Edmund Burke to Niall Ferguson: You know nothing of my work. You mean my whole theory is wrong. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.

by Corey Robin on May 4, 2013

A minor footnote to the controversy over Niall Ferguson’s homophobic remarks about John Maynard Keynes. Ferguson claimed that the key to Keynes’s economic philosophy is a selfishness and short-termism rooted in the fact that Keynes was gay and had no children. No kids=no future=big deficits.

What is supposed to have prompted Ferguson to these meditations was a question comparing Keynes to Edmund Burke. According to the main report, “Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes’ famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead.” As Ferguson explained in the apology he subsequently issued, “The point I had made in my presentation was that in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions.”

You’d think, for Ferguson’s claim to work, Edmund Burke would have sired a boatload of kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In actual fact, he had one child, which, if my math is right, is only one more than Keynes had.  Not exactly the stuff of which allegedly grand differences of economic philosophy (self-interest versus the social good) are made. And that one child—Edmund’s son Richard—never married and died in 1794, three years before Burke died. In other words, Burke left no one behind.

Maybe that’s why Burke’s economic philosophy put such stress on the vile self-interested short-termism Ferguson is supposed to have detected in the childless gay Keynes. As he wrote after his son died:

There must be some impulse besides public spirit, to put private interest into motion along with it. Monied men ought to be allowed to set a value on their money; if they did not, there would be no monied men. This desire of accumulation is a principle without which the means of their service to the State could not exist. The love of lucre, though sometimes carried to a ridiculous, sometimes to a vicious excess, is the grand cause of prosperity to all States. In this natural, this reasonable, this powerful, this prolific principle, it is for the satirist to expose the ridiculous; it is for the moralist to censure the vicious; it is for the sympathetick heart to reprobate the hard and cruel; it is for the Judge to animadvert on the fraud, the extortion, and the oppression: but it is for the Statesman to employ it as he finds it; with all it’s concomitant excellencies, with all it’s imperfections on it’s head. It is his part, in this case, as it is in all other cases, where he is to make use of the general energies of nature, to take them as he finds them.

{ 91 comments }

1

Sandwichman 05.04.13 at 10:50 pm

It looks like Niall’s little publicity stunt was a success. Now if only I could get some attention for my views by making stupid remarks.

2

P O'Neill 05.04.13 at 10:54 pm

Also noteworthy about that Burke quote is that it is more sanguine about the accumulation of public debt than Fergie has been.

3

Niall McAuley 05.04.13 at 11:15 pm

The love of lucre, though sometimes carried to a ridiculous, sometimes to a vicious excess, is the grand cause of prosperity to all States.

No, no no no no!

Anyone convicted of “love of lucre” should be put up against a wall and shot. No normal member of society loves lucre. We’re talking about psychopaths.

Please, somebody name the last real innovator, the last man who genuinely improved humanity’s lot, who did it for the cash.

I ask so that we can shoot you too, and stamp out this idiotic myth.

4

Niall McAuley 05.04.13 at 11:36 pm

I should probably add that Mr. Ferguson’s first name infuriates me. But surely his name rhymes with “trial”, and the wire brush and Domestos will be enough to keep my hands clean…

5

Ronan(rf) 05.04.13 at 11:46 pm

I think it’s an interesting argument if he made it in a coherent way..which I’m sure he didnt..and if he isnt presenting a caricature of Keynes politics..which I’m sure he is

6

Jeremy 05.05.13 at 12:11 am

He probably managed to be less of a complete crank than Hans-Hermann Hoppe:

In March of 2004, during a 75-minute lecture in my Money and Banking class on time preference, interest, and capital, I presented numerous examples designed to illustrate the concept of time preference (or in the terminology of the sociologist Edward Banfield of “present- and future-orientation”). As one brief example, I referred to homosexuals as a group which, because they typically do not have children, tend to have a higher degree of time preference and are more present-oriented. I also noted–as have many other scholars–that J.M Keynes, whose economic theories were the subject of some upcoming lectures, had been a homosexual and that this might be useful to know when considering his short-run economic policy recommendation and his famous dictum “in the long run we are all dead.”

7

bexley 05.05.13 at 12:14 am

I think it’s an interesting argument if he made it in a coherent way

The Doughy Pantload has a National Review column up is telling people to lay off Ferguson. Presumably because NF was making a very serious thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care.

8

Ronan(rf) 05.05.13 at 12:24 am

I think we have become enthralled by nonsense. And this coming from someone who spent the evening watching Chevy Chase films

9

Substance McGravitas 05.05.13 at 12:24 am

Second link needs fixing.

10

bad Jim 05.05.13 at 12:48 am

A comment at Brad DeLong’s place had a quote from Keynes which almost echoes Burke:

The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease … But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still.

11

Tom 05.05.13 at 12:48 am

In actual fact, he had one child, which, if my math is right, is only one more than Keynes had.

Why bother with the math and thereby join the absurdity? The difference between one child and none is very significant for some, and not for others, and in different ways not necessarily relating to the content of any grand economic theory they may devise.

12

Katie Roiphe 05.05.13 at 1:12 am

Whew! Thanks, Niall!

13

pretendous 05.05.13 at 1:25 am

In the mathematics of ratios, one is infinitely more than none.

14

Josh G. 05.05.13 at 1:36 am

This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen homophobic attacks on the legacy of Keynes (and it’s not even the first time Ferguson has done it).

Sally Marks, a World War I and Treaty of Versailles apologist, claimed that Keynes’ famous writings against the Treaty were “shaped by his passion for Carl Melchior, the German financier and reparations expert whom he met during negotiations at Spa shortly after the armistice.” I believe this same claim was later repeated by Ferguson as well.

15

David Kornreichs 05.05.13 at 1:45 am

Keynes wrote the line “in the long run we are all dead” as a fancy way of saying the only 100% certainty we have is that we all will eventually die. He was arguing against an over reliance on statistical probabilities and an overly convoluted search to determine the maximum one. He was surely not advocating a selfish hedonistic worldview. How wingnuts can conceivably lay this charge against the man who is one of the fathers of social INSURANCE (hint hint by its nature a long term proposition) boggles the mind.

16

philofra 05.05.13 at 1:48 am

Perhaps the same can be said about Adam Smith’s economic philosophy, that it was fashioned not by observation and reality but by the fact that he was eccentric and childless, like Keynes.

17

philofra 05.05.13 at 1:54 am

It is astonishing what a crank Niall Ferguson has become.

18

Ronan(rf) 05.05.13 at 2:04 am

Niall Ferguson was never not a crank.. he was predicting war with Iran in 2006 calling Ahmadinejad, literally, the new Hitler

“So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country’s treaty obligations and armed for war. Having first tried appeasement, offering the Iranians economic incentives to desist, the West appealed to international agencies – the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council. Thanks to China’s veto, however, the UN produced nothing but empty resolutions and ineffectual sanctions, like the exclusion of Iran from the 2006 World Cup finals”

It’s just now that he’s attacked a member of the British upper class people start reconsidering whether this racists idiot might be a little off

19

Ronan(rf) 05.05.13 at 2:05 am

It’s just now that he’s attacked a member of the British upper class people start *wondering* whether this racists idiot might be a little off

20

Jason Weidner 05.05.13 at 2:11 am

I think what has been missed in the uproar over Ferguson’s comments is the way in which the anti-fiscal stimulus discourse works. It makes an analogy between the government and a household, and warns that excessive debt will be a burden for future generations. So those who promote government spending are at best careless, and at worst cynically passing off a heavy burden to the taxpayers of tomorrow. The Keynes quote, “In the long run we are all dead,” is tailor-made for this claim. Never mind that, as pointed out in the post, this is not what Keynes meant. And never mind that government debt is not like household debt. For many people, the discourse makes sense. Add to that the massive rise of individual debt as a response to flat wages and now high unemployment, plus the moral economy of debt highlighted by Graeber and others, and, sadly, I fear that the anti-fiscal stimulus, pro-austerity discourse remains strong.

21

Dr. Hilarius 05.05.13 at 2:11 am

The idea that homosexuals don’t have children is baffling. Every other pregnant woman I know is a lesbian. Lots of gay men with children during and outside of marriage. One gay couple of my acquaintance adopted twins from Cambodia. Mr. Ferguson needs to get out more.

22

Jason Weidner 05.05.13 at 2:25 am

From Robert Skidelsky’s one volume biography of John Maynard Keynes, pages 403-4:

23

Jason Weidner 05.05.13 at 2:26 am

Hmmm…some day I’ll figure out HTML tags. Here’s the quote, taken from http://economistadentata.tumblr.com/post/49583683561/keynes-lopokova-and-the-little-bun

“It was Keynes’ links with the theatre that brought Cambridge into Lydia’s orbit. Lydia was thirty-five in 1927. She had steered clear of any further ballet engagements in order to have a child. The letters she and Maynard exchanged give only vague hints of what happened. There is some suggestion that she miscarried in May 1927, Keynes assuring her that ‘we shall have in the end what we so much long for’….Then apparently she became pregnant again. On Monday 10th October 1927, Keynes wrote: ‘Dearest Lydochka, Well, I have had the telegram – the sad deed is done and my dear little bun has had its throat cut. No more to be said until I see it [you?], except a tender touch where the sweet bun was.’”

24

Helen R. 05.05.13 at 2:48 am

That long blockquote from Letters on a Regicide Peace has nothing to do with fathers and sons, or short- versus long-term thinking, so I cannot tell what point you intended to make with it. All it proves is that Burke did not think statesmen could eradicate ambition but did think they could make it serve useful ends (short- and long-term both, presumably), provided that satirists, moralists, and judges were around to check its excesses. A man’s politics would have to be eccentric indeed to find any part of that argument incriminating.

When Burke did write about his son, he was explicit about how painful and unnatural it was that Richard predeceased him:

Had it pleased God to continue to me the hopes of succession, I should have been, according to my mediocrity and the mediocrity of the age I live in, a sort of founder of a family: I should have left a son . . . But a Disposer whose power we are little able to resist, and whose wisdom it behoves us not at all to dispute, has ordained it in another manner, and (whatever my querulous weakness might suggest) a far better. The storm has gone over me; and I lie like one of those old oaks which the late hurricanes has scattered about me. I am stripped of all my honours; I am torn up by the roots, and lie prostrate on the earth! . . .

I live in an inverted order. They who ought to have succeeded me are gone before me. They who should have been to me as posterity are in the place of ancestors. I owe to the dearest relation (which ever must subsist in memory) that act of piety which he would have performed to me: I owe it to him to show that he was not descended, as the Duke of Bedford would have it, from an unworthy parent.

The fact that Burke “left no one behind,” as you say, was to him a violation of the natural order of things. Which means that he had a deep sense of what is the natural order of things: to live with posterity in mind.

25

Rich Puchalsky 05.05.13 at 3:19 am

“And that one child—Edmund’s son Richard—never married and died in 1794, three years before Burke died. In other words, Burke left no one behind.

Maybe that’s why Burke’s economic philosophy put such stress on the vile self-interested short-termism Ferguson is supposed to have detected “

This post is too cute. It’s really not a good thing to do this in order to show up how stupid Ferguson was for doing it. Anyone who can think already knows how stupid Ferguson is from his initial remarks. Needless to say, Burke didn’t write what he wrote, vile or not, because his son had died and he was now free to be selfish, and the whole idea, parody of Ferguson as it is, is still one that would have been better not written.

26

Lee A. Arnold 05.05.13 at 3:49 am

What prompted Ferguson can be seen in a half-dozen YouTubes of him holding forth at various conferences and TV shows. He always slips into indignant repugnance of any thought or suggestion of government solutions. Because it will end Western civilization! Add this moral view to his intellectual failure to understand the reasoning of the Keynesian paradigm, as well as the reason for the paradigm’s occasional necessity in economic matters. He has never bothered to show that he can explain Keynesianism as well as any Keynesian: the sort of demonstration which is the sine qua non of intellectual honesty. Once you combine the moral simpletonianism with the intellectual failure, you are not in unusual territory, you have arrived at the foundation of the political split in the Atlantic economies.

27

Corey Robin 05.05.13 at 3:51 am

P O’Neill at 2: Oh, he was very much not into austerity at all. In his Letter to a Noble Lord, from which Helen R. quotes above, he had this to say: “I ever held a scanty and penurious justice to partake of the nature of a wrong. I held it to be, in its consequences, the worst economy in the world. In saving money, I soon can count up all the good I do; but when, by a cold penury, I blast the abilities of a nation, and stunt the growth of its active energies, the ill I may do is beyond all calculation.” “Mere parsimony is not economy. It is separable in theory from it; and in fact it may, or it may not, be a part of economy, according to circumstances. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy. If parsimony were to be considered as one of the kinds of that virtue, there is however another and a higher economy. Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving, but in selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment. Mere instinct, and that not an instinct of the noblest kind, may produce this false economy in perfection. The other economy has larger views.”

Substance at 9: Link fixed! Thanks for pointing it out.

28

the anon 05.05.13 at 4:05 am

@ 14 Sally Marks is one of the most respected historians of the postwar settlement. Your baseless slander has no place in this academic forum. Provide evidence that her argument about reparations has fallen out of favor or shut up and pick up a history book (you’ll find that her approach has been endorsed by Stephen Schuker, Marc Trachtenberg, Robert Boyce, and many other great historians working on this topic).

29

js. 05.05.13 at 4:28 am

I’m inclined to half-agree with Rich on this (25). The post to me reads like a reductio, and structurally it works. Except that what Ferguson said is so incredibly dumb that it functions like a reductio all by itself. At which point I’m just a bit confused about the relevance of what Burke did or did not say “after”* his son’s death. I get the analogy; it still seems to just distract from the utter ridiculousness of Ferguson’s comments.

*That “after” in the last sentence: I imagine it’s deliberate; it’s also somewhat unfortunate. If you’re not trying to hint at a causal interpretation, you might consider flagging this more explicitly?

30

Steve J. 05.05.13 at 5:15 am

SCHUMPETER, CAPITALISM, FATS AND FOCUS ON THE FAMILY
You may recall that Fats Limbaugh attacked Mike Huckabee for not being a real conservative because the Huckster wasn’t a devotee of the Free Market Fairy. At the time I thought this signaled an irreparable breajk between the Jeebus Fundies and the Free Market Fundies but I was wrong (e.g., Michele Bachmann). That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a rift between these religious sects and Joseph Schumpeter, one of the 20th Century Apostles of the Free Market Fairy, admitted as much in his Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy,. first published in 1942. You can get an image PDF here and convert it to searchable text if you have Adobe Acrobat.

On pages 157-58 Schumpter notes that the calculations of Homo Economicus lead to the conclusion that having children simply doesn’t pay:

Still more important however is another “internal cause,” viz. the disintegration of the bourgeois family. … To men and women in modern capitalist societies, family life and parenthood mean less than they meant before and hence are less powerful molders of behavior;

As soon as men and women learn the utilitarian lesson and refuse to take for granted the traditional arrangements that their social environment makes for them, as soon as they acquire the habit of weighing the individual advantages and disadvantages of any prospective course of action–or, as we might also put it, as soon as they introduce into their private life a sort of inarticulate system of cost accounting -they cannot fail to become aware of the heavy personal sacrifices that family ties and especially parenthood entail under modern conditions and of the fact that at the same time, excepting the cases of farmers and peasants, children cease to be economic assets. These sacrifices do not consist only of the items that come within the reach of the measuring rod of money but comprise in addition an indefinite amount of loss of comfort, of freedom from care, and opportunity to enjoy alternatives of increasing attractiveness and variety-alternatives to be compared with joys of parenthood that are being subjected to a critical analysis of increasing severity.

Posted by Steve J. at 5:53 PM

31

Nicholas Whyte 05.05.13 at 7:15 am

I agree with Rich. This is a mean-spirited post which paradoxically allows Ferguson too much credit.

32

Tim Worstall 05.05.13 at 10:39 am

On the in the long run we’re all dead.

I rather thought it was in response to classical (or possibly neo-classical) economists who insisted that things would always sort themselves out in the long run, without intervention. To which Keynes then says, yes, but in the long run we’re all dead.

And Ferguson is of course being vile. As @23. Reasonably well known that Keynes desired children and attempted to have at least one. To mock the unwantedly infertile is indeed vile.

33

Mark Jamison 05.05.13 at 11:07 am

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2013/05/saying-more-than-when-the-storm-is-long-past-the-ocean-is-flat.html#more
More from DeLong including the Keynes quote in context.

Also, it’s more than a bit ironic that the Right especially those of a Libertarian bent are so worked up about this. One of their primary arguments on climate change is that even if it does exist we have no obligation to fix it because each generation plays with the hand it is dealt and each generation is obligated to maximize self-interest.
The general theories of objectivism and folks who espouse Randian garbage like George Will make the current controversy nothing less than high hypocrisy. The Right’s concern for future generations is laughable when compared against their fervent desire to protect current privilege. One might think they would celebrate Keynes out of context.

34

Jeffrey Davis 05.05.13 at 12:56 pm

If the right wing is so concerned about their children’s future then why the Hell are they so intent on ignoring global warming?

35

AlexB 05.05.13 at 1:01 pm

We are talking about the same John Maynard Keynes who wrote “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”, aren’t we?

36

LFC 05.05.13 at 2:06 pm

See also E. Klein
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/04/yes-gay-couples-plan-for-the-future-in-fact-theyre-really-good-at-it/

As T. Worstall above and no doubt DeLong and others have mentioned, Keynes’s remark was directed vs. economists who, as Klein puts it, “comfort themselves with the assumption that economies self-correct over time rather than figuring out how to make those corrections shorter and less painful.” (I thought Keynes argued that economies in depression would not ‘self-correct’ at all, though that’s not really inconsistent w Klein’s interp.)

37

LFC 05.05.13 at 2:12 pm

M Jamison @33
The general theories of objectivism and folks who espouse Randian garbage like George Will

Will is not a Randian; he is objectionable, but not an Objectivist.

38

b9n10nt 05.05.13 at 2:38 pm

For what it’s worth, my imagination just as readily tells an opposite story:

Among educated persons who are likely to have spent some time contemplating politics, it is the Breeders who are more likely to turn their attentions inward to their kin-group, to retract the circle of human sympathy to themselves and their own, and put away foolish thoughts of A Better World. Those without children readily tire of only seeking self gratification and may continue to better see and pursue the Greater Good.

It’s just as stupid (perhaps) as the opposite idea that Breeders Know Best.

I ‘d bet someone has made the point that is more like sculpture that painting: true statements are what remain once all of the indulgent, unexamined, and unknowable thoughts are subtracted.

39

b9n10nt 05.05.13 at 2:40 pm

“made the point that [ORGANIZED THINKING] is more like sculpture thaN painting…”

40

Chris Brooke 05.05.13 at 2:59 pm

Among educated persons who are likely to have spent some time contemplating politics, it is the Breeders who are more likely to turn their attentions inward to their kin-group, to retract the circle of human sympathy to themselves and their own, and put away foolish thoughts of A Better World.

Edward Carpenter made a version of this argument in 1894 in his excellent pamphlet, Homogenic Love with respect to what he called ‘the responsibilities and impedimenta of family life’, and he commented that if ‘the love of Harmodius had been for a wife and children at home, he would probably not have cared, and it would hardly have been his business, to slay the tyrant’.

41

Tim Worstall 05.05.13 at 3:08 pm

AlexB. A very good point indeed.

42

Tim Worstall 05.05.13 at 3:13 pm

“Keynes’s remark was directed vs. economists who, as Klein puts it, “comfort themselves with the assumption that economies self-correct over time rather than figuring out how to make those corrections shorter and less painful.””

This is purely surmise on my part but I get the impression that it was really aimed at the likes of Schumpeter himself, as the leading Austrian of the day. Which is why Schumpeter’s academic obituary makes that crack about Keynes being childless and thus not interested in the long term.

Laughs last laughs longest etc: and yes, I do get the impression that academia can be that patty.

43

Josh G. 05.05.13 at 3:43 pm

b9n10nt @ 38: “Among educated persons who are likely to have spent some time contemplating politics, it is the Breeders who are more likely to turn their attentions inward to their kin-group, to retract the circle of human sympathy to themselves and their own, and put away foolish thoughts of A Better World. Those without children readily tire of only seeking self gratification and may continue to better see and pursue the Greater Good.

This may or may not be true, but it’s hardly an original conclusion; the Catholic Church has held a very similar position for nearly a millennium. (A large part of the reason for the imposition of priestly celibacy during the Gregorian reforms was that married priests with children often tended to start acting like secular lords, treating their Church titles and Church property as personal possessions to be passed on to their offspring.)

44

Tim Worstall 05.05.13 at 3:57 pm

Grr.

“patty.”

petty

45

Niall McAuley 05.05.13 at 4:46 pm

b9n10nt writes: Those without children readily tire of only seeking self gratification and may continue to better see and pursue the Greater Good.

Brennan-monster for Pope!

46

William Timberman 05.05.13 at 5:11 pm

Pomposity is by far the worst of Ferguson’s crimes against good sense, I would say, even though it’s the least intentional — less so, anyway, than the petty viciousness he exhibits toward those he dismisses as not being gifted with his advantages. A quote from Canfora’s Democracy in Europe seems apt:

Whoever claims to have understood everything with hindsight cannot be taken seriously: this is typical of the extra-temporal lightness of liberal thought, the eternal judge outside the dimension of time.

47

Barry 05.05.13 at 6:01 pm

“This is purely surmise on my part but I get the impression that it was really aimed at the likes of Schumpeter himself, as the leading Austrian of the day. Which is why Schumpeter’s academic obituary makes that crack about Keynes being childless and thus not interested in the long term.”

And I note the Schumpeter was an academic (and a Hahvahdian!); he didn’t have to deal with the fact that the short term can trash you out to the point where the long term doesn’t matter.

Maybe Hahvahd needs a taste of the lash real world.

48

A Conservative Teacher 05.05.13 at 6:28 pm

Wow, Niall really struck a nerve here, didn’t he? A third tier conservative suggests that big deficit spending is rather selfish, and watch the selfish people leap to hysterically defend the big deficit spending, eh?

49

Cranky Observer 05.05.13 at 6:32 pm

= = = A Conservative Teacher @ 6:28 pm Wow, Niall really struck a nerve here, didn’t he? = = =

I’m always puzzled when people use this constructs as if it were some sort of refutation. When my dentist is working on one of my teeth and through a failure of the procedure strikes a nerve, I don’t generally consider that a good thing. Pray tell why I should consider Mr. Ferguson’s ‘striking a nerve’ to be a positive contribution to discourse?

Cranky

50

Josh G. 05.05.13 at 6:36 pm

Wow, Niall really struck a nerve here, didn’t he?

On the Internet we call that “trolling”.

51

PJW 05.05.13 at 6:38 pm

Better not to have children than to have them and give them away like Rousseau did.

52

Harold 05.05.13 at 6:41 pm

b9n10nt writes: Those without children readily tire of only seeking self gratification and may continue to better see and pursue the Greater Good.

Plato also made that argument.

53

Harold 05.05.13 at 6:43 pm

That the defenders of “Western Civ” seem not to have actually read its major authors is one of the many things I have against them.

54

lupita 05.05.13 at 7:29 pm

First in was Reinhart & Rogoff’s 90% debt/GDP cliff fraud, then Yglesias’ rational choice between dying of hunger and dying crushed psychopathy, and now Ferguson’s gays are selfish stupidity – all in a good week.

Yes, neoliberalism is a cruel farce. Now what?

55

Lee A. Arnold 05.05.13 at 7:37 pm

A Conservative Teacher #48: ” A third tier conservative…”

Finally, NOW you tell us !!!

Who is “first tier”, though? Or even “second tier”? Don’t divert me with gibberish that there are no first tier or second tier U.S. liberal and progressive thinkers, I know that already.

56

Colin Danby 05.05.13 at 7:41 pm

Keynes was arguably a *follower* of Burke. Skidelsky’s full biography discusses (154-7 of vol. 1) Burke’s influence and returns to this theme in passing theme a few more times in volumes 2 and 3. _Essays in Persuasion_ seem to me quite compatible with Burke. More interestingly, Keynes’ doctrine of fundamental uncertainty emphasizes caution about remote outcomes.(http://membres.multimania.fr/yannickperez/site/Keynes%201937.PDF)

This is the weird part about NF’s latest effusion. Aside from the gay-bashing, which is now so unfashionable that he has had to apologize, it’s wrapped in several layers of stupid.

(If you *really* want to mess with yer categories, recall that Keynes was also a liberal eugenicist. See John Toye’s _Keynes on Population._(OUP 2000))

57

LFC 05.05.13 at 8:03 pm

I don’t know a huge amt. about Schumpeter nor I have read much of him, but I’ve always thought of him as being in a somewhat different category than Mises or Bohm-Bawerk. Schumpeter for one thing had fairly wide-ranging interests; e.g. his essay on the sociology of imperialisms (first pub. 1919) and the History of Economic Analysis, pub. posthumously. (During the first part of his career, before coming to the U.S., Schumpeter was, among other things, president of a private bank and briefly Austrian finance minister.) In Ways of War and Peace, Michael Doyle discusses the imperialism essay as an example of the argument that “democratic capitalism leads to peace.”

58

Steve Sailer 05.05.13 at 10:28 pm

Wasn’t Edmund Burke involved in a murky relationship with his supposed kinsman Will Burke? Back in the 1970s, a scholar suggested that the two Burkes’ relationship might have been homosexual. I vaguely recall that arch-conservative Burkean M.J. Sobran felt at the time that the evidence for this was not wholly implausible and should not be dismissed out of hand.

59

Steve Sailer 05.05.13 at 10:34 pm

Didn’t Keynes convert from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual lifestyle during the 1920s after falling in love with prima ballerina Lydia Lopokova? I realize these days that’s supposed to be impossible, but it does seem to be well documented in this case.

Also, wouldn’t Keynes’ life-long eugenics activism count as evidence of concern for future generations, even if wrongheaded?

60

Gene O'Grady 05.05.13 at 10:50 pm

In response to $59, that conversion, while less likely in current terms, was hardly impossible in the England where Keynes grew up — witness A D Knox (teacher of a teacher of mine), who moved from a relationship with Keynes to marriage and children, also Lennox Berkeley, once involved with Britten, later married with children.

Not to mention a large number of college educated women in the US — a phenomenon still common among my daughter’s friends whom she describes as “four year lesbians.”

61

Rich Puchalsky 05.05.13 at 10:56 pm

Don’t bother to respond to Steve Sailer, well-known Internet racist.

Though actually your response is equally stupid. As if there are no bisexual people in the world.

62

Steve Sailer 05.05.13 at 11:11 pm

In response to Gene O’Grady, since we have so much documentation on 20th Century English writers, it’s not difficult to come up with the names of others who converted from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual lifestyle, such as Stephen Spender and Evelyn Waugh.

63

DrS 05.06.13 at 12:50 am

@49

The actions of conservatives seem to be heavily motivated by making a person of “the other” category angry or otherwise upset.

You’d think there’d be more to it than that, and perhaps it does, but they sure do think that once the other person is upset, they’ve won the argument, even if the reason for upset had nothing to do with the argument.

64

Ronan(rf) 05.06.13 at 1:13 am

“Wasn’t Edmund Burke involved in a murky relationship with his supposed kinsman Will Burke?”

And I won’t vote Whig until an apology is issued

65

Hector_St_Clare 05.06.13 at 1:31 am

Re: This may or may not be true, but it’s hardly an original conclusion; the Catholic Church has held a very similar position for nearly a millennium. (A large part of the reason for the imposition of priestly celibacy during the Gregorian reforms was that married priests with children often tended to start acting like secular lords, treating their Church titles and Church property as personal possessions to be passed on to their offspring.)

Eh, it’s a position the Catholic church (and the Orthodox) have held for substantially longer than that. Celibacy has generally been an *ideal*, at least for bishops, in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches althought it wasn’t *required* till around 1300 in the West. (Orthodox bishops are supposed to be celibate though priests aren’t).

There were other theological reasons for it, but certainly *part* of the reason was the idea that having a spouse and/or children narrows your zone of concern, and the ideal for a celibate priest was that he could love people objectively and disinterestedly, with no preference towards one or the other, as Christ loved them.

My personal suspicion is that the idealization of celibate priests and bishops helped create the idea of non-hereditary governance, which eventually contributed to the rise of republican though. We’re also sort of lucky Jesus didn’t have children nor did Mary have other children: if they had, the history of Christianity would feature the sort of factionalism over Jesus’ bloodline and succession that Islam has historically experienced.

66

Carl 05.06.13 at 1:40 am

Why is there so much spite and name-calling in this thread? It’s just a waste of time.

67

Peter T 05.06.13 at 2:25 am

” nor did Mary have other children”. Apart from James, Joses, Jude and Simon. As in the James who was head of the church in Jerusalem after Jesus. Until, according to Wikipedia, St Jerome re-wrote history.

68

bad Jim 05.06.13 at 4:31 am

As amusing as the homophobia of Ferguson, Schumpeter, et al may be, its implication is even more offensive: that conventional macroeconomics is perversely short-sighted and destructive, that traditional austerity is self-evidently the sole path to virtue. I’m belaboring the obvious, of course, but there are too many states still in the grip of a blinkered and constipated market idolatry to let it pass unremarked.

69

john b 05.06.13 at 4:47 am

“Mary didn’t have other children”, said by a practicing Catholic, is an equivalent statement to “the wafer literally turns into Christ’s flesh”, or “the papal line goes back to St Peter”. It’s clearly factually incorrect, but one is required to believe it as a theological truth.

70

GiT 05.06.13 at 7:42 am

“Wow, Niall really struck a nerve here, didn’t he?”

Always amusing to hear about striking nerves from people who take earth day to be a communist pagan plot to take over America.

71

Em 05.06.13 at 8:19 am

@59 “Didn’t Keynes convert from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual lifestyle during the 1920s after falling in love with prima ballerina Lydia Lopokova? I realize these days that’s supposed to be impossible, but it does seem to be well documented in this case.”

OR, it may be that Keynes was bisexual and therefore he didn’t really “convert” to anything.

72

John Quiggin 05.06.13 at 10:55 am

Always amusing to hear about striking nerves from people who take earth day to be a communist pagan plot to take over America.

Two sides of the same coin. US conservatives don’t evaluate political statements based on truth value, but on whether they work as shibboleths, reliably distinguishing members of the tribe from outsiders. Ferguson’s statement and the assertion that Earth Day is a communist plot work equally well.

73

Jeffrey Davis 05.06.13 at 1:29 pm

re: the whole “conversion”

Gore Vidal said that there are no heterosexuals or homosexuals. There are heterosexual or homosexual acts.

I have no idea one way or the other. The world does tend to provide more than can be accounted for in our philosophies.

74

Rich Puchalsky 05.06.13 at 2:13 pm

Jeffrey Davis, I like the poetry on your blog, so I’ll try to be more polite than I usually am: we in fact do account for this very well within our contemporary philosophies. Someone who is attracted to both men and women is considered to be bisexual. Keynes pretty definitionally was, since he chose to sleep with men, and then later on chose to get married and sleep with a woman.

Bisexual people really tend to not like it when people treat them as weird outliers that don’t fit into a binary. Fitting people into binaries is what conservatives do, of course, since they desperately need to classify everyone within a hierarchy: that’s why they have to say that Keynes “converted” from a “homosexual lifestyle” to a heterosexual one. But for a bisexual person to sometimes have partners of either gender is no more surprising than for a heterosexual person to have a new partner of the same gender as before when they sleep with a new person.

And again: the days in which it was a topic of debate as to whether B should be added to LG are long past. And we haven’t even gotten to the T or Q yet! Bisexuals are not weird or dysfunctional or “converting” gays or heterosexuals. This thread, based on a kind of parody that doesn’t question sufficiently what Ferguson was doing, has predictably attracted some very despicable people, and don’t respond to them in such a way that validates them even to this extent.

75

Rich Puchalsky 05.06.13 at 2:13 pm

Jeffrey Davis, I like the poetry on your blog, so I’ll try to be more polite than I usually am: we in fact do account for this very well within our contemporary philosophies. Someone who is attracted to both men and women is considered to be bisexual. Keynes pretty definitionally was, since he chose to sleep with men, and then later on chose to get married and sleep with a woman.

Bisexual people really tend to not like it when people treat them as weird outliers that don’t fit into a binary. Fitting people into binaries is what conservatives do, of course, since they desperately need to classify everyone within a hierarchy: that’s why they have to say that Keynes “converted” from a “homosexual lifestyle” to a heterosexual one. But for a bisexual person to sometimes have partners of either gender is no more surprising than for a heterosexual person to have a new partner of the same gender as before when they sleep with a new person.

And again: the days in which it was a topic of debate as to whether B should be added to LG are long past. And we haven’t even gotten to the T or Q yet! Bisexuals are not weird or dysfunctional or “converting” gays or heterosexuals. This thread, based on a kind of parody that doesn’t question sufficiently what Ferguson was doing, has predictably attracted some very despicable people, and don’t respond to them in such a way that validates them even to this extent.

76

Uncle Kvetch 05.06.13 at 2:30 pm

Thank you, Rich — well said.

To the category of bisexual we can add the category of gay men who marry women and live an outwardly heterosexual lifestyle out of acquiescence to societal pressure (it shouldn’t need to be pointed out that homosexual acts were a criminal offense in Keynes’ time). Keynes may have been bisexual, or he may have chosen to repress his sexual orientation by marrying a woman. We’ll never really know, and it really doesn’t matter, because it has fuck-all to do with his work, which is ostensibly what Ferguson was talking about.

The notion that a gay man marrying a woman represents some kind of “conversion” is laughable, repugnant, and totally unsurprising coming from the likes of Sailer.

77

JanieM 05.06.13 at 2:38 pm

To the category of bisexual we can add the category of gay men who marry women and live an outwardly heterosexual lifestyle out of acquiescence to societal pressure

To add to what Uncle K wrote, it’s also useful to recognize that there are many kinds of attraction besides the sexual/romantic. Human beings aren’t little geometric puzzle pieces that can fit together only in a handful of predetermined ways. I think of the movie Carrington, and the stories of Carrington+Strachey, and Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Just for starters.

78

Jeffrey Davis 05.06.13 at 3:40 pm

I don’t know how having another sexual bin fits into Vidal’s rejection of the idea of sexual bins. Defining ourselves by the scope of our affections doesn’t seem a good idea to me. Vidal’s statement seems to push in that direction.

As for censoring your reaction to my comments for my poems?! That’s like the time I got my first discount for being a senior. It was at Hallmark and I was buying a birthday card for my daughter.

79

Uncle Kvetch 05.06.13 at 4:59 pm

I don’t know how having another sexual bin fits into Vidal’s rejection of the idea of sexual bins.

I always suspected that Vidal was doing something that I’ve observed in a number of self-identified bisexuals I’ve encountered: assuming that everyone is intrinsically “really” bisexual, and that people who identify as exclusively gay or straight are simply too hung-up and repressed to deal with their real sexual nature.

I’ve always thought of it as self-aggrandizing bunk, but YMMV.

80

I.G.I. 05.06.13 at 5:56 pm

@74 Ascribing people identity profiles according their sexual practice is a reactionary bourgeois nonsense. Sexual preferences are not cast in stone, but fluid and change with age, experience, emotional condition, external pressure, etc…

81

I.G.I. 05.06.13 at 5:58 pm

An apology for the above off topic comment, just couldn’t resist.

82

A Conservative Teacher 05.06.13 at 9:26 pm

Hey, I wonder if Keynes’ feeling that “It is not agreeable to see civilization so under the ugly thumbs of its impure Jews who have all the money and the power and brains” and “[Jews] have in them deep-rooted instincts that are antagonistic and therefore repulsive to the European” may have colored his economic history theories at all?

I would think that it is worse to be anti-semitic and say such things about Jews and be gay, than it is to point out that he was gay and that might have influenced his economic views… but then again, I bet that some on here disagree.

Look around at the company that you keep- you are all frantically defending someone whose economic theories are wrong and destroy wealth and who personally was anti-semitic (and gay too, not that it matters).

83

Jeffrey Davis 05.06.13 at 10:42 pm

re: 82

Sneaking ad hominem through the alley? “Gay” didn’t work so well but “anti-semitic” might?

Here’s a thought: Denounce the anti-semitism and evaluate the economics.

There was a lot of anti-semitism in that era. And among people who did valuable other work. Like T.S. Eliot. What is the actual source of that quote, btw?

84

Peter T 05.06.13 at 11:34 pm

The above remarks by Keynes need not be read as anti-Semitic. My old mother classified people by race (as in “what race are south Italians?) without being at all racist. It was just the way people thought back then – they put people in boxes labelled by “race”. See also Keynes thinking on eugenics.

85

GiT 05.06.13 at 11:59 pm

I posted something about the Keynes quote but it’s stuck because of a link.

In any case it bears mentioning that the quotes in question are from an essay he wrote when he was 17.

86

Jacob McM 05.07.13 at 2:09 am

Keynes certainly expressed some surprising thoughts later in life. This passage reflecting on the Bloomsbury Group is from his memoirs:

With St Francis of Assisi, who at least made collections for the birds, it follows that we were amongst the first of our generation, perhaps alone amongst our generation, to escape from the Benthamite tradition. In practice, of course, at least so far as I was concerned, the outside world was not forgotten or forsworn. But I am recalling what our Ideal was in those early days when the life of passionate contemplation and communion was supposed to oust all other purposes whatever. It can be no part of this memoir for me to try to explain why it was such a big advantage for us to have escaped from the Benthamite tradition. But I do now regard that as the worm which has been gnawing at the insides of modern civilisation and is responsible for its present moral decay. We used to regard the Christians as the enemy, because they appeared as the representatives of tradition, convention and hocus-pocus. In truth it was the Benthamlte calculus, based on an over-valuation of the economic criterion, which was destroying the quality of the popular Ideal.

Moreover, it was this escape from Bentham, joined with the unsurpassable individualism of our philosophy, which has served to protect the whole lot of us from the final reductio ad absurdum of Benthamism known as Marxism. We have completely failed, indeed, to provide a substitute for these economic bogus-faiths capable of protecting or satisfying our successors. But we ourselves have remained – am I not right in saying all of us? – altogether immune from the virus, as safe in the citadel of our ultimate faith as the Pope of Rome in his.

I have said that we were amongst the first to escape from Benthamism. But of another eighteenth-century heresy we were the unrepentant heirs and last upholders. We were among the last of the Utopians, or meliorists as they are sometimes called, who belIeve in a continuing moral progress by virtue of which the human race already consists of reliable, rational, decent people, influenced by truth and objective standards, who can be safely released from the outward restraints of convention and traditional standards and inflexible rules of conduct, and left, from now onwards, to their own sensible devices, pure motives and reliable intuitions of the good. The view that human nature is reasonable had in 1903 quite a long history behind it. It underlay the ethics of self-interest – rational self-interest as it was called – just as much as the universal ethics of Kant or Bentham which aimed at the general good; and it was because self-interest was rational that the egoistic and altruistic systems were supposed to work out in practice to the same conclusions.

In short, we repudiated all versions of the doctrine of original sin, of there being insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men. We were not aware that civilization was a thin and precarious crust erected by the personality and the will of a very few, and only maintained by rules and conventions skillfully put across and guilefully preserved. We had no respect for traditional wisdom or the restraints of custom. We lacked reverence, as [D.H.] Lawrence observed and as Ludwig [Wittgenstein] with justice also used to say – for everything and everyone. It did not occur to us to respect the extraordinary accomplishment of our predecessors in the ordering of life (as it now seems to me to have been) or the elaborate framework which they had devised to protect this order… As cause and consequence of our general state of mind we completely misunderstood human nature, including our own…

And as the years wore on towards 1914, the thinness and superficiality, as well as the falsity, of our view of man’s heart became, as it now seems to me, more obvious; and there was, too, some falling away from the purity of the original doctrine… I fancy we used in old days to get round the rich variety of experience by expanding illegitimately the field of aesthetic appreciation… classifying as aesthetic experience what is really human experience and somehow sterilising it by this mis-classification.

If, therefore, I altogether ignore our merits – our charm, our intelligence, our unworldiness, our affection – I can see us as water-spiders, gracefully skimming, as light and reasonable as air, the surface of the stream without any contact at all with the eddies and currents underneath. And if I imagine us as coming under the observation of Lawrence’s ignorant, jealous, irritable, hostile eyes, what a combination of qualities we offered to arouse his passionate distaste; this thin rationalism skipping on the crust of the lava, ignoring both the reality and the value of the vulgar passions, joined to a libertinism and comprehensive irreverence, too clever by half for such an earthy character as Bunny [David Garnett], seducing with its intellectual chic such a portent as [Lady] Ottoline [Morrell], a regular skin-poison. All this was very unfair to poor, silly, well-meaning us. But that is why I say that there may have been just a grain of truth when Lawrence said in 1914 that we were ‘done for.’

87

ajay 05.07.13 at 9:40 am

Edward Carpenter made a version of this argument in 1894 in his excellent pamphlet, Homogenic Love with respect to what he called ‘the responsibilities and impedimenta of family life’, and he commented that if ‘the love of Harmodius had been for a wife and children at home, he would probably not have cared, and it would hardly have been his business, to slay the tyrant’.

Or, to put it another way, “Married men, stay where you are. Single men, fix bayonets, follow me.”

88

Billikin 05.07.13 at 6:46 pm

Steve Sailer: “Didn’t Keynes convert from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual lifestyle during the 1920s after falling in love with prima ballerina Lydia Lopokova? I realize these days that’s supposed to be impossible, but it does seem to be well documented in this case.”

I remember in one of my undergraduate courses reading about a tribe in which the men lived as homosexuals from puberty until full adulthood, after which they married a woman. Later, of course, while still married they served as older partners for adolescent males. So the scenario you lay out is certainly possible, although the use of the word “convert” seems too strong.

89

Philo Vaihinger 05.08.13 at 7:22 pm

Morality is a fraud and so is religion.

Now, go ahead and argue for your political agenda.

90

Torquil Macneil 05.09.13 at 11:09 am

“I remember in one of my undergraduate courses reading about a tribe in which the men lived as homosexuals from puberty until full adulthood, after which they married a woman. “

This society used to be known as the ‘English Public School System’.

91

Barry Freed 05.10.13 at 3:33 pm

This society used to be known as the ‘English Public School System’.

Didn’t Robert Graves write in “Good-bye to All That” about how he didn’t realize he was heterosexual until he was in his early twenties on account of the English Public School System?

Comments on this entry are closed.