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John Maynard Keynes: He and his wife, Lydia, tried for children

Historian Niall Ferguson has found himself in hot water over unscripted remarks during a question and answer session at a conference in California. Commenting upon Keynes’s famous observation regarding the long view of economics — "in the long run we are all dead" — Ferguson said Keynes was indifferent to the long view because he had no children, and that he had no children because he was gay. Many were quick to point out that being homosexual does not preclude taking an interest in the future, and in future generations. Ferguson issued an unreserved apology, condemning prejudice in all its forms.
 
Ferguson had forgotten of course that Maynard was bisexual and later married Russian prima-ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Their love letters show a relationship with a childlike sweetness, based on deep mutual affection and love. They tried for children but Lydia miscarried. Maynard had four nephews through his brother Geoffrey, my great-grandfather. Family stories attest to the great interest Maynard and Lydia took in the lives of all four nephews. Maynard and Lydia are always spoken of with fondness by the generations of Keyneses who followed them. Writing Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren Maynard may well have been thinking of his nephews’ numerous offspring, myself among them.
 
So Ferguson is absolutely right to apologise for making two errors: that Keynes was homosexual when in fact he was a married bisexual who tried for children, and that being homosexual somehow prevents a person taking a long view of humanity. Of course it doesn’t, and it’s wrong to suggest otherwise. Error admitted, apology accepted, we can all forgive and move on now. But what of the second part of Ferguson’s statement, "no children because he was gay"? It strikes me there’s a truth in this statement for which no apology need be given, namely the fact of nature that sex between two men, or sex between two women, cannot produce children. Gay couples wanting children have to resort to adoption, surrogacy, or artificial insemination. Is it "anti-gay" to point this out?
 
This is the uncomfortable truth at the heart of the same-sex marriage debate currently happening in Europe and the US. Those who oppose plans to redefine the institution of marriage do so on the basis of the sterility of homosexual sex. For traditionalists, marriage is about the complementarity of a mother and a father and the creation of children. Since when did simply speaking out the fact that homosexual sex does not result in conception become "anti-gay"? If it’s since it became part of the argument opposing same-sex marriage, then Ferguson’s hasty backdown suggests certain truths have become unsayable. Coming at a particularly sensitive point in time for a gay community lobbying for same-sex marriage, it’s not hard to see why reminding a liberal California audience of an uncomfortable truth might provoke a reaction.
 
Ferguson’s apology is wholly warranted where it reveals his prejudice, but
anyone calling themselves a liberal should feel a little disquiet if reaction based on high feeling is allowed to elide error, which should be apologised for, with truth, which should be stated boldly and debated sensibly. Keynes was a liberal of the old stamp, committed to the liberal cause, and as such he valued rigorous thought and clarity as the only ways to the truth.
 
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H.L.
May 9th, 2013
10:05 AM
Not sure I understand the comments as they seem to have gone off on a tangent in reaction which was the very point LMK was making that people tend to do that when faced with the contradiction!

CM
May 7th, 2013
7:05 PM
"Gay couples wanting children have to resort to adoption, surrogacy, or artificial insemination. Is it "anti-gay" to point this out?" No, it is simply pointless, and it clearly wasn't Ferguson's point. It was simply a premise used to support his conclusion that Keynes didn't care about the future. Your third and fourth paragraphs, far from rigorous thought and clarity, divert the topic into a string of irrelevancies. Ferguson didn't make a "hasty backdown" from a purely biological observation.

Richard Collumbell
May 6th, 2013
12:05 PM
"It strikes me that there is a truth at the heart of this statement which Ferguson does not need to apologise for, namely the fact of nature that sex between two men, or sex between two women, cannot produce children." Saying that an opposite sex couple had no children because one of them was homosexual was not the heart of the point Niall was making in any of his statements, and neither was it the point he so rightfully appologised for. Your are simply jumping on Nialls blooper to justify your opposed stance on marriage for lesbian and gay couples. That same-sex couples (or some opposite-sex couples for that matter) have to adopt etc. to have children is not an 'inconvenuient truth' with regards to the marriage debate (or any debate), becuase same-sex and opposite sex couples (and even single people) can already adopt! "Those who oppose plans to redefine the institution of marriage do so on the basis of the sterility of homosexual sex. For traditionalists, marriage is about a mother and a father and the creation of children." Does that mean you redefine the marriage of your own uncle because as a couple they were unable to produce children? Do you not think your great uncle and Lydia married primarily for love? Surely husband and wife does not automatically equate to father and mother. There are married couples who do not/cannot bear children, and many fathers and mothers who are not married. The California audiance were uncomfortable for the very reasons that Niall apologised for, not becuase of the truth that two men or two women (or in some cases a husband and wife for that matter) are unable to conceive. I would imagine if Niall had read your article he would probably think you're not helping...

Chrysostom
May 6th, 2013
12:05 PM
Practising male homosexuals are not allowed to donate blood in Britain and in most countries in the world. This is either appalling prejudice or it is a wise precaution. If the latter, why is it not mentioned in children's " sex education" lessons and why is it rare to see it mentioned in any discussions about homosexuality?

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