Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations (1957, 1978).

Chapter Ten


Instability of present unions. Division of great powers essential. Question is not: Can it be done, but how can it be done? Division by war and division by proportional representation. Assigning more votes to great powers if federal representatives are elected at district level. Federalization of great powers and the gradualness and imperceptibility of their dissolution Districts correspond to ancient state units -- division therefore not artificial. Native particularism ensuring popular approval. One cannot turn back the clock. Prevention of reunification of small states.

Can It Be Done?

The preceding chapter has demonstrated that no satisfactory local national or international organization can function except on the basis of a small unit pattern. It is the only pattern that solves the problem of effective administration As a result it would seem that neither a United World nor a United Europe can last for any length of time on the basis of the existing arrangements uniting as they do an indigestible medley of small as well as large states. Organizations of this nature lack the vital internal balance that could give their federal structure more than a passing success. In their present form the various attempted international unions of our day can therefore be held together only by means of an external force such as the threat of aggression. Once this is passed they must either burst, collapse, or be transformed into single-power tyrannies. As free, democratic unions of nations they cannot survive.

While a federal balance could theoretically also be established on the basis of a large-unit pattern leaving the great powers intact and uniting as a counter-measure the small states until they, too, were to form powerful blocks, a balance of this kind would produce so inelegant and clumsy an arrangement that every slightest tug or twitch would threaten its existence. For all practical purposes, therefore, international unions must seek, instead of the heavy stable balance of great-power organizations, the fluid mobile balance of multicellular small-state arrangements. The solution of their problems lies in the micro- not in the macro-political field. They must eliminate from their system not the small states but the great powers. This alone will furnish them with the internal mechanism for coping with the daily frictions of social life without the necessity of building up a governmental machine of such proportions that it could not be maintained even if it could be created.

The question now poses itself, even for those who have been convinced by the arguments of this book: can it be done? Can the great powers be divided? Will Soviet Russia and the United States accept their dissolution merely to save the United Nations? Will France, Italy, Great Britain, or Germany ever give their consent to their own liquidation merely because this would be wise? Can the clock be turned back?

One might answer this question very simply by saying that it is not the question in the first place. If regions such as Europe really desire union, the question to be answered is not: can the great powers be eliminated? but how can they be eliminated? If regions containing great powers want to unite, they must divide these powers. And what must be done, can be done. Even the clock can be turned back - to pick from the barrel of objections one of those stereotypes with which our theorists so often try to wreck a case without taking issue with it. Those who use this slogan as an insurmountable barrier to the break-up of large political powers are frequently the same who advocate in the economic field decartellization, the break-up of great economic empires, without realizing that this means turning the clock back, too. What they call reactionary politically, they call progressive economically. No engineer will dream of hiding behind this slogan when he discovers flaws in a nearly completed bridge. Instead of saying that he cannot turn back the clock, he will do precisely this, if he is to save his reputation. He will tear down the structure and begin building it all over again. No author, writing himself into a blind alley, will perpetuate his frustration by insisting that, having advanced so far in pursuit of his plot, he cannot turn back the clock. Maybe he cannot, but then his work will be a failure. But if he can, he may turn it into a masterpiece yet. Finally, even in the most literal sense, the famous clock slogan, which has caused so much intellectual havoc, is not only meaningless as an analogy but silly in its own right, since there are few things that are easier than to turn back the clock. Just try it. In fact it is so easy that one does not even need to apply an outside force. Unaided and unbullied, the clock comes back to where it started every twenty-four hours simply by moving ahead on its slow and gentle course.

Thus, the clock can, of course, be turned back, and the great powers can be eliminated just as the great powers themselves, such as France or Hitler Germany, were able to eliminate their internal power blocks without listening to the particularists protesting that they could not do this. They could and did. The sole question to be answered then is: how can it be done?

One way of splitting the great powers would be through war. A man like Hitler could have done it and, maybe, would have done it. The victorious Allies have done it with regard to Germany which, for the first time in a hundred years, with Prussia subdivided into a number of smaller co-equal states, has a chance to federate successfully. By the same token, the Allies could have gone a step further and dissolved the last remaining framework still holding the German states together. However, no one can suggest so blunt and bloody a method for the destruction of other powers without being called a warmonger. It is mentioned here as a method only in reply to the argument that the division of great powers is impossible. If it cannot be brought about by other means, it can be by force of arms, and, since this is a method too, it seems that division can be effected.

But war is fortunately not the only means by which great powers can be divided. Engulfed in a swamp of infantile emotionalism, and attaching phenomenal value to the fact that they are big and mighty, they cannot be persuaded to execute their own dissolution. But, being infantile and emotional, they can be tricked into it. While they would reject their division, if it were presented to them as a demand, they might be quite willing to accept it, if offered to them in the guise of a gift. This gift would be: proportional representation in the bodies governing the federal union of which they form part. The acceptance of this offer would cause nothing less than their eventual disappearance.

1. Division through Proportional Representation

The conventional federal principle of government grants an equal number of votes to each participating sovereign unit of a federation irrespective of the size of its population. This is quite reasonable since international law does not distinguish amongst sovereigns, and does not make the degree of sovereignty dependent on quantitative considerations. France, with 45 million inhabitants, is not more sovereign than Liechtenstein whose population numbers less than 13,000. While she has more might than Liechtenstein, she has not more right than that miniature principality. Nor does she have more of a physical existence. For this reason, large member states of international organizations are always clamouring for proportional rather than state representation so that their numerical strength might be brought into play in a more realistic manner. But as long as the law of nations considers every sovereign state the co-equal of any other, the great powers have no chance of gratifying their passionate desire to be considered not only bulkier than small states, but greater, and endowed with more rights as well.

This unsatisfied desire is the key with which the great powers can be tricked into accepting gracefully their own liquidation. They shall be given what they so sorely want -- but with a string attached. Let us illustrate this with the example of the European Council which is composed of four large powers, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, and a number of small states such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, or the Netherlands. Its principal problem of survival is the division of in four self-centred and thus basically uncooperative great powers. France -- to illustrate the technique of division on a country clinging with particular tenacity to power and glory concepts -- would never agree to be split up into her original historic regions. But she would certainly not object to the invitation to sit in the representative bodies of the European Council with, let us say, twenty voting delegates compared with, let us say, one delegate from Luxembourg, three delegates from Denmark, and five delegates each from Belgium and the Netherlands.

However, while France and the equally favoured Great Britain or Germany would naturally be agreeable to such a redistribution of votes, Luxembourg, Belgium, Denmark, or the Netherlands would not, for the simple reason that it would leave the great-power domination of the European Council unchanged. In addition, it would make an unpleasant actual condition legal as well. But the smaller countries would raise few objections if the twenty members of the French delegation were elected, not nationally, but regionally and were, consequently, to be entrusted only with regional responsibilities and regional representation. Such a shift in the source of delegation would alter the entire picture in an imperceptible, yet radical and fundamental manner. It is this that would bring about the eventual dissolution of France. Why?

France, as she effected her subdivision into more than ninety departments for reasons of internal administration, would now, in order to benefit from the increase in her voting strength, have to divide herself into twenty federal districts in the administrative interest of the European Council. Each of these districts would directly elect its representatives to the various federal bodies, and each would remain the exclusive formulator of the mandates and instructions given to its own delegate. Thus, the twenty members elected in the various districts of France would not appear in the federal assemblies as a unit, but as twenty individual members representing not one but twenty electorates, not one but twenty majorities, and not one common but twenty different regions. These members would serve only two political organisms, their district and the European Council, as the Swiss serves only two organized units, his canton and the overall federation. And, as already pointed out, just as Switzerland recognizes no halfway organization in the form of a subfederation of German or French cantons to act as a disruptive intermediary between the canton and the federation, so the European Council or, as it might eventually be called, the United States of Europe, would recognize no disruptive intermediary in the form of a subunion of French districts. From a federal point of view France, as also Great Britain, Germany, and Italy, would therefore cease to exist as a component part of a European union.

However, the mere division of France into European-Council districts would not be enough. France is a tightly centralized state and, like others, owes her development as a great power to this very fact. As long as centralization exists, great power exists, and any division under these circumstances would be but fiction. To make division effective, the great powers would have to undergo a fundamental internal change. As a preliminary step towards successful integration in a larger international organization they would have to transform their present centralized systems into decentralized federations. This would make their division real and thus actually usher in their gradual dissolution. It is a characteristic feature of true federations that the principal share of public power is entrusted to the small member unit, while progressively diminishing amounts of power are reserved to the higher governmental levels. In this way power is given where it can do no harm, and withheld where it might assume dangerous proportions and invite abuse. With the highest organs in a federation possessing but few powers in their own right, no obstructive power complex can develop at the top. As a result, it would be relatively easy to transfer the last weak remaining national powers to a larger international authority. In this manner, division could be effected by the inoffensive device of the internal federalization of the great powers brought about through the offer of proportional rather than national representation. Professor Henry Simons has expressed a similar idea when he wrote:

'A great virtue of extreme federalism or decentralization in great nations is that it facilitates their extension toward world organization or their easy absorption into still larger federations. If central governments were, as they should be, largely repositories of unexercised powers, held simply to prevent their exercise by constituent units or extragovernmental organizations, then supranational organization would be easy if not almost gratuitous. Indeed, such great-nation decentralization or deorganization is both end and means of international organization.'1

The question now is: could France or any great power be made to accept such self-division through federalization? The answer is yes, and for a variety of reasons. In the first place, as has just been pointed out, division would be presented in form of a gift. Instead of one voice in the European Council, the French (though not France) would be offered twenty. Since federalization would mean transition by steps and stages, with governmental powers not to be eliminated but merely redistributed, and with no official act terminating the state of France, no patriotic feelings would be hurt. The revolutionary change would be purely internal in character. It would be destruction by which nothing that counts is destroyed. It would be elimination without victims. There would be no foreign laws, no foreign occupation, no change in traffic or commerce or anything except in the fact that government and sovereignty would suddenly have come closer to the individual, endowing him within the smaller sphere of the new sovereign units with a dignity and importance not previously possessed. He would find this charming, not distasteful. His district would be infused with new vitality, his provincial capital would assume new glamour, and his prefect would be transformed from an appointed functionary into an elected head of state. A whole new range of intriguing activities would now take place close to his home instead of in distant Paris, new governments and parliaments would spring up and, instead of the ambitions of a few, the ambitions of many could be satisfied.

The actual political and international dissolution of France would thus go practically unnoticed. But it would be effective none the less. The provincial delegates from Normandy, Picardy, or Pau would no longer meet in Paris but in a new federal capital city that may develop in Strasbourg or elsewhere. Being the capital of a larger area than France, they would meet there the delegates from the other federally dissolved regions of the union. While there might still be a lingering of traditional unity amongst the groups of French-, German-, Italian-, or English-speaking delegates at the beginning, the groundswell of regional particularism and individualistic difference would soon break down the last vestiges of the present great-power blocks. In the absence of any unifying intermediary authority, we would soon find conservative Burgundians siding with conservative Bavarians against socialist Saxons and Normans for the same reasons that cause Swiss or American political representatives to take sides not on the basis of regional but intellectual or ideological groupings. In the end of the development Paris, like Olympia or Athens in ancient Greece, would be merely the cultural centre of the French-speaking world, while its political authority would not transcend the boundaries of its own little state of Île de France. With the transfer of the basic state powers from the nation to the district, the districts would automatically become the true sovereign members of the European federation. Then proportional representation could once more give way to state representation. Since the districts would all be of approximately equal size, the traditional federal principle of equal votes for equal sovereigns could again be restored.

2. Restoration of Europe’s Old Nations

This leads to a second reason why France and other great powers could be induced to accept their division. I have called these new subdivisions districts. But they are not simply districts. As Chapter III has shown, they are France’s and Europe’s original nations. Their restoration would consequently not mean the creation of an artificial pattern but a return to Europe’s natural political landscape. No new names would have to be invented. The old ones are still in existence, as are the regions and peoples which they define. It is the great powers which lack the real basis of existence and are without autochthonous, self-sustaining sources of strength. It is they that are the artificial structures, holding together a medley of more or less unwilling little tribes. There is no ‘Great British’ nation in Great Britain. What we find are the English, Scots, Irish, Cornish, Welsh, and the islanders of Man. In Italy, we find the Lombards, Tyroleans, Venetians, Sicilians, or Romans. In Germany we find Bavarians, Saxons, Hessians, Rhinelanders, or Brandenburgers. And in France, we find Normans, Catalans, Alsatians, Basques, or Burgundians. These little nations came into existence by themselves, while the great powers had to be created by force and a series of bloodily unifying wars. Not a single component part joined them voluntarily. They all had to be forced into them, and could be retained by them only by means of their division into counties, Gaue, or departments.

It may be objected by our modern unifiers that, though this be true, centuries of joint living have fused them into inseparable units and created changes which it would be reactionary to undo. One cannot -hélas, again - turn back the clock. But nothing has changed. So little fusion has taken place that, whenever the grip of a big power seems to loosen, its component parts, far from coming to its rescue, try everything to liberate themselves. When Hitler crumbled, the Bavarians wanted to secede from Germany and restore their ancient kingdom. Similarly, the Sicilians tried to set up an independent state after the defeat of Mussolini. The Scots of today are as Scottish as they were 300 years ago. Living together with the English has only increased their desire for living apart. In 1950, they petitioned the King for the establishment of a separate parliament in Edinburgh, and a few months later dramatized the fact of their continued national existence by ‘liberating’ the Stone of Scone from the ‘foreign’ soil of Westminster Abbey. In Cornwall guide books greet the English tourist by telling him, gently and humorously, but still telling him that, as long as he is on Cornish ground, he must consider himself a foreigner. And in France, even in relatively calm and settled times, there is a constant undercurrent of separatist movements and sentiments not only amongst the Alsatians, but amongst Catalans, Basques, Bretons, and Normans as well.

Thus, in spite of having been submerged in great unitarian states for long periods and having been subjected to an unceasing battering of unifying propaganda, particularist sentiments still exist in undiminished strength, and few of Europe’s numerous little nations, now held together within the framework of great powers, could be left alone for a single week without at once getting busy with the establishment of their own capitals, parliaments, and sovereignties. There are, of course, people such as elementary-school teachers, national politicians, military men, collectivists, mankind maniacs, and others glorying in unitarian developments, who will oppose the concept of small democratic states with fanaticism and the outcry of reaction -- as if the pattern of nature could ever be reactionary. But the bulk of the inhabitants of the regions in which these states would be restored have shown time and again that they think differently. They do not seem to want life in vast meaningless realms. They want to live in their provinces, in their mountains, in their valleys. They want to live at home. This is why they have clung so tenaciously to their local colour and provincialism even when they were submerged in great empires. In the end, however, it was always the small state, not the empire that survived. That is why small states do not have to be created artificially. They need only be freed.

3. Preservation of Small-state Pattern

One final question to be answered is whether the small states would not immediately begin to form new alliances and great-power combinations. Eventually they would, since nothing ever lasts indefinitely. But it might take them as many centuries as it took the present great powers to form. It must not be forgotten that the creation of a divided small-state pattern may mean unification in a larger international federation. This entails that there would now be an effective federal government whose task would be not only to keep the member states united but also to keep them apart. There is no reason to believe that under a small-state arrangement, created for the very purpose of rendering federal government effective, the prevention of interstate alliances would pose greater difficulties than the same problem poses to the governments of the United States, Canada, Mexico, or Switzerland. With the federal government having an easy margin of strength over the small individual states or even a combination of them, the danger of a successful regrouping of great powers would be a remote possibility.

From all this we see that the technical obstacle to the division of great powers and the preservation of a small-state pattern is anything but insurmountable. By using the device of proportional representation together with an appeal to the powerful particularist sentiments always present in human groups, the condition of a small-state world, so essential a prerequisite of successful international union, could be established without force or violence. It would mean nothing but the abandonment of a few silly, though cherished, slogans of the turn-the-clock-back category, a bit of diplomacy, and a bit of technique.

It can be done! And if unions are to survive, it must be done!


1 Henry C. Simons, Economic Policy for a Free Society, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1948, p.21