Chapter 12: Influences

Influences on Schumacher

Since Schumacher’s interests flow from his contacts with multiple other thinkers, an account of some of them seems to be in order.

Richard Henry Tawney (1880-1962)

According to Peter Etherden, Tawney was engaged in two intellectual undertakings, namely, the explanation of the origin of industrial civilization and the establishment of the principles for the evolution of industrial civilization (Etherden 2). These endeavors were ultimately published as Religion and the Rise of Capitalism and The Acquisitive Society (2).

In The Acquisitive Society Tawney’s concern was bringing moral judgments to bear on the problems of civilization (2). Tawney’s major ideas were that society should be organized for the performance of duties and that the nature and function of property required that property should be used; Tawney attacked divorcing ownership from use since a good deal of theft becomes property (2-3).

Tawney traced the combination of luxury and squalor and the class divisions of industrialized society to the operation of the institution of private property in land and capital (3). He contended that passive property and the limited liability of the joint stock company were the cancer eating away at the heart of the West (3). Tawney dealt with the effect of economic changes on religion; he wanted to change the world and challenge the social evils around him (4).

According to Tawney society "must so organize industry that the instrumental character of economic activity is emphasized by its subordination to the social purpose for which it is carried on (Tawney 184).

Leopold Kohr (1909-1994)

Leopold Kohr was Schumacher’s teacher and mentor (Etherden 3). It was he who created and interpreted the mantra “small is beautiful.” and helped Schumacher clarify his understanding of scale.  In his introduction to The Breakdown of Nations, Kohr claims that “there seems to be only one cause behind all forms of social misery: Bigness” (Kohr ix). His position is that "only within small units can man, in his small bulk, feel at home" (106). Kohr published The Breakdown of Nations in 1957 (1), and Schumacher published Small Is Beautiful in 1973. Kirkpatrick Sale notes that Schumacher called Kohr the teacher from whom he learned the most (Sale 2).

Kohr wondered if eventually the great powers could be eliminated (Kohr 188). He did not think they could endure as free, democratic unions (188). His question was how they could be eliminated (189) and his answer excluded both war and persuasion; however, he thought of a trick, a gift, as a real possibility (190).

The trick would involve the attractive offer to the great powers of proportional representation in bodies governing a federal union of which they would form a part (190). Members of the federal union would elect representatives from the regions and have only regional responsibilities and regional representation (191). Together the regions would constitute the United States of Europe (192).

For the great powers this would be a fundamental but internal change (192). Such an arrangement would transform centralized systems into decentralized federations and this would usher in the gradual dissolution of the Great Powers (192). Power would be given where it could do no harm (192). Remaining national powers would be given to a larger international authority (192-193). The plan would cause destruction whereby nothing that counts is destroyed (193). Each district would become a true sovereign member of a European federation; the district would be a nation (194). Kohr sees such a system as one in which small states would be freed (196) and a small state would be established without force or violence (196). Schumacher created this kind of bigness into smallness in his reconfiguration of the British Coal Board.

With respect to the coming of a better future world, Kohr is pessimistic; he writes that the problem of excessive size will probably never actually be solved (198-199). This leaves a challenge for Schumacher and his disciples to deal with the issue of decentralization.


Schumacher’s 1955 visit to Burma as economic adviser put him in touch with Buddhism (Wood 243). The result was an experience of peace and fulfillment that led him to see the necessity of religion and spiritual values (255). His enlightenment initiated a new path in life, and he gained confidence in the Christian mystics and a conviction about the unity of the great religions (255). Schumacher attended a four-year course of lectures on comparative religion by Edward Conze who was a Buddhist. (234).

Buddhism also taught him that the purpose of work, in addition to fulfilling the material demands of life, was also about the development of human potential and of one’s relationship with other people and with God (312). He decided that the Burmese people were happy because they have no wants and have time free for inner matters; they were not obsessed with outer things (312-313). It became clear that what Buddhists understand by “nothingness” could just as well be termed “abundance” or “Life” (238). Schumacher’s interest in Buddhism was for getting rid of his weaknesses (250). The goal of his visit became learning Buddhist meditation (250).

He saw a relationship between Buddhist economics, world energy consumption, and the future of industrial society (277). In this regard he used the latest statistics from the major fuel industries themselves about projected fuel consumption and the estimated reserves (277).

The ideals of the Burmese people were opposed to those of Western civilization (246). A Buddhist economics distinguished a desired middle way, sufficiency, from the undesirable extremes of misery and surfeit, as well as distinguishing renewable resources that can last from non-renewable resources that cannot last (248). Buddhist economics provided both a Statute of Limitation and a Statute of Liberation (248). Fritz thought deeply about the links between economics and war in the light of his concept of Buddhist and Gandhian economics (291).

To harmonize freedom and order Fritz recommended the principle of the Middle Axiom whose application required wisdom and understanding, the Buddhist Middle Way, the art of transmitting instructions without diminishing the freedom of those under command (310).

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Schumacher’s study of Marx awakened his interest in the plight of people who are underprivileged; his Marxist apprenticeship also led him to a passionate atheism (Wood 144). He noted what was useful in Marx and adopted it into his own system (142). Schumacher thought that much of Marx made sense; Marx had explained the political and social upheavals in terms of economic status and economic activity (113). Schumacher read Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky and declared that no serious student of world affairs could afford to disregard Marx (137) since a great deal of Marxism is true (138). Marx gave Schumacher a new perspective on poverty, plenty, oppression, and justice (113).

For Schumacher, economics is a mere means to an end, namely, the physical and spiritual well-being of people (138). He thought that it was possible to ensure a level of optimum consumption necessary for the physical and spiritual well-being of people (138). He decided that his interest would be in the poor and in the changing of their environment (the belly) and then fostering the spiritual revolution (morality) (138). As a socialist he was not in love with capitalism, and as an economist he intended to contribute to people in a practical way (139).

Schumacher saw Marx as a great thinker but did not accept everything Marx said without question (139); the Marxist system was brilliant and its truths were in the Christian tradition (264-265). His problem with Marx was one of combining freedom with planning (139-140). Marxism was materialistic, atheistic, violent and based on class hatred; the root evil of Marxism is hate (265). Schumacher blamed Marx, Freud and Einstein for modern man’s refusal to accept individual responsibility (262). Marx had blamed everything on the bourgeoisie (262).

John Ruskin 1819-1900)

In his review of Mark Lutz’s work on Economics for the Common Good, Ben Whalen notes that Lutz traces influences from Ruskin to Gandhi who inspired Schumacher (2). In Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics, edited by Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N.Townsend, Daly, in the essay "Introduction to Essays toward a Steady-State Economy," quotes Ruskin's position that "there is no wealth but life" (18). In the Introduction, Part11, "Ethics: The Ultimate End and Value Constraints," Daly and Townsend note that Ruskin was concerned with the goal of life (156).

Daly and Townsend also present an essay by Gerald Alonso Smith entitled "The Purpose of Wealth: A Historical Perspective" on Ruskin's contention that consumption is not an end but a means that should befit man in pursuit of his final end (185); Ruskin found the economy producing much quantity and little quality and the brutalization of many people (191).

Ruskin viewed property as what befits a person, such things as a man can use (92-193). Moderate wealth is the goal (193); the purpose of industry is the production of what is necessary, useful and beautiful; it is to bring life to the body or spirit (200).

According to Lutz, Ruskin, Gandhi and Schumacher tried to move economic thought away from the dehumanized, mathematical and amoral to a social or human economics which places human and environmental welfare at the center of the discipline (1).

Gandhi embraced an economic system that provided necessities and fostered human dignity, nonviolence and creative labor (3). Gandhi’s ideal would embrace local economies free from dependence on the machine and factory system of the West (3). Schumacher, like Gandhi, called for appropriate technology, village economics and an ethical economics that restored people to their rightful position as the whole reason for the economic system (3).

Gandhi (1869-1948)

Gandhi and R.H. Tawney had more influence on Schumacher than any other writer on economic thinking (Wood 294). Schumacher always said he was basically a pupil of Gandhi’s (McRobie 4). He greatly admired Gandhi and carefully studied his writings and speeches, especially his very different view of economics (Wood 243). Gandhi’s position was based on a view of the meaning and purpose of life; it was an economics compatible with spirituality (247).

Gandhi led Schumacher to a careful examination of the phenomenon of development (243). Schumacher, McRobie and some friends studied and applied the notion of intermediate technology to the problems of poor people (McRobie 4). As a result there are Intermediate Technology Development Groups all over the world, specifically in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, the South Pacific and Indonesia (5). Today there are a number of “efficient, small-scale, and low-cost technologies available in agriculture, water supply, building materials, energy, manufacturing and processing” (5). At present there is also a need for and an interest in intermediate technology in the affluent countries (7) due to what Schumacher called the West’s “collision course with human nature, the environment and the world’s stock of natural resources” (8). Gandhi and Schumacher are pioneers of the group who do not like the devastating effects of modern technology on people and the planet (8).

Schumacher was very taken with Gandhi’s use of the concepts of swadeshi (doing without what you cannot get in India), kaddar (spinning with your own hands and wearing only homespun garments) and the encouragement of local, short-distance transportation (Wood 247). He claimed to have explained to Indians the real meaning of these ideas and their practical application as well as their need for self-help (316-317).

The Catholic Church

Schumacher read widely, and from his readings he confronted the thinking of people like Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Joseph Pieper, the early Church Fathers, Jacques Maritain and Friedjof Schuon (Wood 336). It seems he was well acquainted with Catholic writers but knew little about worship in the church (336). In 1971 he took what was for him a revolutionary step into the Catholic Church (350).

Schumacher firmly believed in a Creator God and God’s communication with human persons (350). He thought that the same Spirit communicates with people in the sacred books of the world religions and that one has to stretch oneself to understand these scriptures (350). He spent many years studying the sacred books (350). He was convinced that they were part of the great education that enabled people to sift the phony questions from the real questions and thereby to enjoy happiness (350).

Schumacher’s Influence

Schumacher has been a great influence both on individuals and on groups of people. Although he is no longer with us, his ideas of value and many world improvement plans remain as lifeboats for survival. The following indicate something of the breadth of his influence.

The E. F. Schumacher Society

E. F. Schumacher societies have been established in the United States and in England. The E.F. Schumacher Society in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, founded in 1980 by Robert Swann builds on the tradition of decentralism and follows Schumacher’s values of human-scale communities and respect for the natural environment (Schumacher Society USA 1). The society sponsors an annual E.F. Schumacher lecture as well as seminars and conferences; the Schumacher office and library contain his books, his book reviews, published articles and many of his speeches (Schumacher Society: about Us 1-2).

The Arche

In Community and Growth Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community, remarks that ”Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful gave us a lot to think about" (309-310). He points to Schumacher’s values of a simple lifestyle, of the human person’s respect for nature, of people as a part of nature, of the importance of loving each other in community and of celebrating while working for a better world and a fellowship of peace. He is concerned for the quality of a person’s life and agrees with Schumacher that we do not need a lot of money to be happy.

George McRobie

George McRobie affirms that Small Is Beautiful reveals what people already know and gives them hope that they can do something about it (2). It offers a technology that can adapt itself to the conditions of any country or community (3).

William Schweke

William Schweke characterizes Schumacher as a major pioneer of sustainable development which is “a new stage in the evolution of environmentalism; as the movement embraced a broader view of its mission, it sought a future for the earth that was more just, technologically progressive in the broadest sense and more environmentally protective and progressive (CFED 2). He credits Schumacher with formulating early versions of the precautionary principle and promoting a value-based economics (2).

Schweke notes Schumacher’s large organizational legacy: the Intermediate Technology Group working at the grassroots level in developing countries, exploring more appropriate organizational and physical technologies, the two E.F. Schumacher Societies sponsoring annual lectures by notable thinkers and activists, a small environmental studies college established in his name in southern England, The New Economics Foundation, and also the default position on economic policy that is most widely held by anti-globalization activists which is a plausible reading and outcome of Schumacher’s work (2).

Schweke describes Schumacher as a fierce critic of conventional, “copy-the-West” approaches to economic development and a great admirer of Gandhi’s ideas about responsible and appropriate development.

In the spirit of Schumacher, Schweke is convinced that unless we shift gears and move into a new direction away from a world view that is bringing about a potential environmental catastrophe, fostering a soul-destroying materialism and fomenting widespread feelings of anomie, all that we hold dear could be lost (2).

The UK Department of the Environment has named Schumacher the second most important environmentalist, right after Rachel Carson. In 1995, The London Times Literary Supplement named Schumacher’s bestselling work, Small is Beautiful, one of the 100 most influential books published since World War II.

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