With great sadness I learned that one of my favourite bloggers passed away on Friday: Professor Norman Geras, otherwise known as “normblog“.
I never had the privilege of meeting or getting to know Professor Geras but from I have read about him, he was a remarkable man both in his academic career and in his personal traits. A short excerpt from his obituary in The Tablet might explain some of his essence:
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”.
In challenging the orthodoxies of the left, Norm adopted stances that were denounced as heretical by his comrades in the Marxist academy, most especially the editorial board of the New Left Review, a journal he was long involved with before they parted ways over the issue of supporting authoritarian regimes in the name of “anti-imperialism”.
This sensibility was carried over into his writings on anti-Semitism, a subject he addressed with increasing frequency and urgency, given the vogue among some of his fellow academics for boycotting their Israeli colleagues, and more generally depicting Israel as the source of all evil. And in doing so, his Jewish identity was placed front and center.
Through his unfailing insight and disarming honesty, Norm was unique. And now that he is gone, it is safe to say that we will not see his like again.
From my own experience, all I can say is that he was enormously kind to me, linking to my blog in his blogroll almost immediately after I set up this blog, and on the few occasions that I emailed him about a post he had written or an interesting link that I had found, he unfailingly answered me immediately and with utmost courtesy—something that I do not take for granted, especially from such a busy and well-known person.
There are several very moving obituaries out there on the internet tonight, all of which help us get to know the man behind the screen name, and all of them shed more light on his personality than I ever could. Here are a few:
From Harry’s Place:
From Engage Online:Norm 1943–2013
From the American Spectator: Norman Geras RIP
Who will take Norm’s place on the “sane Left”? Prof. Geras has left a huge gap which will be hard to fill.
May his family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and may his memory be for a blessing.