Norman Geras. Not an obituary.

I think I first heard Professor Emeritus Norman Geras talk about 8-9 years ago. It was some event at Senate House. I had read his blog for some time and wanted to hear him in person.

He was impressive, intellectually.

That is the word for him, but moreover connected to humanity.

I often disagreed with Norm. My last email exchange with him could have been much better. My fault entirely. He never made a point of highlighting his illness. Norm kept writing intelligently to the very last.

This is not an obituary for Norm, but praise of his intellectual prowess, kindness and deep connection to civilisation in all its various forms.

I can make no better recommendation than to suggest reading his blog from the first post onwards. Think about the point he is trying to convey. Disagree with it and then have a rethink.

Norm enriched humanity, and what better tribute is there?

Norm Geras on Blogger, from July 2003.

Norm Geras on Typepad, from 31st December 2003.

I shall be adding to this post over the next few days. Readers, please do leave links to any material on Norm that I have missed.

Update 1: Pioneering blogger Norman Geras dies of prostate cancer aged 70.

Norman Geras in the Guardian.

John Rentoul on Norman Geras: 1943-2013.

Norman Geras at New Left Review.

Update 2: The superb Norm Fest site has been set up by Damian Counsell.

Update 3: Engage has produced a small tribute, Norm 1943-2013.

Update 4: Choosing one or two particular posts from Norm is incredibly difficult. He was consistently outstanding, but these two should strike a bell with thinking antiracists:

On resigning from the union.

David Ward MP, innocent.

Update 5: Norman Geras: For Human Nature by Colin Talbot.

Martin In The Margins is good, R.I.P. Norman Geras (1943 – 2013).

Update 6: I thought Ben Cohen’s words expressed the real Norm:

“Geras was, to be sure, a Marxist and a man of the left. His books included a study of the Polish-Jewish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg and an important treatise entitled “Marx and Human Nature,” in which he argued that Marx did, in fact, accept that there was such a thing as human nature, and that socialists consequently needed to grasp the ethical implications of this position.

Later in his life, Geras grappled on a daily basis with those ethical implications. A stalwart opponent of Stalinism during the Cold War, in its aftermath he emerged as perhaps the most tenacious critic of the western left’s embrace of dictators and tyrants from Slobodan Milosevic to Hugo Chavez, by way of Saddam Hussein.

The platform he used to express these views was, at least at the time he launched it, a novel one: a blog simply entitled“Normblog.” During the decade or so of the blog’s life, its austere design never once received a makeover, yet each day, thousands of readers would flock to read the latest posts by “Norm,” the name by which Geras became universally known. Norm’s interests­–reviews of books and films and music, interviews with other bloggers about why they blog, ruminations on political philosophy, reminiscences of his favorite cities, observations about cricket, a sport he truly loved–more than anything else brought to mind the phrase flung by Stalin’s prosecutors against the Jews they loathed. For Norm, who was born in what was then Southern Rhodesia, and who spent the bulk of his life domiciled in the United Kingdom, was truly a “rootless cosmopolitan.” “

Update 7: Tim Swift says it far better than me:

“His political comments were almost always challenging and thoughtful, and I know he’s changed and developed my thinking in many ways. His political position defies classification, as perhaps should be the case for any deep thinker. A Marxist who rejected and condemned without hesitation the communism of Stalin and Lenin, arguing that genuine Marxism is only feasible in the context of liberal and democratic freedoms. A man of the left who strongly supported liberal interventionism and the defence of what he saw as inalienable human rights and freedoms. An atheist who was yet careful of sensitive understanding of people of faith (and whose criticisms of their underlying assumptions was therefore all the more devastating).

But perhaps his strongest theme was his condemnation of inaction in the face of genocide, a world view that was grounded in his Jewish roots and his deep understanding, both intellectual and emotional, of the impact of the Holocaust on the West. His only book I’ve read, “The Contract of Mutual Indifference” is not an easy read, but explores how we find it possible to continue with our everyday lives in a world where others are subject to the most appalling actions and consequences.” [My emphasis.]

Update 8: Tim points towards Mick Hartley’s Normblog at ten, which in turn shows Norm disemboweling a sloppy thinker:

“For any mature member of the left, the point that duly arrives, in other words, should arrive rather earlier than when some self-styled socialist outfit is beginning to imprison and kill people; it should arrive on the first day it usurps the autonomous judgement of conscientious political activists. Equally, no one should ever sign up to the thesis that you can’t criticize organizations you support because to do so will give ammunition to their enemies.

Note also in passing here Michael’s observation that ‘international capitalism can only offer inequality and war [etc]’. Yes, what did the Romans ever do for us? If he were to re-read some Marx he would find material to contradict this ludicrous statement, as he also would by taking a look at the real world.” [My emphasis.]

Update 9: John-Paul Pagano writes:

“Maybe the notion that someone might “let you know” that they’re departing is desperate, or unseemly in a parlor-game way, but I think it serves here as a metaphor for the impact Norm had on so many of us, including and perhaps especially those like me who didn’t know him in “real life”. He was present, even if you didn’t often actively think about him.”

John-Paul directs us to Norm’s Apologists among us.

Update 10: Please do read Bob From Brockley’s simple: I miss you Norm.

Update 11: The breadth and diversity of Norm’s thinking is shown by his bibliography.

Update 12: Dr. Na’ama Carmi’s tribute.

Update 13: Eve Garrard is characteristically clear headed:

“From his perspective, the response to the events of 11 September 2001 was appalling. He found the readiness of many to blame the US for bringing the terrorist attack down on its own head to be intellectually feeble and morally contemptible. He argued that this section of the left was betraying its own values by offering warm understanding to terrorists and cold neglect to their victims. He detested the drawing of an unsupported and insupportable moral equivalence between western democracies and real or proposed theocratic tyrannies in which liberty of thought and speech, and the protection of human rights, would play no part. Norm wanted to engage in this debate and not just with academics. So he went online, to provide himself with a space in which he could express these and other views, – and Normblog was born.” [My emphasis.]


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