Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hume, Leonard John (Len) (1926–1993)

by David Adams

This article was published online in 2017

Leonard John Hume (1926–1993), public servant, political scientist and university teacher, was born on 2 April 1926 at Arncliffe, Sydney, elder son of Sydney-born parents Frederick Roy Hume, bank clerk (later bank manager), and his wife Alice Clare, née Stapleton. Len was educated to Leaving certificate level at Murrumburrah Intermediate High School before entering the University of Sydney (BEc, 1947; MEc, 1950), where he wrote a thesis titled ‘The Labor Movement in New South Wales and Victoria, 1830–1860.’ While there he was a teaching fellow in economics (1947–49).

In 1950 he joined the Prime Minister’s Department, Canberra, as a research officer. At the London School of Economics and Political Science (PhD, 1954), he wrote a doctoral thesis, ‘The Reconstruction Committee and the Ministry of Reconstruction During the First World War.’ He married English-born Angela Marguerite Burden, a speech therapist, in 1955. Returning to the Prime Minister’s Department, in 1958 he was promoted to senior economist at the Bureau of Agricultural Economics.

Appointed senior lecturer in political science at the Australian National University (ANU) in 1961, in 1965 Hume was promoted to reader. He was acting head of the political science department (1970, 1974) before becoming head in 1987, a position he likened to that of chief clerk. He dissented about university life. He felt the ANU had ‘become a vast and efficient machine for the generation of distractions and interruptions in the form of meetings, circulars and questionnaires’ (NLA MS 9029). As this suggests his wit was usually dry and understated but he could also surrender to shoulder-shaking mirth, particularly when reflecting on the comedy of university life. A scholar of distinction, he published widely in the fields of Australian history, public administration, and political ideas. His book Bentham and Bureaucracy (1981) has been called `the classic study of Bentham’s political thought’ (Maley 2003, 2). He retired from the ANU in 1988.

In retirement Hume wrote an essay titled ‘Another Look at the Cultural Cringe.’ Discussing literature, the performing arts, universities, and the economy, and offering tart views about the quality of the arguments and evidence advanced in support of the various theses, he argued that the notion of a national cultural cringe—a sense of inferiority to foreign things—was the creation of ‘self-applauding moderns’ (Hume 1991, 31) evangelistically denouncing the cringing of others. Although largely ignored, it was a devastating critique, ‘revealing a tapestry of ignorance, selective quotation, and misreading of documents’ (Champion 2003, vi).

At the time of his death Hume was editing two volumes of Bentham’s Constitutional Code for the Bentham Project based at University College, London. He was a scrupulous scholar who reasoned carefully and did not make careless generalisations. A man of modesty and restraint, he had no desire for public renown; above all he valued independent judgment. Away from his desk, the library, and the classroom, Hume was as keenly interested in sport as he was in matters of the mind. He was president of the ANU Rugby Club, perhaps one of the few teetotallers to occupy such a position. He served as manager of the ANU fifth grade team and once, in his forties, turned out for the team when it was a player short. On 6 March 1993 he was killed in a traffic accident at Baranduda in Victoria. Survived by his wife, their two daughters, and two sons, he was cremated and his ashes scattered on the university’s North Oval where he is commemorated by a plaque near a grove of Eucalyptus benthamii.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Champion, Rafe. Foreword to L. J. Hume.  ‘Another Look at the Cultural Cringe.’  the Revivalist (blog), Winter 2003.  Accessed 17 April 2012.  http://www.the-rathouse.com/Another_look_at_the_Cultural_Cringe.htm. Copy held on ADB file
  • Duffy, Michael. ‘Non-Fiction.’ Independent Monthly (December 1993–January 1994): 96-97
  • Hume, Angela. Personal communication
  • Hume, Leonard J.  ‘Another Look at the Cultural Cringe.’ Political Theory Newsletter 3 (1991): 1-36
  •  Maley, William. ‘Leonard John Hume, 1926-1993.’  the Revivalist (blog), Winter 2003. Accessed 17 April 2012.  http://www.the-rathouse.com/Another_look_at_the_Cultural_Cringe.htm. Copy held on ADB file
  • National Library of Australia. MS 9029 and MS Acc GB. Papers of L. J. Hume
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject

Additional Resources

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Citation details

David Adams, 'Hume, Leonard John (Len) (1926–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hume-leonard-john-len-1379/text33985, published online 2017, accessed online 16 July 2019.

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