15. Keynes’ Spirit Animals and Faith
Between Marx and Smith’s contrasting views, there would be dozens of scholars who attempted to build on and expand their ideas, whether it was in regard to Smith’s laissez- faire models or Marx’s growing appeal for communism. However, it would not be until the early 20th century that a new voice would arise and offer something truly innovative to the economic market.
Lord John Maynard Keynes was a macroeconomist in the 1920s and 1930s. He would eventually write dozens of volumes on economic affairs for the British school of thought, his most central work being A General Theory of Employment. Like most economists, he eventually left the philosophical tradition of Marx and Smith behind to focus more or less on the numerical elements of economic study.
However, many scholars have taken time to investigate his beliefs and religious history in hopes of revealing how he approaches issues of religion, and if any of that leaks through in his modern economic policy, especially since Keynes himself explicitly divided the study of economics from morality.
Keynes himself was not a follower of Christianity in his early life. Later in his life, he would become a vocal critic of faith like most British humanists, Keynes was considered, by the end of his life, to be more akin to a Christian Socialist than an atheist. David Andrews of Oswego University is of the opinion that
Keynes characterised religion as not only a personal experience of communion, but also as the pursuit of a better world for all people, although he showed some ambivalence about how this better world might come about, ultimately adopting a position similar to that of the nineteenth-century Christian Socialist Movement, to which he was connected through the Cambridge Apostles.
The Apostles, a secret group at Cambridge University, offered a fairly religious community, though it delved more into the practices of secret societies than actually beneficial conduct or expressions of religion similar to modern Christianity. But it infused a greater ideal about man. This, along with the witnessing of events in the Soviet Union colored his vision.
According to John F Henry, a professor at California State University Keynes and his wife visited the Soviet Union in 1925, before it boomed into the superpower it was post WWII. While Keynes was not an avid supporter of the social experiment as a whole, the ideologies and ‘religion’ he saw practiced there gave him hope. Henry stated:
The exaltation of the common man is a dogma which has caught the multitude before now. Any religion and the bond which unites co-religionists have power against the egotistic atomism of the irreligious If irreligious capitalism is ultimately to defeat religious communism it is not enough that should be economically more efficient; it must be many times as efficient.
While these comments do ignore Marx’s inherent opposition to the supernaturalism of modern faith, it appears that Keynes is speaking of religion as more like a faith or set of ideals that grabs onto and drives men to do things, rather than specifically thoughts on God.
In other words, Keynes sees the need for ideologies and belief systems, even irrational ones, as necessary to drive true change in society. He was still an critic of Christianity and viewed as an anti-Semite, but he understood how faith played into society and economic change.