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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Guess the author

In short, we repudiated all versions of the doctrine of original sin, of there being insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men.  We were not aware that civilization was a thin and precarious crust erected by the personality and the will of a very few, and only maintained by rules and conventions skillfully put across and guilefully preserved.  We had no respect for traditional wisdom or the restraints of custom.  We lacked reverence ... for everything and everyone.  It did not occur to us to respect the extraordinary accomplishment of our predecessors in the ordering of life (as it now seems to me to have been) or the elaborate framework which they had devised to protect this order.  ...   As cause and consequence of our general state of mind we completely misunderstood human nature, including our own.  The rationality which we attributed to it led to a superficiality, not only of judgement, but also of feeling.

update:

author: John Maynard Keynes

Although Keynes showed some willingness to change his mind when the facts changed, his near certitude expressed on many matters left me in the position of being rather stunned to learn of this quote.  It is particularly relevant for the conflict of visions that are at the heart of many disagreements that underlay policy differences and differing attitudes towards the desirability of limited government.

A slightly more extended excerpt is here.  A video from which I became aware of this quote is here (with a slightly extended version of the quote starting around 18:00).

39 comments:

Bret said...

Howard, I'm compelled to give a hint.

The author of the quote has been mentioned at least twice on this blog in the last year in the posts or comments.

Clovis e Adri said...

The point being...?

erp said...

The Jesuit in the papacy?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Some one got hit with the clue-by-four of reality, wielded by the Gods of the Copybook Headings.

Clovis e Adri said...

Gosh, meta-discussions are hard on non-native speakers...

Peter said...

I won't spoil Howard's contest so early, so I'll just leave him with a "back atcha". Who said:

To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.

Clovis e Adri said...

Maybe if I explain my puzzling at this post, someone may help me.

I understand Howard's implication with the author of his riddle is something like "look, the guy was clueless, he didn't understand basic things about human nature!".

AOG's link goes along the same line.

But the point is, that author was actually talking about his past. He was smart enough to recognize his previous naivety, and he is not withdrawing any of his work that is so demonized here - by the contrary, he said that phrase when possessing the same level of maturity of his later works.

So we should actually praise the guy for his honesty in his self-assessment. Maybe that even shows he is more trustful than most conservatives around - who can hardly make similar self-criticisms.


Peter said...

Clovis, you are thinking too hard. I think the whole point is that the quote has an unexpected source.

Howard said...

Yes, the unexpected source is the fun part. The lesson distilled is secondary though still important. (Peter, regarding your quote - realize that I am one of those oddballs who find The Theory of Moral Sentiments more profound than Wealth of Nations.

Annoying Old Guy said...

[most conservatives] who can hardly make similar self-criticisms

Well, no, the conservatives I read make this the central point of their world view. See Sowell's "The Vision of the Anointed" for a detailed explanation.

Harry Eagar said...

I vote for that noted educator Bob Jones

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Funny you would say that. You were not able to give a critical appraise of a president you like, I hardly believe you could give one of yourself. No, self-criticism is definitely not a central point of your world view, as far as I can see.

Annoying Old Guy said...

You were not able to give a critical appraise of a president you like.

No, I was unwilling to join in your pile on. You can read my weblog where, in the past, I have done that.

Barry Meislin said...

David Warren?

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "So we should actually praise the guy for his honesty in his self-assessment."

Sure, praise away.

Clovis wrote: "...most conservatives around ... can hardly make similar self-criticisms."

Well, I think there are very few people on earth, conservative or liberal, who engage is substantial self-criticisms. I mean, whose ego can put up with that? And for most people, what would be the point of that? They'd be just as well off going and beating there heads against a wall.

This particular author had huge influence on economic and political policy and seemed oh-so-certain about it when he formulated and advocated said policy. That's why this particular quote and the much longer excerpt that it came from were jaw-dropping to me.

On the other hand, people do change their views over time. And for a least some of them, such as myself, those views changed because things kept turning out differently than how I predicted. That's not self-criticism, but rather modifying my worldview until it seemed to match the world a little better.

I was under the impression that people generally got more conservative as they got older. However, a quick google search indicates that there is little evidence for that. Interesting. Apparently more people become more liberal. Though the caveat of the surveys seemed to equate rigidity and intolerance with conservatism and flexibility and tolerance with liberalism and that's not quite how it looks to me.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
[On self-assessment] And for most people, what would be the point of that?
---
Mainly, to learn.

---
And for a least some of them, such as myself, those views changed because things kept turning out differently than how I predicted. That's not self-criticism, but rather modifying my worldview until it seemed to match the world a little better.
---
Well, I surely classify that as self-criticism. You can not learn if you do not care to pay attention if what you believe is reflected on reality out there.

Of course, there is the deeper point that most people also do select facts when ckecking belief X reality. Usually, at some level, people really interested in learning make some provisions to alleviate that.

---
That's why this particular quote and the much longer excerpt that it came from were jaw-dropping to me.
---
Interesting. I have quite other view of the persona of that guy - his "confession" did not surprise me a bit. I disagreee he express himself in such "oh-so-certain" terms. The guy was a deep thinker, of the kind that kept a few checks on his own limits.

Mind you, if we take even a great mind such as Newton - so famous for both his intelect and his oh-so-certain attitudes in life - you'll still see in his works quite some acknowledgment of his own limits.

erp said...

Isaac Newton is the author?

Bret said...

No, not Newton, not Warren.

I'm sure Howard will give the answer soonish.

Howard said...

author is John Maynard Keynes

update to follow

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "I disagree he express himself in such "oh-so-certain" terms."

Well, then I apparently have the wrong impression of Keynes. From what I've read of his era, I thought Harrod in his biography of Keynes summarized it best when he wrote, "No one in our age was cleverer than Keynes nor made less attempt to conceal it."

My impression is that his writings are quite confident (of which I have read excerpts), his public persona extraordinarily over confident and certain.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

Ok, we may be judging different aspects of Keynes.

For me the question is if he regarded his economic theories as the ultimate word and truth. I don't think he did.

But he indeed expressed himself in rather bold terms, and was a nihilistic character. At that, he was hardly different from most famous names of any academic enterprise you may think of.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "For me the question is if he regarded his economic theories as the ultimate word and truth. I don't think he did."

What makes you think that?

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

He once said:

"If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists, that would be splendid."

Doesn't strike me as someone drunk with himself.

Bret said...

How would it be disadvantageous even to someone who's "drunk with himself" to convince everyone he's actually humble and competent, even if not?

Bret said...

Another Keynes quote, this one, not particularly humble:

"The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."

To which James Buchanan (an economist) commented:

"Why does Camelot lie in ruins? Intellectual error of monumental proportion has been made, and not exclusively by the politicians. Error also lies squarely with the economists. The 'academic scribbler' who must bear substantial responsibility is Lord Keynes ..."

I agree completely with Buchanan.

Harry Eagar said...

Fun fact: the Nazis, when they took office, invited Keynes to advise them.

He turned them down on the grounds that his German was not good enough.

I'm not sure what rationalists he was aiming at here. During the period of his great influence, rationalism was not the leading characteristic of European politics or economics, was it?

(It does take a certain 'outlook' to survey the greatest economic expansion of all time and conclude it demonstrated a failure of policy.)

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "[Keynes] turned them [the Nazis] down on the grounds that his German was not good enough."

Too bad. It would've saved us a lot of pain if he let us alone and advised the Nazis instead.

Harry wrote: "It does take a certain 'outlook' to survey the greatest economic expansion of all time and conclude it demonstrated a failure of policy."

I'll I can say is this. Well, that sort of data coupled with the fact that there's no provable (nor even vaguely convincing to me) link of any of Keynes policies to "the greatest economic expansion of all time."

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

I don't think your quote is particularly full of hubris. Depending of the context, he is only saying ideas rule the world, which is a trivial affirmation made in his usual bold style.

BTW, his choice of style is on purpose. He once declared "Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.". Krugman justifies his own style using that same quote.


On Buchanan, my question is: where are the ruins of Camelot? It is still a shining city on a hill as far as I can see from here.

On Germany and Keynes, a few bits of information:

(i) He was the foremost economist to denounce back then the absurdity of conditions placed upon Germany in 1919, and to foresee the war coming from it.

(ii) He was not anti-semitic. [Comments along those lines are out of context]

(iii) He thought Hitler to be mad, just like everybody else.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "...he [Keynes] is only saying ideas rule the world..."

I think you left a few rather important words out of your sentence. It should've been: "... he is saying economic and political philosophy ideas rule the world... and, of course, he just happened to be an economist and political philosopher, and, I believe, he believed himself to be the pinnacle of that ilk.

You could be right, maybe there's no hubris in that quote at all, but in rereading it, I still interpret it as being massively arrogant.

Clovis wrote: "It is still a shining city on a hill as far as I can see from here."

In that case, you need a stronger telescope. :-)

Buchanan wrote that comment in the 1970s when we had serious stagflation, we had been beaten in a war, our president (Nixon) had resigned, and things definitely didn't look too shiny. The stagflation was blamed, by Buchanan, Friedman, and others, on too much fiscal and monetary stimulus.

Howard said...

Very nifty 1-2 combination Harry. (1) The misdirection away from the misconception held and overcome(rationalism as an operational philosophy) and (2) the misconception that attributes to said policies a growth in per capita production and consumption which began more than a century prior...

Harry Eagar said...

I don't think anyone takes Friedman seriously any more. Not after our recent experiences. Anyway, there was that little matter of the reset of energy inputs.

Of course, around here, nobody has taken aboard the fact the depression started in 1922. It is, indeed, correct that what you think controls what you see, unless you make an effort.

Few, very, very few do that.

Barry Meislin said...

Actually, I'm pretty certain that the depression started even earlier---with the Black Sox scandal.

Still haven't really recovered, not really.

And then came along Pete Rose...and all the steroid-niks.

Sigh.

Anyway, I'll take another stab: VDH?

Peter said...

You are wrong, Barry. The Depression started in 1927 with the bankruptcy of Mordechai's Bagel Shop in Brooklyn. It set off a global chain reaction and by the late thirties nobody could find a decent bagel anywhere. Democracy was completely undermined and the rest is history.

Peter said...

It is, indeed, correct that what you think controls what you see, unless you make an effort.

Now, there is a dividing line between left and right. We over here on the starboard side tend to believe what we see controls what we think.

erp said...

Whatever date you put on the start of the depression, it wasn't an accident, IMO (and others) it was set in motion for the same reason the present crisis was set in motion, to further the left's agenda. It didn't work as well it did this time because people back then still had self respect and tried to handle their problems themselves.

Them days are gone now.

Barry Meislin said...

Yes, Peter, the good old days when Brooklyn was the center of the universe....

(But I'm pretty sure it was bialys, not bagels.)

Harry Eagar said...

'We over here on the starboard side tend to believe what we see controls what we think.'

I believe you believe that but that doesn't make it so. In particular, when it comes to faith-based economics, it is the rightwing that ignores facts.

erp is in another dimension entirely. I suppose the leftist governments in France and Belgium stayed on gold after everybody else devalued as some sort of devious left plot to . . . I dunno.

erp, you really need to leave a record of where you get your ideas because future generations will be fascinated by them.

Bret said...

Harry,

I assumed that Peter was being sarcastic. Of course everyone suffers from the same human foibles, one of which is to see only what we want to see.

Harry Eagar said...

Everyone has the tendency. It is possible to fight it.

I didn't detect any sarcasm at all. Maybe been to too many Tea Party confabs.