Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bertrand Russell on Keynes

Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was about 10 years older than Keynes, and attended Cambridge in the 1890s in the decade before Keynes began his undergraduate degree at King’s College in 1902. Russell’s opinion of Keynes is found in his Autobiography (Russell 2000: 67–69), and is of historical interest:
“The tone of the generation some ten years junior to my own was set mainly by Lytton Strachey and Keynes. It is surprising how great a change in mental climate those ten years had brought. We were still Victorian; they were Edwardian. We believed in ordered progress by means of politics and free discussion. The more self-confident among us may have hoped to be leaders of the multitude, but none of us wished to be divorced from it. The generation of Keynes and Lytton did not seek to preserve any kinship with the Philistine. They aimed rather at a life of retirement among fine shades and nice feelings, and conceived of the good as consisting in the passionate mutual admirations of a clique of the elite. This doctrine, quite unfairly, they fathered upon G. E. Moore ....” (Russell 2000: 67).

“From this atmosphere Keynes escaped into the great world, but Strachey never escaped. Keynes’s escape, however, was not complete. He went about the world carrying with him everywhere a feeling of the bishop in partibus. True salvation was elsewhere, among the faithful at Cambridge. When he concerned himself with politics and economics he left his soul at home. This is the reason for a certain hard, glittering, inhuman quality in most of his writing. There was one great exception, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, ....” (Russell 2000: 68).

“Keynes’s intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool. I was sometimes inclined to feel that so much cleverness must be incompatible with depth, but I do not think that this feeling was justified.” (Russell 2000: 69).


Russell, B. 2000. Autobiography, Routledge, London.


  1. That is consistent with what I’ve said for 35 years. Keynes was an arrogant elitist who had little use for average people and his economic program consisted of elite control of the masses. This is also why Keynesians refuse to understand the basics of the Austrian Theory which insists that it is essential for average people to go about their business in a process which creates the free market prices which are necessary for economic calculation and prosperity. These are mutually exclusive theories. Not only do the Austrians eliminate any roll for the “all knowing and benevolent” elite to play in economics, but the Austrians insist that it is the elite’s interference in economic activity that is the main problem in economic life.

  2. "Not only do the Austrians eliminate any roll for the “all knowing and benevolent” elite to play in economics, "

    LOL.. Except for themselves.

  3. Russell's remarks on Keynes are certainly interesting. Was Keynes more intelligent or did he do more important work than Russell? This I don't know. From my perspective the prescriptions by politicians have had many influences from economics to political theory so I wouldn't say Keynes did more important work than Russell, Chomsky, or any scientist. Stable economies are important but can't be considered to be science.

    Just my perspective. I'd hate to see Keynesians go down the road of loosely ascribing ideas to him that he didn't even create (the way we see some Austrians do with Hayek and Mises). Really, to name an entire field after Keynes himself is kind of silly.