Wednesday, December 14, 2022

 Cory Robin on Keynes

“The inhabitant of London,” Keynes wrote, “could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.” The man in London followed the world’s goings-on, whether near or far, and traveled everywhere he could. He was a lot like Keynes, Zachary Carter shows in The Price of Peace, his delightful and penetrating biography of the economist and his afterlives. Keynes toured the Continent, hoping that the “world of art, beauty, and cross-cultural understanding” that he and his wife, Lydia, a Russian ballerina, had created in London could be reproduced elsewhere—if only the right economic arrangements were made.

But, Keynes wondered, what if that man and that world were disappearing? In the twentieth century, it seemed that the most common act of Homo economicus was not intercourse but “abstinence,” a word that reverberates across Keynes’s writings. Most of the time the man in London hid at home, holding on to his money. This was not an entirely new development. As Keynes points out in his essay on Thomas Malthus, capital’s withdrawal from the economy was a problem in the early nineteenth century as well. But it had ceased to be a temporary malady of individuals only. Entire cities, states, and societies now associated the word “economy” with “the negative act of withholding expenditure.” Instead of creating wealth, acts of economy yielded waste—unused materials, unemployed labor, empty factories. No longer the child of eros, economics had become a shepherd of death. Keynes set out to discover why....

The reason money is not a neutral instrument of exchange, then, is not simply that it is a hedge against uncertainty or a salve for anxiety or that we live in an economy of booms and busts. It’s that money becomes more real than the concrete goods we are giving up or in quest of. Forgetting that money is “a means to the enjoyments and realities of life,” not an end, we abandon the reality of the present for the fiction of the future. The person who thinks in money

does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward for ever to the end of cat-dom. For him jam is not jam unless it is a case of jam tomorrow and never jam today. Thus by pushing his jam always forward into the future, he strives to secure for his act of boiling it an immortality.

The danger of money is not that it is abstract, but that it abstracts us. It removes us from the here and now and throws us to that “spurious and delusive immortality” that lies beyond.

So fucking obvious.

1-Aristocrats and high bourgeois: James, Russell, Santayana

"Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world." 

"Mathematics seems to have a value for Mr. Russell akin to that of religion. It affords a sanctuary to which to flee from the world, a heaven suffused with a serene radiance and full of a peculiar sweetness and consolation."

2-Arendt, twice. For  “spurious and delusive immortality”, see the eternal.

The philosopher's experience of the eternal, which to Plato was arrhēton ("unspeakable"), and to Aristotle aneu logon ("without word"), and which later was conceptualized in the paradoxical nunc stans ("the standing now"), can occur only outside the realm of human affairs and outside the plurality of men, as we know from the Cave parable in Plato's Republic, where the philosopher, having liberated himself from the fetters that bound him to his fellow men, leaves the cave in perfect "singularity," as it were, neither accompanied nor followed by others. Politically speaking, if to die is the same as "to cease to be among men," experience of the eternal is a kind of death, and the only thing that separates it from real death is that it is not final because no living creature can endure it for any length of time. And this is precisely what separates the vita contemplativa from the vita activa in medieval thought. Yet it is decisive that the experience of the eternal, in contradistinction to that of the immortal, has no correspondence with and cannot be transformed into any activity whatsoever, since even the activity of thought, which goes on within one's self by means of words, is obviously not only inadequate to render it but would interrupt and ruin the experience itself.

You will remember that Plato said that only his body still inhabited the City and, in the Phaedo, also explained how right ordinary people are when they say that a philosopher's life is like dying. Death, being the separation of body and soul, is welcome to him; he is somehow in love with death, because the body, with all its demands, constantly interrupts the soul's pursuits.

3-Stephen Turner 

What changed? In a word, professionalization. The description on the back of Jencks’ and Riesman’s book describes its message as follows 

academic professionalism is an advance over amateur gentility, but they warn of its dangers and limitations: the elitism and arrogance implicit in meritocracy, the myopia that derives from a strictly academic view of human experience and understanding, the complacency that comes from making technical competence an end rather than a means. 

Philosophers went from modestly saying, accurately, that they “taught philosophy” to saying they were “philosophers” or even “professional philosophers” to distinguish them from other things that go by the name of philosophy. In sociology, the name of the American Sociological Society was changed to the acronymically less anatomical American Sociological Association to reflect the new status of “profession.” Political sciences became “scientific,” with the behavioralist revolution, whose leaders are now mercifully forgotten. The term “scholar” was consistent with knowing and expounding, and with the value of learning as an end in itself: the term “profession” implied not merely “professing” but possessing a specific set of skills and body of knowledge that was in some sense exclusive—unlike the mere learning of the amateur.

When I lived with him the second time, Graeber used to talk about the destabilizing power of money, because it was invisible. But by the time I moved to Chicago, I'd already read Worlds Apart, so it made perfect sense.

I wonder if any Robin and Carter have any understanding that the root of Keynes is not in social democracy but noblesse oblige.  I doubt it. I more than doubt it.

And I remembered Jason Stanley "In short, a university should seek to promote work that will give that university prestige in the future and not in the present."

"Who believes in this? –aside from a few big children in university chairs or editorial offices." Max Weber

A recent exchange with Carter. I forget everything.

Bankers in The City and Oxbridge philosophers. Inseparable. I've said it all before.

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