The papers agree that there’s a prisons crisis. This is just
the latest in a long series. In the last few years we’ve had an armed forces
crisis, a school exams crisis, a BSE crisis and more NHS crises than you can
shake a stick at, to name but a few.
This raises the question. My dictionary defines a crisis as a “time of extreme danger.” So why does mismanagement, which seems ubiquitous, so often lead to extreme danger?
It’s not just journalistic hyperbole. The disease was identified by Michael Oakeshott in his essay, Rationalism in Politics.
The rationalist, he said, believes in the “politics of perfection” – that all the public’s needs can be filled by the application of reason:
That anything should be allowed to stand between a society and the satisfaction of the felt needs of each moment in its history must appear to the Rationalist a piece of mysticism and nonsense. And his politics are, in fact, the rational solution of those practical conundrums which the recognition of the sovereignty of the felt need perpetually creates in the life of a society. Thus, political life is resolved into a succession of crises, each to be surmounted by the application of reason.
The “crisis” in our prison, then, isn’t that there aren’t enough
prison places. This fact is mere routine mismanagement.
Instead, it’s that the rationalists’ claims to fill all our needs are shown to be fictions. The true crisis, then, is that our rulers’ claim to legitimacy – their pretence to competence – is undermined.