Jose Harris

  • John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed 1883-1920 by Robert Skidelsky
    Macmillan, 447 pp, £14.95, November 1983, ISBN 0 333 11599 6

John Maynard Keynes, grandson of the minister of the Bunyan chapel at Bedford, was born into a religious tradition that for two hundred years had stopped its ears against the blandishments of Mr Worldly Wiseman and sought only the Celestial City of Eternal Life. The City was to be found, as all readers of Pilgrim’s Progress knew, not by piety or public-spiritedness or good works or moral behaviour, but by that indefinable state of inner consciousness known as Salvation by Faith. By the 1880s, however, the tree of life as revealed to generations of Englishmen by Bunyan’s Pilgrim was dwindling root and branch. At its roots, the Bunyanites and the tradition they represented had been engulfed by a spirit of bustling philanthropy, conventional morality, social ambition and utilitarian calculation. Amid its branches, Faith itself was being continually pared away by the growth of secular knowledge. Among believers and doubters alike, the latter tendency fuelled and reinforced the former: progressive social action provided a pain-killing substitute for the sublime spiritual certainties of a former age.

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