In the Long Run We Are All Dead is a stunning and audacious book that invites multiple re-visits, so impressive is its oeuvre and so numerous its insights. The book’s key premise is that Keynesianism is neither confined to the person of J.M. Keynes nor an ‘-ism’ that congeals in his wake. In Mann’s telling “Keynesianism” precedes Keynes; indeed, for Mann Keynes is merely one of the most influential bearers of the doctrine or worldview that trucks under the name “Keynesianism.” “In fact,” Mann writes, “Keynesian ideas have been an essential component of political life in capitalist liberal democracy since long before Keynes himself walked the earth” (page 5). I read In the Long Run We Are All Dead as a “hauntology”: a repeated reckoning with the social specters of “poverty,” “unemployment,” and “inequality” that are immanent and endogenous to “the yield seeking, entrepreneurial atomicity” (page 11) of liberal capitalist modernity. The ghost of poverty-scarcity haunts liberalism and Keynesianism names the ideological-intellectual repertoire, repeated with difference, which seeks to vanquish this persistent haunting that threatens the very core of modern “civilization.” A “fear of disorder” or “the emergence of a ‘state of nature’” is Keynesian reason’s “most fundamental driver” (page 51).

Keynesianism, Mann contends, has three key features (pages 46-50):

1) It is a “reluctantly radical but immanent critique of liberalism” that is Euro-American in character: in the geographic origins of its ideas and the object of its ruminations. Thus, according to Mann, “Keynesianism has almost always been not just a critique elaborated from within liberal capitalist ‘industrial’ nation-states in western Europe and North America—it has also been a critique that almost entirely ignores everywhere else” (page 47). I’ll say later where I agree and disagree with this.

2) Keynesianism both condones and critiques liberalism: it supports liberalism’s commitment to individual liberty but not when that is purchased at the expense of the social collective.[1] To be clear: Keynesianism’s goal is not to create a hybrid with “a little bit of individualism and a little bit of collectivism… [it] is rather to propose something novel… a means by which freedom, solidarity, and security can be fully realized at once in a rational social order” (page 49).

3) Keynesianism seeks to demonstrate that the “self-destructive forces produced by civil society… need not necessarily lead to a tragic ending” (pages 49-50). Indeed, Keynesianism seeks to reassure that “with patient and pragmatic oversight, existing institutions, ideas, and social relations have the potential to produce, without rupture, a radically transformed social order” (page 50), that is, what Mann later terms a “revolution without revolution.”[2]

Finally, Keynesianism in its various incarnations—Thermidorian, Hegelian, Keynesian, or, most recently, through the likes of Paul Krugman or Thomas Piketty—proposes “what Hegel called a ‘universal class’ that can surgically remove social questions like poverty from the everyday messiness of politics and address them properly in the expert realm of reason and reasonableness” (page 10). In this respect, critics of dirigisme and, indeed, liberal purists who cherish individual liberty above all, are correct to be wary of Keynesianism, which, as Mann notes “absolutely depends on the state that prioritizes collective security over individual liberty” (page 52).

It is important to point out here that Mann approaches “poverty” as the antithesis of liberal “freedom” (the imprint of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right is starkly evident in this formulation). “Poverty,” Mann observes, “is always a condition imposed upon the poor and in this true sense it is not the opposite of abundance or wealth, but the opposite of freedom” (page 12). Unlike the bourgeoisie the Keynesians do not heap blame on the poor for their predicament, but many of them (Hegel excepted) are unable to see that “poverty serves no purpose, has no place, and [ultimately] cannot be justified” (ibid).[3] As a frequent reader of Hegel I want to insert a note appreciation here. Mann does an extraordinary job of unpacking the nuanced views of a notoriously difficult thinker, in the process banishing the stereotypes of Hegel as an inveterate “idealist,” who is “mystical,” “conservative” and “teleological.” Mann’s Hegel is recurrently “radical,” deeply attuned to industrial capitalism’s pathologies and “pragmatic” in his reckoning.

Mann also refutes narratives commonly accepted by the Left about Keynesianism: as an ideology that seeks to save “capitalism” or, a variant thereof (propounded by the likes of Antonio Negri), that Keynesianism emerged as a reaction to the possibility of revolution by the working classes. In fact, says Mann, the elitist Keynes had a low estimation of the masses’ capacity to “achieve anything constructive on their own” (page 16). What he feared was the onset of bellum omnium contra omnes, a breakdown of civilization and a relapse into “the war of all against all.”

This is also, Mann contends (in an act of brutal honesty), the “existential terror” that afflicts the Left, himself included, hence the affinity of so many on the Left for Keynesian policies that promise to deliver a “revolution without revolutionaries.” The bourgeois desire lurks just under the surface: “Crisis is the name we give to a condition we are afraid will not return to normal” (page 84). Thus, in Mann’s reckoning “much (if not all) of the Left wants democracy without populism; it wants transformational politics without the risks of transformation” (page 21)—this risk being a people becoming a rabble, who then threaten the “thin and precarious crust” of civilization.[4] The Jacobin “Terror” or Stalin are iconic instances of populism run amuck.

Mann, as I have tried to underscore, is scrupulous to a fault in explaining his use of categories and in demarcating his argument’s geographic remit. For example, noting that “Euro-America” is the “home ground” of Hegel and Keynes (the two Keynesians who anchor the book) Mann writes: “This is not an accidental or trivial feature, although it is analytically convenient for both Hegel and Keynes since…it allows them to claim to identify universals on the basis of what are actually very provincial histories. Just as important, though, is the fact that the critique mirrors perfectly the white, masculinist, colonialist, and bourgeois worlds in and to which they spoke. There is no outside to either of their accounts” (page 47; my italics).

Critics, even deeply admiring ones, have the right to be churlish. So, I am going to object here by saying “there is always an outside.” Mann tells us that the purveyors of Keynesianism operate within (what Louis Althusser would have called) a “problematic” and the nature of every problematic is to illuminate an “inside” (answering the questions it throws up) even as, unconsciously, it forgets or obscures “regions” beyond. Now, in Hegel’s case at least, we don’t even need the contrivance of a “symptomatic reading” (Althusser et al. 2016) to expose how fundamentally constitutive Europe’s margins are to his (germanische) “Europe.” While there is a peculiarly self-contained character to The Philosophy of Right (for good reason the main object of Mann’s attention, but even there “colonization” appears as a “spatial fix”)[5], it is virtually impossible to grasp Hegel’s oeuvre or his dialectic without acknowledging the constitutive work of Europe’s outside (see, for example, Bernasconi 1998; Tibebu 2011; Habib 2017).  Keynes’ system, by contrast, operates more clearly as a “closed economy” model, but even here one can ask—even if the man himself does not admit an “outside”—how an outside nevertheless interrupts his theory’s certitudes.

Let me put it this way. If Keynesianism (as Mann presents it on pages 46-50) is the imperfect poultice that has to be periodically applied to liberal society’s self-inflicted wounds in the enacted domain of economy, might we not say that violence (including imperial and racial violence) is the pharmakon—in its composite sense as remedy, poison, and scapegoat—that liberalism periodically administers in defense of “freedom” and “civilization,” transforming the “dishonorable poverty” of the masses into majoritarian privilege and “honorable poverty” (“whiteness as property,” to invoke the title of Cheryl Harris’ landmark 1993 article)?

Epidermal privilege combined with the white heat of resentment can be a powerful salve. Ask the destitute Scotsmen and Englishmen who were shipped off to colonial India over two centuries where they could flaunt their racial superiority over the natives. Or, as reported by Cedric Robinson in Black Marxism (1983), variants of an ethno-nationalist (or more expansively, herrenvolk) ideology that allowed the lower orders in France or Germany or England to preen their biological superiority over the colored races as well as lesser whites. Or, more recently, the white working classes who were so guilefully drawn by “moral panic” about “darkies”—West Indian and Pakistani immigrants—into the Thatcherite fold, documented with verve by Stuart Hall and his collaborators in Policing the Crisis (1978). Or, the “forgotten” trailer park masses, who, in company with well-off white suburbanites (men and women), turned out in droves to vote to power the demagogue who would “Make America Great Again.”

Keynes’s biographer, Robert Skidelsky, notes that Keynes “single biggest blindspot” and one that he shares with the “Anglo-Saxon” tradition to which he belonged is the “neglect of the institutions through which people act” (Skidelsky 1994: 544). None of the conjunctures, even the troubled present, can be described as bellum omnium contra omnes: my simple point being that liberal capitalist “civilization” may be considerably more robust and cunning in keeping the majoritarian masses quiescent than either Hegel or Keynes imagined. Why should we suppose that the “rabble” is immune to the seductions of “civilization”? One might equally argue that liberalism’s re-activating “counter-history” (Losurdo 2011) allows the poor and not-so-poor masses to be enrolled in the defense of “civilization.” The issue, here, is the nature of the “Euro-American” civilization that Mann’s Keynesians are so ardent about defending. Isn’t that civilization a thoroughly patriarchal and racial formation?[6]

Which brings me to my next point: If “poverty” and its associated pathologies are the transhistorical specters that haunt liberal capitalist modernity, then surely “violence” is the other transhistorical feature that constantly nourishes it, continuously founding a political community that is able to give place to those who otherwise have no place: the majoritarian “poor.”

Two corollaries here:

First, internally, at the scale of the nation-state, this involves renewing violence against racialized minorities (the nation’s “fragments,” to invoke Partha Chatterjee’s (1993) memorable phrasing), who are portrayed as “lawless,” “idle,” “uncivilized” denizens, populations that have to be managed and used, exempt from the injunctions of either Kant’s “categorical imperative” (to be ends-in-themselves not merely means), or the last resort protections of the “law of necessity” (whether the traditional doctrine of ius necessitatis or Hegel’s Notrecht).

Second, globally, this takes the form of colonial and imperial violence. In his provocative Welleck lectures, Talal Asad (2007: 63) acidly notes that liberalism has long required that “some humans have to be treated violently in order that humanity can be redeemed.” Liberal “civilization” involves two morality plays. On the one hand (the one we find in Keynes’ General Theory), there is the morality play between the Entrepreneur and the Hoarder, personifying “the battle between the ‘inducement to invest’ and the ‘propensity to hoard’—a battle often raging in the mind of the same person” (Skidelsky 1994: 542), that requires the statesman as economist to intervene with his calibrated policies. On the other hand, there is the morality play between the forces of “civilization” and the forces of “disorder” or, as Asad puts it, the “barbarians” who are portrayed as out of joint with liberalism’s shining touchstones: “life,” “liberty” and “property.”

In Asad’s words: “When social difference is seen as backwardness and backwardness as a source of danger to civilized society, [liberalism’s] self-defense calls for a project of reordering the world in which the rules of civilized warfare cannot be allowed to stand in the way” (Asad 2007: 62). In short, disproportionate death dealing rather than calibrated economic policies becomes the permissible path of action. The political theorist Margaret Canovan, whom Asad relies upon in his exposition, has expressed this view by way of a memorable metaphor. She writes:

Liberalism is not a matter of clearing away a few accidental obstacles and allowing humanity to unfold its natural essence. It is more like making a garden in a jungle that is continually encroaching . . . But it is precisely the element of truth in the gloomy pictures of society and politics drawn by critics of liberalism that makes the project of realizing liberal principles all the more urgent. The world is a dark place, which needs redemption by the light of a myth (Canovan 1990: 16).

In conclusion I want to return to a claim that Mann issues early on about Keynesianism almost entirely ignoring contexts outside “Euro-America.” That may be narrowly true of Keynes, but it is harder to sustain (as I have said) in the case of Hegel, who has a bit to say about the world beyond. And surely the grand project of ‘Development’—its antecedents plainly colonial—was also in the spirit of what Mann calls Keynesianism (cf. Cowen and Shenton 1996; Hart 2009)? After all, what was World Bank President Robert McNamara’s 1973 proclamation in Nairobi of a “war against poverty”—made in the wake of Vietnam, Nixon’s abolition of the Gold Standard, the brewing OPEC oil crisis, and sagging growth in the industrial West—but a call to defend “civilization” from the planetary upheavals of the “rabble”?

But these, as I have intimated, are ultimately minor quibbles with the author. They should not detract in the least from a considerable accomplishment. Thank you, Geoff Mann, for an amazing, exhilarating book. 


[1] Elsewhere, Mann characterizes Keynesianism as a “sympathetic critique” of the “liberal syllogism,” which has the following propositional structure: “(a) liberalism produced modern civilization; (b) liberal is capitalist; therefore (c) all modern civilization is capitalist” (p. 23).
[2] The phrase is from Antonio Gramsci. As Peter Thomas (2009: 146n29) explains, Gramsci variously called the process of bourgeois restoration—which is precisely what Keynesianism as a “science and sensibility” (Mann, p. 7) strives to effect—a “revolution without revolution,” “progressive restoration,” “revolutions-restorations,” or most famously (in a borrowing from Vincenzo Cuoco), “passive revolution.”
[3] That Keynes could not see that the pathologies of capitalism—poverty, unemployment, inequality, and so on—would persist in spite of his best efforts is, as Mann puts it, the “tragic core” of his General Theory.
[4]Civilization…is a thin and precarious crust, erected by the personality and will of a very few, and only maintained by the rules and conventions skillfully put across and guilefully preserved” (from a 1938 tract by Keynes, quoted in Mann, p. 9; italics in the original). Keynes elitism here, Mann is saying, is pervasive within self-proclaimed leftists; hence, their ambivalent attitude to working-class attitudes and failure to either grasp or politically harness the affective dimension of populism.
[5] “Civil society is driven to establish colonies” (Hegel 1991: 269, §248).
[6] And to be entirely fair, Mann is keenly aware of this (see his informed discussion of political economy’s relationship to colonialism on pp. 204-214); yet, somehow, the colonial and post-colonial outsides and uptakes of Keynesianism get short shrift in his account.


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