October 21st, 2013

RIP: Norm Geras

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).

Norm was also a movie buff and a devoted cricket fan (I must confess I didn’t read his pieces on cricket). His obituary in the Guardian has more to say:

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.

16 Responses to “RIP: Norm Geras”

  1. Mitsu Says:

    I have to say, I’ve never understood the left’s knee-jerk willingness to support brutal dictators just because we happened to be in opposition to them. However, Geras was wrong to support the Iraq War, not because Saddam was not such a bad guy, but because the costs of the war would vastly outstrip the benefits, in terms of blood and dollars. That was pretty evident to me, at least, at the outset, and not to Geras, but he did have the intellectual honesty to admit later on that he had been wrong to support the Iraq War.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Mitsu:

    Norm’s actual opinion, written in Feb of 2013:

    My reasons [for ultimately thinking it was wrong] were clear enough – that the human costs of the war had been too great, indeed disastrous. But these reasons did not include the thesis that there had, after all, been no moral case for the war. There was a powerful moral case for it; so much so that in October 2006 I still insisted that nothing could have got me, even had I not supported the war, to march against it. Nothing could have, because I would not lend my efforts towards helping to save the Baathist regime. I would have butted out, that’s all. My view hasn’t changed since. So, for all those who want the admission – wrong. Yet with the clear specification: there was a moral case for the war. Those who resolutely deny that there was are either morally obtuse or in the way of sanctimony.

  3. Cornflour Says:

    I too will miss reading “normblog.” I wish it weren’t so, but he was the only left-wing writer I respected. Now there are none, and the Left doesn’t even recognize their loss. Even the occasion of his death prompts attacks on his heterodox views.

  4. Mitsu Says:

    I’d agree with what Norm wrote, there. There certainly was a moral case for the war. Not everyone is good at thinking about military strategy or the logistical and other issues related to that, and one can’t fault him for not foreseeing those — that’s not everyone’s forte.

  5. vanderleun Says:

    Sad news.

  6. Ann Says:

    Yes, very sad news. I’d gotten out of the habit of reading him the last year or so on a regular basis, but whenever I did pay a visit to his blog I always found whatever he had to say honest, interesting, and refreshing.

    His family must be desolate; I got the impression from what he wrote that they were very close.

  7. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Losing important friends is never easy. At a certain age, (When you begin reading the obits to see who passed on.) the death of a friend or relative reminds us too clearly of our mortality.

    I seldom read his blog, but was certainly aware of it back in the Iraq days. I believe he was much like Christopher Hitchens, a leftist who was strongly against Islamic terrorism.

    It’s too bad he never engaged neo’s commenter, Eric, on the issue of the Iraq war. Eric makes a strong case for the war and for recognizing that it was a success that was squandered by Obama because he failed to get a status of forces agreement.

    At any rate, Iraq needed to be done in order to find out if a majority Muslim country could embrace representative government and tolerance for all faiths. If any Muslim country could have done it, Iraq was the best bet. Now we’ll never know, but the presumption is in the negative.

    RIP Norm Geras.

  8. Eric Says:

    JJ, Thanks.

    Mitsu, war doesn’t justify the cost of war because war is destruction. A war’s cost only is justified by the long-term peace we create and build upon the destruction. Iraq should have been the cornerstone of our victory in the War on Terror.

    As President, Clinton said about the US-led enforcement on Iraq: “In the century we’re leaving, America has often made the difference between chaos and community; fear and hope. Now, in a new century, we’ll have a remarkable opportunity to shape a future more peaceful than the past — but only if we stand strong against the enemies of peace.”

    Bush honored Clinton’s pledge with Iraq. But Obama did not. Bush handed Obama a winning hand with Iraq, achieved through revolutionary accomplishments by our military in Iraq, in partnership with the Iraqi people, under enormously adverse conditions both over there and at home. Obama inherited an Iraq that had turned the corner after Saddam and the terrorist onslaught, and on its way to building the peace, yet still fragile and beset by vicious anti-liberal forces. We were ready to help Iraq build the long-term peace after a hard struggle, as we have done following other wars as leader of the free world. But Obama bungled it.

  9. Gringo Says:

    Norm Geras’s Normblog covered a wide range of topics, from politics to literature to jazz. He also had some interviews with bloggers. His blog was both learned and sensible. I will miss his blogging. The world was a better place for his having been here.

  10. Ymarsakar Says:

    Obama was too busy playing wolf and wouldn’t meet with the Afghanistan COIN generals, since they wouldn’t lick Democrat boots.

    Eventually, after awhile, time was up and there was no reload or reset button.

  11. FOAF Says:

    Shorter mitsu: It was all Bush’s fault. And try to forget about Obamacare.

  12. DNW Says:

    I hadn’t heard of him, and his famous essay was written sometime after I graduated.

    Nonetheless that essay addresses a most critical matter, one which those who have not studied Marxist thought in any depth, especially the EPM, might well miss until they are slapped upside the head with this realization once the left gains power, i.e.,: Despite their use of the language of rights and justice and fairness, the Marxist left believes in no such things. How could they, after all such phenomena are interpreted as epiphenomena, or superstructure.

    I just glanced at the Geras essay for a few minutes. But I gather that he, Geras, somewhat contrariwise seems to think that despite Marx’s many overt and documented expressions of contempt for the ideas of rights, justice, freedom, and constitutional polities – all that mythology of the capitalist class – Marx did have some implicit sense of justice which psychologically drove him. (again I just speed read the essay).

    Geras would like to see such a notion explicated. Yeah, “Here’s hoping …”

    Well, whether you wish to believe that a man (Marx) who thought that the essence of man was created in his particular productive activities could even logically conceive of valid universal rights of some kind or not, what is important is that people keep before them the salient fact that the central idea of progressivism IS NOT, equality.

    “It is indeed a truism of the philosophical analysis of both justice and equality that the formal principle involved here — ‘Treat like cases alike and different cases commensurately with their differences’ — is practically useless until one has specified substantive criteria regarding what sort of likenesses and what sort of differences are morally relevant; what kind of equality it is, in other words, that matters. Marx for his part comes down in favour of need, and against ‘individual endowment’, as the decisive criterion. There is no question that, in doing so, he himself emphasizes how adoption of this criterion — responding to the specific needs of each individual — must, in some senses, mean unequal individual treatment. It is a mistake, however, to get carried away by this emphasis of his, as are so many of the contributors to this debate. For they cannot, simply by verbal fiat, stipulate that there is not then any sense in which equal consideration and treatment are involved. There is, and Marx shows himself aware of it in the way he criticizes the contribution principle. The needs of all, irrespective of individual endowment, irrespective also of such other and many differentiating characteristics as will be judged to be morally irrelevant — the needs of all equally, therefore, are to be met.”

    All have appetites, but not all can or are willing to work or work effectively. Distribution is to be made on “needs” which are individual.
    From each according to his ability, to each according …”

    Since you can work and he cannot, or will not … but you both have stomachs … “Well, in that case I guess that you are f**ked, blessed be the name of the collective”

    Sound like the individual mandate of Obamacare? That is because it, in essence, is. Modern progressives refer to the scheme when minimally realized, as “social insurance” don’t you know.

    And no, your moral indignation over being used counts for nothing. That is why with Marxists it all comes down to power … and violence.

    How fortunate for progressives that conservatives still do have those internalized moral inhibitions which the progressives scoff at as relics of a primitive mind.

    It will be interesting to see what happens when – helped along by the double dealing of the progressive kind – the conservatives lose those old inhibitions and stand face to face with the progressive; with nothing but a practical calculus remaining between the progressive and it’s doom.

    As I said regarding Geras and his notion regarding the possibility of Marxist justice, “Here’s hoping”

    http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/geras.htm

  13. Eric Says:

    FOAF,

    As an Army veteran (if I recall correctly, JJ is a Navy veteran), I found this statement by Mitsu particularly annoying:

    Not everyone is good at thinking about military strategy or the logistical and other issues related to that, and one can’t fault him for not foreseeing those — that’s not everyone’s forte.

  14. Ymarsakar Says:

    For Mitsu, Sarah Palin will always be the standard by which he judges what is true or false, for a propagandized zombie will never resurrect as a full human ever again.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    Oh sorry, that should be “Anti Palin” propaganda, of course.

    Back when the MSM hit and run propaganda interviews came out, people had these “opinions” that they thought were about the Best Candidate.

    They were merely regurgitating somebody else’s pap.

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    http://neoneocon.com/2008/09/26/the-ultimate-aphrodisiac/

    Ah, the authentic Mitsu-Palin sauce. Lost, but found once more.

    I’ve addressed Barack’s comments on that subject at length in Neo’s post about that, and I won’t repeat my remarks here, but I will simply say that it’s quite obvious that you and most people criticizing Obama about this don’t understand the technical meaning of the term “preconditions” in diplomatic circles. It’s an understandable mistake, but it’s simply a mistake on your part, not “incoherence” on the part of Obama.-Guess who

    Looks like some people have a definite lack of “fortes”.

    It’s not like we can fault him for anything.

    Obama and the Left are going to make him default, we need do nothing on that score.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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