Ernst Friedrich Schumacher was an internationally influential thinker, who saw the world from a systems perspective. His work led him to develop a series of connected ideas in energy, work, technology, development, organisation and ownership, education, traditional wisdom and spirituality.
His exploration of a socially and environmentally just way of living is as relevant today as it was in 1973, when his seminal book Small is Beautiful was published.
We would recommend reading his books to get a true understanding of his work but here are some quotations to give you an idea of his thinking!
Small is Beautiful (1973)
“To talk about the future is only useful if it leads to action now.”
“How can we disarm greed and envy? Perhaps by being much less greedy and envious ourselves; perhaps by resisting the temptation of letting our luxuries become needs; and perhaps by even scrutinizing our needs to see if they cannot be simplified and reduced.”
“Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.”
“It is clear that the “rich” are in the process of stripping the world of its once-for-all endowment of relatively cheap and simple fuels. It is their continuing economic growth which produces ever more exorbitant demands, with the result that the world’s cheap and simple fuels could easily become dear and scarce long before the poor countries had acquired the wealth, education, industrial sophistication, and power of capital accumulation needed for the application of alternative fuels on any significant scale.”
“Our task – and the task of all education – is to understand the present world, the world in which we live and make our choices.”
“An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.”
“Everywhere people ask: ‘what can I actually do?’ The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, put our inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.”
A Guide for the Perplexed (1977)
“Can we rely on it that a ‘turning around’ will be accomplished by enough people quickly enough to save the modern world? This question is often asked, but whatever answer is given it will mislead. The answer ’Yes’ would lead to complacency; the answer ‘No’ to despair. It is desirable to leave these perplexities behind us and get down to work.”
“If we cannot achieve a real ‘meeting of minds’ with the people nearest to us in our daily lives, our existence becomes an agony and disaster.”
“There is no economic problem, in a sense, there has never been. But there is a moral problem and moral problems are not convergent, capable of being solved so that future generations can live without effort; no they are divergent problems which have to be understood and transcended.”
Good Work (1979)
“It is no longer possible to believe that any political or economic reform, or scientific advance, or technological progress could solve the life and death problems of industrial society. They lie too deep, in the heart and soul of every one of us. It is there that the main work or reform has to be done –secretly, unobtrusively.”
“It is the individual, personal example that counts. The greatest “doing” that is open to every one of us, now as always, is to foster and develop within oneself a genuine understanding of the situation which confronts us, and to build conviction, determination, and persuasiveness upon such understanding.”
“Nonviolence, in this context, refers to modes of production which respect ecological principles and strive to work with nature instead of attempting to force their way through natural systems, in the conviction that unintended damage and unforeseen side effects can always be undone by the further application of violence. All too often one problem is “solved” by creating several new ones. Poor societies cannot afford this kind of violence, and it may indeed be doubted whether the rich societies (or “sectors”) can afford it much longer.”