“Bigness is pervasive in America as nowhere else in the world.”
— Human Scale Revisited, by Kirkpatrick Sale
If true, that the most productive factories are those “with fewer than forty-five people”, imagine the possibilities for smaller town and cities to share in industrialism (200 years too late). From “Human Scale Revisited” by Kirkpatrick Sale.
On medieval war, peace. Then came the reformation.

“Leopold Kohr tells the story of the Treuga Dei, the Truce of God, which was first propounded in AD 1041 and in successive decades slowly became the dominant code in European warfare.” — Human Scale Revisited,
Kirkpatrick Sale
Prytaneogenesis: Kirkpatrick Sale on the enormous cost of government regulations.

“When governments become centralized and enlarged beyond a certain limited range, they not only cease to solve problems, they actually begin to create them.”
Kirkpatrick Sale quoting Lewis Mumford on how the state centralized power by destroying all the organizations that used to provide services to the people. And as has been proven, the state are unable to create these afresh whenever the need rises, leaving a dangerous vacuum.
The people of America was never as free as during the colonial era. Kirkpatrick Sale on the colonial government. [on America, let me also recommend Peter Oliver's 1781 Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion and Sydney Fisher's 1902 True History of the American Revolution.]
“When the peoples of Germany were divided into dozens of little principalities and duchies and kingdoms and sovereign cities—from about the twelfth century to the nineteenth—they engaged in fewer wars than any other peoples of Europe.” — Human Scale Revisited,
Kirkpatrick Sale
Kirkpatrick Sale goes full Spengler here, quoting Lewis Mumford on Rome and the dangers of over-centralization: the devestation of the land, the erection of useless monuments, the creation of unsolvable social problems.
Kirkpatrick Sale on how the WHO brought DDT and the plague to Malaysia, and why malaria is almost unknown in modern California.
“The Greeks had a word for it: hubris. It was the sin that most often brought down the figures in the Greek tragedies and wrought troubles upon their states. In its modern form it continues to do the same.”
— Human Scale Revisited, Kirkpatrick Sale
Kirkpatrick Sale gives an example of hubris in East Africa in 1946: how the UK grew peanuts at a dollar a piece and ruined thousands of acres of land—for all practical purposes—for ever.
Sale wants us to create architecture and that brings out the best in us, but the all important thing we could do would be to ensure that people OWN the places where they dwell, not rent from a bank. Only free citizens can ensure a free society, not renters or welfare recipients.
Kirkpatrick Sale on two possible sizes for the proper human community. I could add examples from he crew of ships, military units, student fraternities, even orchestras and Twitter follows.
On the human scale in farming:
“‘small farms have higher yields than large farms’ and ‘in any state the value of the crops grown on the average acre tends to be larger when the average farm is small.’”
— Human Scale Revisited, Kirkpatrick Sale
It turns out that smaller farms not only yield more food and higher value food per acre they also enrich the local area, provide basis for a higher standard of living and create more jobs and services. Kirkpatrick Sale:
Not at all surprisingly, smaller cities are more homogenous making enforcement of recycling rules easier. Apparently social cohesion and not diversity is what makes recycling possible. Kirkpatrick Sale quotes Oregon (one of the best recycling states in the U.S.):
Of course, how medieval Japan thrived as a country with absolutely zero waste and in a 100% sustainable manner on renewable resources is a story told in the remarkable “Just Enough” by Azby Brown, which I would turn into a thread if I thought anyone would actually believe me.
Back to recycling and Kirkpatrick Sale: the perfect sized city for recycling seems to be about 5000 people, like a medieval walled town also self sufficient in food and fertilizers. Waste and garbage could be turned into a profitable cottage industry:
Kirkpatrick Sale on transportation and the American traffic system, which is about as far from the human scale as is possible to imagine today. A subject I often talk about myself.
Disregarding the illogical nonsense in the beginning here (simple subway?!), one of Kirkpatrick Sale’s solutions is to design cities according to the “carnival principle.” I’d go further and say that Disneyland is the only reasonable city built since the Enlightenment.
Kirkpatrick Sale on the human scale in transport: no more efficient means have yet to be invented than the bicycle. Here he fat shames the entire US nation in the bargain. I am still not going to approve of them in cities. They are great for rural locations though.
Kirkpatrick Sale quoting Ivan Illich on the four great human revolutions in transportation technology. The horse would still be the most charming one amongst them and the most sustainable.
Human scaled cities would be vastly more beneficial for our health compared to what we have now. Kirkpatrick Sale also reminds us that the day when antibiotics eventually stop working is the day all our modern cities will become unlivable.
In the department of stating the obvious Kirkpatrick Sale quoting Roger Barker on scale in Education finds that there exists “a negative relationship between institutional size and individual participation.” Smaller schools, more active students. Nice Prog shaming in final bit.
Smaller schools are cheaper and more efficient, more environmentally friendly than large schools. So why does government insist on huge schools? I marked the relevant sentence in Kirkpatrick Sale’s book here, it is all about control.
Kirkpatrick Sale on the human scale in economics (here the steady state economy theory) citing Herman Daly. Fun. The story feels Eastern European somehow.
“Mancur Olson, Jr., a professor of economics at the University of Maryland—a quite conventional, even conservative, professor of economics...” — Kirkpatrick Sale on Olson’s findings on the benefits of small organizations. Now apply this to cities, schools, even countries!
Smaller states are more stable, more prosperous. The oldest state in Europe for example, is tiny San Marino, independent and in its present form since 301 A.D.
Smaller, family owned companies too, are more stable. The oldest company in its original form today is the Keiunkan, a hotel in Japan operating since 705 A.D.
Combined, sovereignty and purpose, we find hundreds, thousands, of organizations that are regularly older than the states that form and dissolve around them: monastic communities. Like Kiev Pechersk Lavra in Ukraina, founded in 1025 A.D., a relative newcomer.
Even that most cherished Progressive accomplishment, democracy, seems to work only in very small communities. Above 4, less than 5k. The Vikings knew it when they elected their Kings, the Swiss know it and thus live in one of the more stable and prosperous countries of the world.
We praise Democracy as the highest of all civilizational progress yet it occurs nowhere in our lives: not in politics, not in our families, not in our economic life and certainly not in our workplaces. Kirkpatrick Sale quoting Louis Brandeis, Robert E. Wood and T.K. Quinn:
Kirkpatrick Sale on the role of ownership in Workplace Democracy. Capitalists will hate this, luckily they have the perfect tool to stop it: Multiculturalism. A heterogeneous society/workplace will be scorched and salted earth for any real community to take root.
Kirkpatrick Sale gives an example of a fully worked owned corporation, the Basque Mondragón corporation. The largest corporation in Basque Country. Founded by the young catholic José María Arizmendiarrieta. Obviously impossible in a multicultural society. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation
“Economic enterprises that are immediately rooted in a community covering a small area, that explicitly have the community’s interests at heart can rely on both the financial support and the popular enthusiasm of the citizens to a degree unparalleled elsewhere.”
—Kirkpatrick Sale
Kirkpatrick Sale on Worker Control. Us moderns might have problems understanding this line of thinking but a medieval guild would have had no problems seeing the obvious benefits.
In essence: successful sustainable businesses are rooted in homogenous communities. Capital and leadership are local and its benefits stay local. The Japanese know this, and value stability over profits, leading to long run economic prosperity and zero unemployment.
Kirkpatrick Sale gives an example of a coal mine in eastern Pennsylvania where workers were given autonomous power over their section in 1973-1975. The quotes are so happy they’re almost contagious. I have read a lot of historic worker lit.: happy miners are almost unheard of.
Kirkpatrick Sale on self sufficient, the human scale: inherently full of diversity, sustainable, complex. But also inherently homogenous. This is the exact opposite of what globalism and multiculturalism actually brings us: strife, isolation, destruction, simplification.
Kirkpatrick Sale echoing my motto: “Revere the Local, Abhore the Global.” The local is the sustainable is the self-sufficient. I realized Progressives and Capitalists will want to crucify us both for this opinion, heretics of the 21st centuries that we are!
“You could make it into a rule: in general, territories will be richer when small and self-sufficient than when large and dependent.” — Human Scale Revisited, Kirkpatrick Sale
Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989) goes full reactionary here in 1976.
You can believe in it all you want, but Democracy at this point is a technical impossiblity. Modernity is killing us all through the drip-drip of despair and apathy. Kirkpatrick Sale:
Kirkpatrick Sale notices that the decentralist tradition is strong in humanity. Whenever possible, the instinct of ordinary people is to opt to govern themselves. The state as we know it runs contrary to our nature. Here he quotes Hannah Arendt:
A large number of socially independent communities create far more cultural value than the single globalized supra-state we know today. Kirkpatrick Sale gives the example of ancient Greece (the name Greece itself being a modern simplification), quoting Rudolf Rocker:
Kirkpatrick Sale finds a delicious quote by Thoreau, on America and its people and governments.
Kirkpatrick Sale on the Apache concept of power, largely incomprehensible to Europeans. The “chief” of the tribe being the instrument of the tribe and not the other way around, as in the modern West. In a sense, what kingship and the Momarchy used to be for many European peoples.
The stateless Human Society is the norm. The current situation, with national or even global states, is a basically abhorrent result of modernity. Here Kirkpatrick Sale compares Athens with Autonomous Medieval Cities, stateless Ireland, self-governing Mennonites and the Swiss.
The claim about the entire Swiss State being stranded in a snowed in railway coach was just too delicious: I had to check it. Here’s a passage in Jonathan Steinberg’s “Why Switzerland?” Imagine this, but Berlin, Brussels or Stockholm! One doubts the rescue parties would hurry...
“It is probably among the classic New England towns of the eighteenth century that the best modern example of the essentially stateless society is to be found.” — Kirkpatrick Sale
on the decentralist tradition once common in the Occident.
“What has characterized all large national governments, particularly in the last hundred years, is their clear inability to provide economic stability, security, or employment, to secure people against the dangers of depression and inflation...”
— Kirkpatrick Sale
The bigger the state, the more fragile it is. As the state continues to destroy competing, local, communities and organizations, so does it make us as well as itself, ever more vulnerable. Here is Prof. Butler Shaffer:
Leopold Kohr has a good answer to the whiny retort one always hear when suggesting decentralization as a way to handle seemingly impossible problems of state, law, community, production, etc.
Here is Michael Taylor in 1987 citing Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) on how states systematically suppress or dismantle small societies, voluntary unions, free towns, guilds, mutual aid organizations, sacred organizations. The last non-governmental institution remaining: the family.
“There is not one public service that could not be better supplied at the local level, where the problem is understood best and quickest, the solutions are most accessible, the refinements and adjustments are easiest to make, the monitoring is most convenient.” — Kirkpatrick Sale
Leopold Kohr in 1963 introduced the concept of size commodities: "Adding not to the standard but to the cost of life... they depress the quality of our consumption while deceptively increasing its quantity. They impoverish us in the guise of adding to our riches.”
Size commodities, and the lack of them, explains poverty in affluent societies and affluence in poor societies: "Smaller societies can dispense with the costly consumption of size commodities... they can indulge in the luxury of consuming less.” — Leopold Kohr, 1963
Leopold Kohr notes that relative wealth depends on the ability of a society “to keep the cost of its social machinery down to proportions which permit the fruit of high productivity to be absorbed by the citizen..." Ergo: problems must be kept at a small, manageable, human scale.
Lepold Kohr on diminishing returns and the problems of scale using skyscrapers as an example. In this sense, we are living in society where the ruling class are all elevator engineers and we are all unemployed (or soon to be) elevator attendants.
An illustration: these children leaving home for school ca. 1900 in Japan, would be considered destitute by modern standards, but judging from what I can see in this photo alone, they are richer than almost everyone I know: large loving family, well kept beautiful healthy home...
The regulation of size is one the most important tasks of human societies, and the best way, according to Kirkpatrick Sale, to achieve this, is through the practice of division.
Kirkpatrick Sale on how one of the main selling points of the state is to uphold law and order. Sale doesn’t mention it for obvious reasons, but the larger the state the more diversity the more laws the more enforcement the higher costs the more state.... etc. etc.
On the relative peace and stability of the smaller countries and city states: Kirkpatrick Sale, making a special example of Switzerland and quoting Giovanni Battista Padavino (1560-1639), Venetian Ambassador.
Democracy in any sense of the world is only possible in the small community: “Democracy, in any active sense, begins and ends in communities small enough for their members to meet face to face.” — Lewis Mumford. And Leopold Kohr adds in the same sense:
“The English biologist J. B. S. Haldane, was once asked, in a group of theologians, what he could conclude about the nature of the Supreme Being out of his immense store of knowledge of the nature of the universe. The old man replied: ‘An inordinate fondness for beetles.’”
— Sale
“Thomas Schelling has warned against ‘a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable,’ thusly: ‘the contingency we have not considered looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be considered seriously.’”
— Sale
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