Professor remains philosophical as burglars return: David Nicholson-Lord meets a leading social philosopher who has become the target of criminals up to a dozen times

AT ROUGHLY the same time Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, was telling the Conservative Party conference of his plans to incarcerate more criminals, Professor Leopold Kohr was burgled. For the professor this was nothing new, but the coincidence was instructive.

Mr Howard spoke little, and appeared to care less, about the causes of crime. Professor Kohr thinks he knows what they are. The professor, 84, who was once described in the New York Times as a 'prophet of our time', is experiencing his own private crime wave. Over the last year, he estimates his house near Gloucester has been subject to at least a dozen burglaries or break-in attempts.

In the decade he has lived there, he says he has been burgled three or four times a year. The windows of his home are pocked with the marks of jemmy and chisel. No culprit, however, has yet been brought to book. Police tell him they know who is responsible for some of the crimes, but lack evidence. Professor Kohr has responded by penning satirical lyrics on alleged police deficiencies and proposing imaginative new solutions to criminality.

In a series of raids last Christmas and New Year, for example, the burglars' haul included pounds 500 in cash he had withdrawn for presents, 50 hearing aid batteries and a supply of tablets for his heart condition. On one occasion a man burst in through the front door while the professor was asleep on the sofa. On another, a mound of human excrement was left on the carpet.

Professor Kohr, who was born in Oberndorf, Austria, where Silent Night was composed, kept up his spirits by rewriting the carol, concluding with the lines: 'The only one sleeping in heavenly peace/Is the superintendent of Gloucester police.'

He has also suggested putting offenders in the stocks for a week to remove the cloak of anonymity that he believes protects them from the social consequences of their actions. So taken with this idea was the local paper, the Gloucester Citizen, that it published a cartoon showing the perpetrators being pelted. 'Tomatoes and eggs don't bother them,' the caption read, 'but his four-hour lecture on Kierkegaard's critiques on existentialism has them begging for mercy.'

In fact, Professor Kohr's reputation rests on The Breakdown of Nations, a work of political philosophy published in 1957 which provided the inspiration for E F Schumacher's Small is Beautiful - Schumacher described Kohr as 'a teacher from whom I have learnt more than from anyone else' - and led to the professor's inclusion in a Sunday Times guide to the Makers of the 20th Century. Crime, according to Kohr, is the result of bigness: modern mass society creates the anonymity in which it flourishes. Smaller communities are less criminal because they are more 'translucent'.

In pursuit of translucency, Professor Kohr stuck a piece of card with the name of his alleged persecutor in the front window of his house. The response was ferocious. Manning Farrell, a friend who looks after the professor, said: 'Everything was turned upside down, everything was emptied and thrown about. It was as though devils had gone through the house. The amount of energy and anger put into it was frightening.'

Nothing appeared to have been taken. According to Mrs Farrell, the motive was probably revenge.

The main casualty, however, was the professor's complex personal filing system which he uses to write his books. With his latest book only one-fifth completed, his files are in chaos. Given his fragile health and failing eyesight, he says the book will now never be written.

He said yesterday: 'I think my career as a writer is finished. To discern anything in this mess is impossible. What has happened is a kind of literary murder.

'The reason they target me is because I am old and deaf and I cannot see any more. I do not blame them particularly . . . In my writings I have always pointed out that people behave only if they cannot misbehave.'

Professor Kohr believes the culprit comes from a nearby council housing estate - a place, he says, without any centre or sense of identity and where male youth unemployment is widespread. 'There is no community here. We need translucent communities where everyone knows each other, where everyone knows the police, where thieves can be confronted. These crimes were committed in the darkness of mass society.'

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
News
videoJapanese prepare for the afterlife by testing out coffins
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford attends Blade Runner at Target Presents AFI's Night at the Movies at ArcLight Cinemas on 24 April, 2013 in Hollywood, California
film... but Ridley Scott won't direct
Sport
Hughes is hit by a bouncer from Sean Abbott
cricketStephen Brenkley on batsman's tragic flaw that led to critical injury
Sport
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat
football

News
people

Actress isn't a fan of Ed Miliband

News
The Bounceway, designed by Architecture for Humanity
newsLondon to add 'The Bounceway' to commuting options
Life and Style
Stefan Gates with some mince flies
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rooney Mara plays a white Tiger Lily in forthcoming film Pan
filmFirst look at Rooney Mara in Pan
Life and Style
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
tech
Life and Style
health

Do you qualify – and how do you get it?

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Supervisor / Housewares / Furniture

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Langley James : IT Support; Helpdesk, VMware; Manchester, £18k

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Langley James : IT Support; Helpdesk, VMware; Manch...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital