A YEAR or two ago I took part in an Oxford Union debate on a motion that "In the opinion of this House, small is beautiful."
It was the farewell debate for a union president who was somewhat diminutive in stature and I realised that few words were meant to be spoken in earnest. I therefore confided myself mostly to telling the same sort of jokes I had told as an officer of the union myself many years before.
One visiting speaker, however, decided to take the motion very seriously without, unfortunately. getting much enough, he made no mention of the most important use made in recent years of the expression "Small is Beautiful," namely that employed by E F Shumacher in his classic book of that name.
On Monday of this week the memory of that great man was commemorated by the Order of Christian Unity in the giving out of its tenth annual Valiant for Truth Media Award.
For this is the tenth anniversary of the publication of Small is Beautiful, and the award was made to the widow of Dr Schumacher who, most sadly, died in 1977 at the age of 66.
The Order has shown great imagination and enterprise in the choice of recipients of this now well established and coveted award. They include Barbara Ward Jackson, Ross McWhirter, Sheila Cassidy and Conor Cruise O'Brien.
Last year's award went to Alister Sparks, the South African journalist so fearlessly outspoken on the subject of apartheid. In presenting him with the award, Lady Soames singled out courage as the great virtue needed when espousing an unpopular and minority viewpoint. In this regard she gave the example of two men who were "of one mind" on the subject of courage and truth: her father. Sir Winston Churchill and John Bunyan.
The latter was, of course, the creator, in Pilgrims Progress. of the original "Mr Valiant-forTruth," for whom the trumpets sounded when he had finally and triumphantly passed to the other side.
As a latter day Mr Valiantfor-Truth, Dr Schumacher made of his life both a spiritual pilgrimage and a search for the humanising of modern technology.
Small is Beautiful was a "study of economics as if people mattered." He wanted to bring technology down to its right size for the individual, often local and limited, needs of people in out of the way places, particularly the Third World, for whom modern "progress" was largely meaningless.
Never an opponent of large organisations as such, he worked for internal reform, smaller working groups within a big enterprise, and management which took workers into its confidence.
He built an entire philosophy on these and similar basic notions and was sensationally succesful in influencing the times in which he lived.
His spiritual pilgrimage took him to Catholicism by way of Buddhism and thus gave great depth and added dimension to his view of the morality, as opposed to the mere viability, of economic and social remedies.
He was the first to warn of the
energy crisis which was so soont to become a reality for which other more famous men were ill prepared. He was a prophet of our times.