A reader writes:
The man who apologizes with real contrition and full acknowledgement of the depth and wrongness of his failure is perhaps a greater man than one that never puts his mouth wrong. God knows we have plenty of shit banging around on the inside of our heads. It is in the base nature of man to wish to demean his fellow and exalt himself. When it leaks out/misfires, it the mark of a true human being that can fall on his sword in contrition.
Other readers aren’t willing to let Niall off the hook:
Please try to separate your personal relationships from the bigoted nasty things some people say in public. Ferguson’s apology is insincere at best, since he has apparently held those views for many years:
So it seems this is a theory Ferguson has held for a while, that Keynes’ boy-kissing affected his policy somehow. It wasn’t an “off the cuff” remark he made at a conference when Ferguson thought he was just speaking to his finance bros who wouldn’t mind a little joking about the gays with their theory. It’s an argument he made in print and published fourteen years ago.
And from page 400 of The Pity of War:
There is, however, no question that a series of meetings with one of the German representatives at Versailles added an emotional dimension to Keynes’ position. Carl Melchior was Max Warburg’s right-hand man (……..) It may be that Keynes’ subsequent declaration that he ‘got to love’ Melchior during the armistice negotiations at Trier and Spa obliquely alluded to a sexual attraction. As we have seen, Keynes was an active homosexual at this time. However, it seems more likely that Keynes was simply captivated by the sound of his own pessimism…..
I read both those passages and I simply see a historian dealing with the facts of Keynes’ private life. I don’t see any homophobia in there myself. Another reader:
No doubt there is much to say about Niall Ferguson’s lapse into the homophobia latent in our culture, and his apology, and also about the truths of gay life in all of its dimensions. But shouldn’t this also be an occasion to reflect on Ferguson as an intellectual who claims special expertise on economic history and economic policy and international affairs? Keynes, after all, famously wrote on all of these subjects. How could a scholar so mangle Keynes’s quotation about “the long run,” as you noted?
Ferguson’s assertion about Keynes’s economic thought was no passing mistake. It was programmatic. It was ideological. It was about dogma – not history, not economics as a scholarly field. And it was in that context that Ferguson’s deployment of homophobia was not accidental, no matter that homophobia is not a character trait of Ferguson. The issue here is not only homophobia, but also intellectual bad faith.
Small sidepoint: Adam Smith, who said that Burke was “the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us,” was a lifelong bachelor who never had children.