- “Truth consisteth of the right ordering of names…….” (Hobbes)
In his Observer column, Alan Watkins told the tale of Richard Crossman’s enthusiasm for policy making. For years in the 50s and 60s, Crossman it appears, devoted himself to making policy about pensions. In 1968, Crossman became the Minister directly responsible for pensions, and yet there was no scheme when he left office two years later. Watkins goes on to say that in 1970, Crossman was setting off again in his attempt to ‘make policy’ for the next Labour government. In this, Watkins remarks “ he demonstrated the true intellectual’s inability to learn from experience”. Crossman would it seems, share Hobbes’ view, as described by Stewart Clegg – “How can one establish order in social reality if one is unable to establish order in social theory?”
I was interested in these reflections because of the response of the Chief Officers of Probation to the Home Office’s statement of national objectives (SNOP). They welcomed the statement because they believed that clearer definitions about the relationship between the Probation Service and central government could only be of benefit to all. Furthermore, SNOP had been followed in a number of areas with a statement of local objectives (SLOPS), which have attempted to bring a theoretical clarity to the activities of the Service. Additionally, there is the hope that teams of probation officers will themselves define their objectives so that an ideal clarity of purpose is brought nearer.
This ‘clarity’ or ‘right ordering of names’ is a potent ideal in a Service grappling with uncertainty, complexity and confusion in the world around it. Hobbes embodies the ideal in the Leviathan, but it is my impression that the Probation Service embodies the ideal in a notion of leadership, largely marked by its absence in reality, and existence in theory. Bacon’s description of a retreat into giddiness is only one defence against disorder. Perhaps more common, and certainly one more subject to attack by Jesus, is the retreat into ‘law’, into rigid rule. In the context of SNOP, the ’law’ is represented by the definition of objectives which can provide the basis for judging ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, on either a mechanical basis, or at least on basis that will command such wide support as to evade the pain of conflict.