John Maynard Keynes: 'New Wisdom for a New Age'
John Maynard Keynes Vol. I: Hopes Betrayed, 1883–1920
John Maynard Keynes: A Personal Biography of the Man Who Revolutionized Capitalism and the Way We Live
Last year the centenary of Keynes’s birth was celebrated in Cambridge, England, in almost too seemly a manner. A meeting at the Guildhall (where long ago Keynes’s mother had presided as mayor) turned out to be a decorous exercise in body-snatching. John Kenneth Galbraith denounced monetarists and suggested that the saint’s relics and truest disciples were really to be found in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a Liberal member of Parliament pounced on Keynes’s loyalty to that party and duly appropriated him; and in the most engaging speech Roy Jenkins trounced the Conservative and Labour parties by quoting Keynes on their dispiriting defects and claimed him for the Alliance of Liberals and Social Democrats which Jenkins himself had created. Meanwhile King’s College conducted an awe-inspiring international seminar of over a hundred economists that concluded with a dinner for them and some descendants of extended Bloomsbury at which two short speeches by octogenarians were followed by one of fifty-three minutes by a Nobel Prizeman, after which the diners tottered into the dusk punch-drunk with oratory. Keynes would have tolerated the oratory: he had listened to so many speeches in his lifetime. But the feature he would most have enjoyed was the musical divertissement about him and his Bloomsbury friends in the spirit of Walton’s Façade, composed, played, and sung by undergraduates.
Far more important was the appearance of the first volume of Robert Skidelsky’s new biography. It is authoritative, documented, and readable—indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the young Keynes and the moral and philosophical problems that exercised his mind and were to shape his conception of the world and the part economics should have in it. It is also a major revision of Roy Harrod’s commemorative biography. Like a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, Harrod digested in only four years archives of material though he faced fearful obstacles. Not only was Keynes’s wife alive. So were both his parents and his brother, itching to burn compromising letters; and also breathing down his neck were old Bloomsbury and the left-wing Cambridge Keynesians who wanted Harrod, who was then a Liberal in politics, to turn Keynes into a collectivist.
But what undid Harrod was his university not his politics. He was a fine flower of Oxford culture in the Twenties, a romantic who could not bring himself to believe Cambridge pursued truth so ruthlessly and despised worldly success. Harrod’s Keynes speculated about truth and beauty, as an ardent young man should, and enjoyed Bloomsbury’s iconoclasm. But once he had served in the Treasury and learned the ways of the world Harrod’s Keynes put aside, as an aspiring young man should, childish things such as pacifism and the cult of personal relations. What could be more natural than to distance himself gently but firmly from his old Bloomsbury friends? What could be more romantic than for Prince Desiré, having broken the spider’s web of Carabosse Clemenceau in the forest of Versailles, to marry Aurora Lopokova? What could be more dramatic than for the savior…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.