Niall Ferguson hasn’t written for Tina Brown’s Daily Beast since November of last year, back when it still published a dead tree edition called Newsweek. But perhaps seeing Brown’s very public fenestration of Howard Kurtz this past week over an error in his report on recently out of the closet NBA player Jason Collins has a way of focusing the mind. Ferguson had a very public backtrack yesterday of his comment that, as Jonah Goldberg paraphrases, “John Maynard Keynes was gay, effete, and childless he might have lacked concern for posterity:”
Now, I don’t know exctly what Ferguson said, and I don’t trust Kostigen’s version of events either. There are few full quotes and virtually nothing like proper context to anything (for instance, he seems to think “effete” and “gay” are synonyms). But Ferguson has offered an abject and total apology, which I take to be sincere.
Still, I am a little surprised that so many people have never heard this idea before or that the mere mention of it is now a potential career killer (Felix Salmon of Reuters tweeted in response to Ferguson’s apology, ”It’s conceivable that Niall Ferguson managed to rescue his career with this” (emphasis mine).
I don’t endorse the theory and completely understand why it offends people. But it’s hardly as if it’s unheard-of in academia to speculate that one’s sexual orientation (or race, or gender, etc.) can influence a person’s views on public policy. Is it really nuts now to think that having kids changes a person’s time horizons?
More relevant, this theory about Keynes is hardly new. Joseph Schumpeter, I thought famously, suggested that Keynes’s childlessness was a key issue. In his obituary of Keynes, Schumpeter wrote: “He was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy.”
Even a cursory look-see in Google Books or LexisNexis shows it’s been around for a long time.
And Jonah goes into numerous examples of journalists over the years referencing how Keynes’ sexuality may have influenced his economic worldview, ranging from veteran Nation and Rolling Stone contributor William Greider to pioneering neocon Gertrude Himmelfarb, before concluding:
What I find interesting about the Ferguson controversy is how disconnected it is from the past. Even academics I respect reacted to Ferguson’s comments as if they bordered on unimaginable, unheard-of madness. I understand that we live in a moment where any negative comment connected to homosexuality is not only wrong but “gay bashing.” But Ferguson was trafficking in an old theory that was perfectly within the bounds of intellectual discourse not very long ago. Now, because of a combination of indifference to intellectual history and politically correct piety he must don the dunce cap. Good to know.
Oh, and speaking of Soviet-style apologies, in an effort to keep at least half of his perch in the MSM, earlier today, as Breitbart News notes, “CNN’s Howard Kurtz Hosts Show Trial Against Himself Over Collins Error.”
Update: More Soviet-style apologies: “Daily Download Editor Lauren Ashburn Retracts Kurtz Video, Apologizes,” the show-biz oriented Website reports today. “She says she was wrong in not double-checking the video and wrong in taking it down without correcting the mistake.”