When asked what politics he held, the famous nineteenth-century Apostle and poet Alfred Tennyson is reported to have said: “I am of the same politics as Shakespeare, Bacon and every sane man” (H.T. Tennyson 1897: 42). The questioner anticipated an answer from among the conventional alternatives, for example, Tory or Whig, but Tennyson refused to identify his politics with a party. The reason for this is that Tennyson, under the influence of Coleridge, believed that all of the parties expressed a truth and a “sane man” would not want to deny any truth by affiliating himself with any single party in general and thereby exclude the partial truths of others. From the Coleridgean perspective the only rational political position, generally speaking, is to support the truths expressed by each party and to reject their claims to exclusivity. Their opposition to factionalism was a distinctive characteristic of many apostolic politicians even as they joined particular political parties. Tennyson’s remark also captures Keynes’s approach to politics. Despite the fact that his name has become a symbol for a particular view in the ongoing controversy over the proper role of government vis-à-vis the economy, Keynes’s own political views have been construed in vastly different ways. Some have seen him as a Lockean individualist; others have seen him as a communist or socialist. Perhaps the most striking evidence for a left Keynes is his location of the “republic of my imagination” in the “extreme left of celestial space” (Keynes 1971-89, 9: 309). There is also textual support for those who see a conservative Keynes, including his sympathetic early essay on the great conservative Edmund Burke, his repeated and harsh condemnation of Marx and the Bolsheviks, and his warm praise for Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944). In terms of practical politics we find the same diversity of views in Keynes’s writings. He generally aligned himself with the Liberal Party, but at times he expressed sympathy for the Conservative and Labor Parties. Yet he also criticized all three. Faced with these apparently contradictory positions, some writers have concluded that Keynes’s views were incoherent or confused when it came to politics. For example, according to Karl Brunner’s assessment, Keynes’s political views represent a “confusing mixture” (Brunner 1987: 31). The idea that Keynes’s political views were confused, however, is highly unlikely. Keynes believed that political philosophy was of the greatest importance. He read widely

and deeply in political theory. He studied political thinkers closely, from the ancients – especially Plato and Aristotle – through the early moderns – such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau – to the figures whose ideas were of the greatest importance in late nineteenth-century Cambridge – including J.S. Mill and Henry Sidgwick. He was also immersed in practical politics. It is hard to imagine that he was simply confused about something he held to be so important and spent so much time on. A more plausible response to Keynes’s diverse political proclamations, given by Skidelsky (2000: 231-4) and O’Donnell (1989: 325-30), has been to view Keynes as the champion of a “middle way” which compromises or splits the difference between right and left. This view is supported by the fact that Keynes himself used the language of the “middle” in some instances to describe his own position (for example, Keynes 1971-89, 27: 386). Nor is it unreasonable, within the relevant context, to view the Liberal Party, with which Keynes allied himself, as standing in the middle of the British political spectrum between Labour and the Conservatives. But in other ways the “middle way” fails to accurately capture the complexity Keynes’s position. At times Keynes used language that set him in opposition to that which right and left positions shared. For example, in The Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren (1930), writing on opinions about the current economic conditions, Keynes said:

I predict that both of the two opposed errors of pessimism which now make so much noise in the world will be proved wrong in our own time – the pessimism of the revolutionaries who think that things are so bad that nothing can save us but violent change, and the pessimism of the reactionaries who consider the balance of our economic and social life so precarious that we must risk no experiments.