I am sorry to report that Norman Geras has died.
Geras was a blogger from 2003 on, and instrumental in helping out other bloggers back in the days when blogging was new and very exciting. He was the man I consider my blogfather, and he reached out a hand to me when I was just beginning (here’s a feature he kindly did about me back at the start of my blogging career).
I met Norm in 2005 when he visited the states, and he was a friendly and intelligent guy in person, too, just as one would expect. He was good at getting people together, and he just may have been the very first fellow-blogger I ever actually met in regular rather than cyberspace. I wrote many posts in the early years that were sparked by things Geras had written, mostly about the war in Iraq and the war against Islamic terrorism in general, or about the Holocaust (see this list for some of these pieces).
Notice I haven’t yet written about Norm’s achievements outside the blogosphere, but they were substantial:
Norman Geras (25 August 1943 – 18 October 2013) was a political theorist and Professor Emeritus of Politics at the University of Manchester. He contributed to an analysis of the works of Karl Marx in his book Marx and Human Nature and the article The Controversy About Marx and Justice.
Geras was born in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, to a Jewish family. Arriving in the UK in 1962, he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Pembroke College, Oxford and graduated in 1965. He was a research student from 1965 to 1967 at Nuffield College, Oxford before joining the University of Manchester as a Lecturer in 1967, retiring as a Professor in 2003.
As you can glean from the above, Geras was a man of the left. But what the Wiki article doesn’t even begin to describe is that he was a very unusual man of the left, one who actually fought against tyranny and meant what he said (see this piece of mine for a description of Geras’ stance on the Iraq War).
His interests were rich and varied, but his thought and writings form an integrated whole. He was centrally and always a man of the left, but one who became a scourge of those parts of left/liberal opinion which, in his view, had slid away from commitment to the values of equality, justice and universal rights, and in so doing ended up by excusing or condoning racism and terrorism.
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.
It was a runaway success. Thousands of readers all over the world were drawn by Norm’s mixture of serious political and philosophical reasoning, and more lighthearted pieces on cricket, Manchester United, country music, films, books – whatever he was currently interested in. The most striking feature of the blog was Norm’s distinctive arguing style: independent, rigorous, fair to adversaries, exceptionally clear, always (well, almost always) civil – and that in a blogosphere noted for widespread vituperation and insult.
On reading that, it occurs to me that maybe I tried to model my own blog style on his more than I ever realized.
My condolences to Norm’s family and friends. RIP, Norm Geras, my old friend, and thank you.