Robert Skidelsky: "My Account of Keynes's Homosexuality Gave Critics of Keynesian Economics Their Chance…": Ten Years Ago on the Internet Weblogging
Confessions of a long-distance biographer: In his obituary of Keynes the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter had written: "He was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy." My account of Keynes' homosexuality gave critics of Keynesian economics their chance. William Rees-Mogg argued in The Times in 1983 that Keynes' rejection of moral rules led him to reject the gold standard which provided an "automatic control of monetary inflation". Admirers of Keynesian economics moved, with a kind of reflex action, to insulate the "thought" from the "life"….
The most powerful theory of the connection between life and work is Freud's, and Freud's theory of the mind has spawned a great many biographies of uneven quality. I have a temperamental antipathy to Freudian explanations…. I found the Freudian approach unhelpful…. [Keynes] was a rebel against Victorian orthodoxies, but this was not a revolt against his father, or his family's values. Sociology offered a better clue. The idea of Keynes as an Edwardian, who tried, by manipulating economic facts, to restore a post-Victorian sense of security after the horrors of the First World War, seemed to me, as it still does, a better biographical setting for Keynes' economics than any circumstances of his childhood…. Freud… saw the suppression of the instinctual desires as the price of civilisation and progress. It is possible to write about Keynes in this way: duty triumphed over inclination, Bloomsbury was sacrificed to Whitehall. But even this is to get things off-beam. One has no sense of a tragic life, but of a happy, successful and fulfilled one. He succeeded in getting the best of all his possible worlds. It is significant that Freud, with his wealth of classical stereotypes, never discussed Odysseus, the classical hero "soft of speech, keen of wit, and prudent," whom Keynes most resembled. I have some sympathy for the neo-Marxist view that Keynes was a product of his class and background, who tended to see the economic problem from the standpoint of the "educated bourgeoisie" located at the centre of a declining empire. One can add a great deal of sophistication to this kind of approach. But it does not absolve the biographer from taking Keynes's ideas seriously, and leaves out the value added by genius, that residual of universal significance.