Harvard financial historian Niall Ferguson has gotten himself into the usual sort of Larry Summers / James D. Watson-style trouble for answering a question about economist John Maynard Keynes’s famous quip—“In the long run, we are all dead”—by cheekily pointing out that Keynes was a childless homosexual. There’s no transcript of his original remarks, but a writer who heard him speak wrote it up on his magazine’s website. [Harvard Professor Trashes Keynes For Homosexuality, By Tom Kostigen, fa-mag.com, May 3, 2013.]
Ferguson commented: “In the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions.”
Ferguson’s off-the-cuff comments generated a vast global spasm of gasping and tsk-tsking. A Google search of “niall ferguson keynes gay” comes up with over two million hits.
Why the hysteria?
Because intellectual life has declined to the point where all that matters is Are You on the Side of the Good Guys or the Bad Guys? And the Good Guys are powerful groups of self-proclaimed victims.
Ferguson’s suggestion that family life can influence ideology is, of course, true. For example, Mitt Romney carried only 16 percent of the gay vote in 2012 in contrast to 57 percent of the married vote. Over the last four elections, the rate in each state at which whites are married has been the strongest determinant of the Electoral Vote.
But Ferguson felt it necessary to issue “An Unqualified Apology” [May 4, 2013]because he makes a lot of money giving speeches to financial organizations, so he can’t afford to offend Designated Victim Groups that play a major role within them—such as gays, Jews, and women. At this moment in our culture, gays are particularly dominant, and thus are looking for ways to throw their weight around to intimidate skeptics for good.
What’s more striking, though, are the Voluntary Auxiliary Thought Police who rush in to denounce heretics. As Dennis Dale commented during another recent brouhaha of ridiculous moral outrage:
The Left has routed us and is now chasing us into the weeds to cut us down individually—because they haven't even the capacity to imagine doing anything else.
What are they going to do, declare victory and behave graciously? Where's the fun—or more importantly the influence and cash—in that? They are like a vast standing army with nothing to do and no wish to return to civilian life.
Still, Ferguson was somewhat unfair. Keynes (1883-1946) betrayed today’s conventional wisdom by doing the supposedly impossible: he converted, permanently, from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual lifestyle when—to the shock and dismay of his former Bloomsbury boyfriends—he married the popular ballerina Lydia Lopokova in 1925.
He wasn’t under any particular social or career pressure at the time. He just switched his affections.
Moreover, we can see that Keynes was concerned about the welfare of future generations of the British from his lifelong advocacy of….(wait for it) eugenics!
After all, in 1911 Keynes, along with the great statistician and geneticist Ronald A. Fisher, R.C. Punnett, and Horace Darwin, helped found the Cambridge Eugenics Society. Keynes was a eugenics activist throughout his life, serving as an official of the national eugenics promotion organization from 1937-1944. In the year of his death, 1946, Keynes made a speech citing eugenics as “the most important and significant branch of sociology.”
If Ferguson had excoriated Keynes for pushing eugenics, he would have not heard a peep of criticism. He just forgot who is riding high at the moment and who is not.
While the economist indeed had no children (his wife apparently miscarried in 1927), his brother, Sir Geoffrey Keynes, the leading surgeon, married Charles Darwin’s granddaughter. Their son, the scientist Richard Darwin Keynes, married the daughter of a Nobel laureate. The economist’s great-great-grandnephew Skandar Keynes is the young movie star who played Edmund in the Narnia series.
Still, Ferguson’s sniping offered a not unreasonable summary of the overall agenda of the Bloomsbury Group of North London intellectuals, which included Keynes and novelists E.M. Forster (A Passage to India) and Virginia Woolf (Orlando). Perhaps more books have been written about the upper-class Bloomsbury clique than about any similar group. The most famous members were homosexual or bisexual, and the relationship of their sexual orientation to their aversion to the traditional Victorian virtues has been analyzed at endless length. Ferguson’s crime, of course, is simply that he mentioned this correlation with less than full approbation.
Bloomsbury was run by a former boyfriend of Keynes, Lytton Strachey. A conscientious objector, Strachey had succeeded in 1916 in being exempted from conscription due to his doctors’ excuses. During a hearing, he was famously asked:
“Tell me, Mr Strachey, what would you do if you saw a German soldier attempting to rape your sister?”
“I should try to interpose my own body.”
Strachey’s 1918 bestselling attack on 19th Century worthies, Eminent Victorians, popularized gay snark. Strachey’s undermining of the sense of duty laid the basis for the intellectual climate of pacifism and appeasement that triumphed, so catastrophically in Britain, in the 1930s.
As Paul Johnson noted in Modern Times, the goal of the Bloomsberries was to sap the Victorian public virtues that had put Britain on the top of the world by the later 19th Century in favor of private pleasures (of a muted English variety). Strachey had seized upon the Cambridge philosopher G.E. Moore’s quietist, anti-patriotic endorsement of friendship and made it the central ideology of the Bloomsbury coterie. Thus, Forster notoriously wrote (in 1938!):
If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.
Of course, under Strachey’s guidance, Moore’s notion of “friendship” was given a particular twist that had to be kept half-concealed under a vague impression of aestheticism. Bloomsbury was, in essence, a languid, elitist homosexual conspiracy.
Strachey wrote to Keynes in 1906 about the short-term difficulties facing their project and its long-term prospects of success:
It's madness of us to dream of making dowagers understand that feelings are good, when we say in the same breath that the best ones are sodomitical. If we were crafty and careful, I dare say we'd pull it off. But why should we take the trouble? On the whole I believe that our time will come about a hundred years hence, when preparations will have been made, and compromises come to, so that at the publication of our letters, everyone will be, finally, converted. [Bloomsbury's final secret, By Paul Levy, Telegraph (UK), March 14, 2005]
Yet, in contrast to Strachey, Forster (who didn’t write a single novel over the last 46 years of his life), and Woolf (who killed herself in 1941), Keynes himself turned out to be made of sterner stuff. He made an unexpected transition from hedonist to something of a hero as he more or less worked himself to death in the service of his country from 1939 to 1946, dying of a series of heart attacks at age 62—35 years younger than his father and mother, who both survived him.
Whether Keynes’ impressive last two decades had something to do with his marrying a woman is an interesting question—which, naturally, hasn’t been asked in the current tumult. The other Bloomsberries were frightfully snobbish toward the new Mrs. Keynes, whose father had been born a serf, even though other great men, such as T.S. Eliot and H.G. Wells, found her a delight. But Keynes didn’t particularly care about his coterie’s disdain for his wife. He loved her.
I used to have opinions on macroeconomic theories, but I found I didn't have anything useful to contribute, so I've stopped. But I will venture that, whatever else you can say about Keynes' The General Theory—published in 1936, a decade after his marriage—it’s formidable piece of work.
The next year, Keynes suffered his first heart attack. His wife, who had been a dance partner of Nijinsky, a model of Picasso, and a mistress of Stravinsky, retired from the glamor of public life to nurse him. Eventually, Forster had to admit, “How we all used to underestimate her."
Nevertheless, Keynes took an active role in wartime economic policy from 1939 onward, increasingly in setting up the postwar institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. The American Treasury official Harry Dexter White (who was a Soviet agent) had the greater say in the negotiations, but Keynes kept Britain from being steamrollered.
Worn out, Keynes died in 1946 at age 62, but with the basic Bretton Woods template in place that would serve adequately through the 1960s. Most everybody else in Keynes' carefully crafted genetic line lived into their 90s, so the speculation down through the years on whether a nonagenarian Keynes would have stuck with dogmatic Keynesianism after, say, the disasters of 1973 are not wholly absurd.
More reasonably, though, it’s enough to say that the postwar dispensation that Keynes had a hand in designing in the mid-1940s proved more economically successful than the interwar one, serving reasonably well for a quarter of a century.
So Niall Ferguson’s point about Keynes is really interesting—even more interesting topic than he may have realized. Unfortunately, in today’s Politically Correct Reign of Terror, that could mean even more trouble for him.
Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative and writes regularly for Takimag. His websitewww.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His book,AMERICA’S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA’S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here and here (Kindle)