Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bavard Baverez

Nicolas Baverez is one of those commentators whose portentous manner lends an unmerited gravitas to banality. This morning he is at it again in a Le Monde commentary, which purports to be about Keynes but is really yet another defense of the "liberalism" that is Baverez' only theme. "If Keynes sees eye-to-eye with the 21st century," he writes, ".... it is by virtue of his liberalism, which postulates that it is human beings, by their actions and judgment, who make the economy, even if they know not what economy they make."

There you have the echt Baverezian manner: the enlistment of yet another culture hero in the liberal cause, the buried paraphrase of Marx to demonstrate the writer's universal ken, and the banality of the assertion, which manages to pose as the judicious conclusion of a careful argument while in fact culminating a series of thumping truisms with a statement that rings as it does because it is as empty as a bell. It's certainly no sin to cast Keynes as a liberal; he belonged to the Liberal Party, after all, and made it his mission to save capitalism from the venality, stupidity, and ignorance of too many capitalists. But Baverez manages at once to make it seem as though Keynes advocated a minimalist "night watchman" state while vaguely approving only those interventions needed "to recreate the environment necessary to the free play of the market and the full utilization of productive potential." This is scarcely adequate. Slightly better is Baverez' grudging recognition of Keynes' "dynamic conception of capitalism as a series of disequilibria," but he manages to blunt the force of this observation by linking it to a notion of the state as "teacher and comforter."

Baverez gained prominence because of the need in France for intellectual defenders of the market. Le Monde has been particularly receptive to his writing, even promoting his "declinist" book of a few years back with a forum of commentary. He filled a niche once occupied with far greater style and authority by Raymond Aron, but to mention him in the same breath as Aron is only to diminish him by the comparison. There is no boldness in his thinking and nothing very heroic in his defense of liberalism. On Keynes and Keynesianism he is no help at all.


Unknown said...

I agree completely. Keynes's genius is well known in economics, but on a broader, political plane, it was an extremely smart response to the threat of communism. As for Baverez, we can do him shorter: "salauds de pauvres" sums up his views quite entirely. Not quite so smart politically. And certainly no Aron.

brent said...

To measure the full weight of Baverez's "portentous manner" you need to notice the DOUBLE "buried paraphrase"--that's not just Marx but Jesus Christ, on the cross no less, saying that "ils ne savent pas ... qu'ils font." On my scorecard he gets points for chutzpah, but loses them again for poor taste.

Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that France's decline is real: "We used to have Aron, now we've got Baverez".