Breakdown of Nations By Kirkpatrick Sale I have just returned from a meeting in Salzburg, Austria, of the “Academic Inn,” an institution of drinking and talking in various pubs and taverns that was initiated more than 30 years ago by a man born just outside that city, a great thinker and luminary, Leopold Kohr. This year I had the chance to present the audience of some 150 Austrians with an idea of the sentiment for secession boiling up in the U.S. and I read the Middlebury Declaration, all of which was greeted by enthusiasm. Salzburgers already have some sense of being independent, for the state of Salzburg has always been a powerful regional organization within Austria and in many ways it is roughly self-sufficient. They understand the underlying motives for separatism and autonomy. Leopold Kohr's most important achievement was a brilliantly argued 250-page book, The Breakdown of Nations, that came out in 1947. It proved that the reasons things either don't work or are out of control is that they are too big—and this is true of everything, from oversized teeth to global empires. And it showed that, as Aristotle once said, there is a right size to everything, based on the limited capacities of the human body and human brain, and that the restoration of health and serenity everywhere was a return to the human scale—through the breakdown of nations into smaller units where individuals and communities were empowered and invigorated. The book did not get much attention at first because it ran directly against the tide of the age, which was all for global this and that, and the creation of things like the United Nations. It had a following among a few—the British philosopher Herbert Read, the economist E. F. Schumacher (who called Kohr “a teacher from whom I have learned more than from anyone else”), and a number of academics in Salzburg, who were later to start a Leopold Kohr Akademie—but it did not become popular and was pretty much forgotten, though Kohr continued to write and lecture with the same message. When I first read the book in 1978 I was so taken with it I got E. P. Dutton to issue a paperback that year, and it had a modest sale, though not as great as Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, published three years before. Again it ran against a tide of bigness in the land, yet there were many who could see by that time the futility of the UN, the danger and corruption of big corporations, the evils inherent in a country out of control in Vietnam and Watergate. And Kohr, by then teaching in Wales, was invited several times to give lectures in this country, to enthusiastic audiences who recognized that his was the lonely voice of the truth-teller. Let me give an example of the Kohrian philosophy (and, jealous though I am of his command of English, the Kohrian style), pertinent to the place where the Academic Inn was held: “The rural population that built this capital city of barely more than 30,000 for its own enjoyment never numbered more than 120,000. Yet, single-handedly they managed to adorn it with more than 30 magnificent churches, castles, and palaces standing in lilied ponds, and an amplitude of fountains, cafes, and inns. And such was their sophisticated taste that they required a dozen theaters, a choir for every church, and an array of composers for every choir, so that it is not surprising that one of the local boys should have been Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. “All this was the result of smallness, achieved with not an iota of foreign. And what a rich city they made it into.” It should be obvious by now that Kohr's message is more vital than ever. It should be obvious that the solution to virtually all the world's political conflicts and trials is dissolution, devolution, decentralization. I cannot think of one place on earth where a dose of that would not solve, in a permanent way, the difficulties that large-statism and the centralizers have created. It has been glaringly clear for a long time, for example, that the first step to peace and stability in Iraq was exactly the breakdown of the artificial nation a few British imperialists cobbled together some 70 years ago out of a bunch of tribes and ethnic groups. I think a careful analysis would show that there are more than half a dozen social and political divisions that could stand autonomously, but even without such a study the reality of daily goings-on there shows that there are three major divisions in the country at the moment, the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shiites. Instead of trying to force them to have a state altogether, with the aid of a continuing mad war, why not let each go its own way? The Kurds have already achieved a degree of autonomy, with an independent parliament, separate ministries, and a regional army. They have a strong identity as a separate ethnic population, and have had for generations. With control of some of the northern oil reserves, they could easily be a viable and independent nation. And now it seems there is a new and growing movement for autonomy in the south of Iraq, among the Shiites. The leaders argue that the south never got its fair share of oil revenues under Saddam Hussein, even though the bulk of reserves lie near Basra, at the head of the Persian Gulf, and they see no reason to have to have it all go to some centralized source. “We want to destroy the central system that connects the entire country to the capital,” one leader, Bakr al-Yasseen, was quoted by The New York Times as saying. He argued that “there's no democracy in Iraq” and won't be in any future state, so southern interests would continue to be disregarded. This movement is demanding the same status as the Kurdish north, with separate institutions and armies. And it is naturally gaining support from the Kurds themselves, who want to see a loose national regime with powerful constituent regions. (A number of Kurds would like to go all the way and have an independent Kurdistan, but this would surely upset powers in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, with Kurdish populations they want to keep control of, so such talk is kept muted.) The American powers in Iraq are dead set against any move to make a federated state with autonomous regions, because that would be hard for them to control and would risk oil reserves being exploited for the regions rather than a pliant nation. Centralizers of the neo-con kind have always found independence and autonomy an anathema, since it threatens their ability to dominate. But a three-part Iraq simply makes most sense. It would be relatively easy to achieve, it would give each ethnic group its own power and end the insurgency, it would allow U.S. troops to withdraw immediately, and it would make Iraq a viable nation. And at some point it could even lead to creation of three independent nations, on the pattern of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the states of the old Yugoslavia, and the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Separatism is not only the tide of this era, it is a true global force. It should be allowed to flow in Iraq, where it will let us end this ugly and debasing war, and then it should be applied at home, where it will let us end this ugly and debasing government. “Bigness, or oversize,” wrote Kohr, “is really much more than just a social problem. It appears to be the one and only problem permeating all creation. Wherever something is wrong, something is too big.” No question, something is wrong with this nation. It is too big.