BEN HARRIS: He stood for the very best of our civilisation


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I was very sad to hear about the death of Professor Norman Geras on Friday. He and those who were in turn influenced by him such as Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch and John Rentoul have had a truly profound impact on the evolution of my politics over the last decade.

Geras was a Marxist but also a supporter of new Labour, particularly in terms of its liberal interventionist foreign policy, and was a much more genuine Liberal than most of the authoritarian and moral relativist “liberal” left could hope to be. He wrote against tyranny, religious obscurantism and the accommodations that too many on the Left are prepared to make with these forces due to their anti-Imperialism – that is, their antipathy towards their own sullied and impure Western societies. A necessary warning when such sentiments extend far into the moderate Left in the cases of the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes: the “acceptable face” of tyranny that crushes the individual conscience and degrades the personal relationships and freely-given interdependence that we voluntarily enter into.

Despite the disgrace that so many of his fellow Marxists heaped and continue to heap on the Left, he recognised that the liberty and freedom that our society affords is a superior value, but a contested one in need of defence. He entered into that defence in a forensic and measured manner and eschewed cheap smears and black-and-white thinking. He stood for the very best of our civilisation.

His death is a loss, particularly when, as it seems to me, the values of liberty and human rights that he championed are on the retreat in mainstream Left thinking – whether it be indifference to chemical attacks on Syrians, state regulation of the press, censoriousness over pornography or limits on free speech to prevent offence being taken.