Nearly a century on, perceptions of the Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles still bear the imprint of The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), which became a bestseller in the wake of the conference. Bitter fruit of Keynesâ?? own experience as a delegate in Paris, the book condemned what he branded â??the Carthaginian peaceâ??. The expression was suggested to Keynes by the South African delegate, General Jan Smuts (1870-1950), who referred to the peace concluded in 201 bc after the Second Punic War, when Rome stripped Carthage of its army, navy and overseas possessions and imposed a 50-year indemnity. Otherwise Carthage was left independent and able to recover economically, which eventually it did. Keynes actually seems to have been thinking of the â??peaceâ?? of 146 bc, when, after the Third Punic War, the Romans slaughtered the inhabitants of Carthage or sold them into slavery, annexing what remained of Carthaginian territory. In The Economic Consequences of the Peace Keynes quoted and endorsed the German view that the Treaty of Versailles signalled â??the death sentence of many millions of German men, women and childrenâ??.
The book was widely translated, has never been out of print and has never lost its authority. Its success may be attributed to Keynesâ?? reputation as an economist and the brilliance with which he conveyed the disenchantment shared by many of his colleagues in the British delegation. Neither the acute and prophetic analysis published soon after, Jacques Bainvilleâ??s Les conséquences politiques de la paix (1920), which has never been translated into English, nor the detailed refutation of Keynes by Etienne Mantoux, The Carthaginian Peace or The Economic Consequences of Mr Keynes (1944), succeeded in stemming its influence, though while none of Keynesâ?? predictions were realised almost every one of Bainvilleâ??s were. More recent research contained in two collections of scholarly papers has fared little better. William Keylor, in his contribution to The Treaty of Versailles 75 Years After (1998), and Zara Steiner in â??The Treaty of Versailles Revisitedâ??, published in The Paris Peace Conference, 1919: Peace without Victory (2001), strove to correct what Steiner calls â??the misused image of the â??Carthaginianâ? peaceâ??. In The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919-1933 (2005) Steiner repeats that â??the traditional viewâ?? of Versailles â??needs to be abandonedâ??. But still historians have failed to break the Keynesian spell. Is the accepted image wholly illusory, or does it express an aspect of the truth about the peace treaty?