Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Sex Life of John Maynard Keynes

There is a new book out Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes by Richard Davenport-Hines. It is now available in the United Kingdom and will technically not be published in the U.S. until May 12, but the British edition is available through Amazon.

Judging by the reviews in British papers, for those who so desire, they will be able to learn much about the bisexual life of Keynes.

FT actually reports on the entire book:
First we have a brief chapter called “Altruist”, which provides a taster for what is to follow. Next, we are given a vivid sense of Keynes’s family background in “Boy Prodigy”, where the strongest presence is that of Keynes’s mother Florence, an early undergraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge — and as a woman unable formally to take a degree in those days. She made up for it in the end by becoming Cambridge’s first woman mayor and was a life-long influence upon her brilliant elder son, as he marched from early triumphs at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, to a final eminence as Lord Keynes of Tilton. This family background is well worth exploring, as is, in the third chapter, “Official”, Keynes’s career in first the India Office and the Treasury. This was his ticket to the Paris peace conference in 1919, until he resigned to write his Economic Consequences.
Keynes had a love-hate relationship with the Treasury. He simultaneously admired its scholarly ethos and derided its conventional outlook, as the fourth chapter, “Public Man”, deftly shows. In 1933, for example, Keynes was eager to stimulate a depressed economy through investment in construction. He was incensed that such action was ruled out as “an act of foolish extravagance, which would, in the imbecile idiom of the financial fashion, have ‘mortgaged the future’; though how the construction today of great and glorious works can impoverish the future, no man can see until his mind is beset by false analogies from an irrelevant accountancy.” Exploring such arguments allows the author to penetrate to the heart of Keynes’s thinking as an economist, since many of the theoretical insights developed in his General Theory in 1936 had been generated in more immediate policy debates.

With chapter 5, “Lover”, there is a distinct change of key. Here is a closely textured account of Keynes’s sexual peregrination from schoolboy crushes on other boys, through the “higher sodomy” of his undergraduate friends at Cambridge and into his frankly promiscuous forays on the streets of London when he was a young man. Davenport-Hines explores this territory with sensitivity, suggesting the tension between Keynes’s need to retain his respectable public mien while pressing the boundaries of convention. The Bloomsbury milieu is important here, of course, as is the successful marriage that Keynes, in his forties, made with the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova.
It was she who literally helped sustain Keynes’s life during the final phase of his career, surveyed in chapter 7, “Envoy”. (The intervening chapter, “Connoisseur”, while containing interesting material, especially on book-collecting, seems less well-focused.) It was with Lopokova’s selfless attention that the heart condition that laid Keynes low in 1937 was held at bay, allowing him to emerge during the second world war as a major influence upon domestic economic policy and to play a crucial role in negotiations with the US. Here he always had an intrinsically weak hand to play, pleading on behalf of a virtually bankrupt country. That he managed to have such a creative input on the making of the postwar settlement is in itself a remarkable story.
This from The Independent:
  And what to make of his voracious homosexuality, which was a large part of his life? He was part of the Bloomsbury set in London, where sexual encounters among the same sexes was frequent and from where many of his lovers came. He travelled far and wide to satisfy his sexual appetites. In the end he found love and happiness in his forties, getting married in 1925 (with his former lover Duncan Grant as his best man) to Lydia Lopokova, a Russian ballerina in whose arms he died of a heart attack in his early sixties, exhausted by trying to negotiate with obdurate Americans whose politicians disliked British imperialists and upper-class Liberals, which Keynes was, in equal measure.

The Telegraph seems to think the sex reporting is boring:
 Keynes had been an active homosexual – even keeping statistics on his sexual encounters. The tangled and overlapping love lives of the Bloomsbury set is as confusing as it is salacious but if this section drags, this is only a small eddy in a book which otherwise flows freely.

In The Guardian, Keynes biographer,  Robert Skidelsky, provides a critical analysis of the sex coverage:
 “Keynes’s sex life,” writes Davenport-Hines, “was one of the seven activities that made him a universal man.” Presumably, he means by this that Keynes was bisexual. Between 1906 and 1916 – that is, between the ages of 23 and 33 – he kept a tally of his lovers (all male), both friends and pick-ups, together with frequency of copulation. The list of his pick-ups starts with “Stable Boy at Park Lane” and ends with “Grand Duke Cyril of the Paris Baths”. Given that there were many more copulations (200) than pick-ups (23), most of them must have been with his friends, especially Duncan Grant, the first great consummated love of his life. Davenport-Hines’s vivid history of Edwardian cruising habits and venues seems out of proportion to Keynes’s modest tally of one-night stands. Then in his late 30s, he fell in love with the ballerina, Lydia Lopokova, and didn’t sleep with men again.

As the author points out, many of Keynes’s gay friends “settled down” and married in early middle age. Today our only way of understanding these marriages is as disguises, which current law has sought to make unnecessary by making it legal for gay people to marry. But who knows whether Keynes found sex with Duncan Grant more satisfying than sex with Lydia. The fact is that at a certain point in his life he fell in love with Lydia and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

Keynes’s gay adventures tell one nothing directly about his economics. But his lack of guilt about them does tell us a great deal about his youthful attitude to the conventional morality of his day, of which Victorian economics were a part. His rejection of the “duty to save”, which he called “nine-tenths of morality”, was intellectual iconoclasm rooted in moral iconoclasm.


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