returning to life in small communities. Kohr’s theories have challenged the powerful role of centralised structures in favour of a control system of small communities solving local problems with their own material and intellectual resources.

After a variety of occupations, which included being a foreign correspondent in the Spanish Civil War, Kohr entered academic life. He tenaciously supported the need to go back to the local level to find solutions to humanity’s problems. His friend Fritz Schumacher brought Kohr’s ideas to the general public’s attention in the bestselling book Small is Beautiful.

Kohr consistently advocated the effectiveness of the small autonomous unit in the solution of human problems. Concerning the Global South, he was one of the first to assert that massive external aid crippled their vital communal identity and stifled local initiatives and participation. His vision called for a dissolution of centralised structures favouring a control system of small communities solving local problems with their own material and intellectual resources.

Let us solve the great problem of our time, the disease of excessive size and uncontrollable proportions, by going back to a small-scale social environment.

Leopold Kohr, 1983 Laureate

Leopold Kohr was born near Salzburg, Austria. He was educated at the Universities of Innsbruck, Paris, Vienna and the London School of Economics. He first taught at Rutgers University in the US and then as Professor of Economics and Public Administration at the University of Puerto Rico from 1955 to 1973. He subsequently taught political philosophy at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Kohr was the originator and for two and a half decades the solitary advocate, of the concept of the human scale and the idea of a return to life in small communities. Both of these were later popularised in the best-selling book Small is Beautiful. Kohr's ideas were powerfully expressed in a series of books, including The Breakdown of Nations (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957), Development without Aid (1973) and The Overdeveloped Nations(1977), both published by Christopher Davies, Swansea.

On his death in 1994, one newspaper obituary hailed him as a leading thinker of the 20th century for his critique of the cult of bigness and economic growth. Others noted that it was hard to reconstruct the patronising derision which greeted Kohr's ideas throughout most of his long life, but although he described himself as a philosophical anarchist "he brought to his anarchism a constant bubbling stream of wit and humour despite the fact that his theories assailed a great many of the leading assumptions of both politicians and economists."

In Austria, the city of Salzburg awarded him its rare honour, The Golden Ring, and established an institute bearing his name. In 2008, a Leopold Kohr Research Center was founded at the University of Salzburg.

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