Category Archives: blogposts about normblog

PAUL EVANS: Encormium

Paul Evans

[first published at Never Trust A Hippy]

Prominent bloggers probably get more obituaries than most, and I don’t think that I can add much to the tonnage of praise and regret that has marked the passing of Norman Geras, late of Normblog.

However, I do have a three-part theory about why Normblog was so important.

Turning off the comments

Sure—the quality of writing and thinking on the site were pretty impressive. It stands to reason that retired Professor who is on a mission is likely to produce something worth bookmarking. But the site’s success can be traced to Norm’s decision not to enable the ‘comments’ function on his blog.

Even if you don’t write about anti-semitism, fielding comments can be a fairly soul-destroying experience. Once you start blogging about the You-Know-Whos, it gets a great deal worse. Norm’s combination of patient rigour and (almost) faultless civility would probably not have lasted long with that additional burden.

A lot of us started blogging to expose our thinking to a critical audience in order to develop our voice. We needed the commenters. We’d be depressed if we didn’t get them.

Norm didn’t have that need. His postings were unusual in that they tended to reflect thinking that was at a more advanced stage of gestation. Turning off the comments feature on his blog undoubtedly suited Norm, but it created a temporary vacuum that allowed this thinking to take on viral properties.

To either challenge or develop Norm’s thinking, you had to set up your own site or comment on the sites of others who linked to him. The need to respond, or to drag a tangent from one of Norms posts brought many of us over the tipping point.

Each new post, sparked by one of Norms, sent dozens of new readers Norm’s way and attracted comments of their own.


Norm’s politics had some of the properties we find in an Internet meme, or at least, one that works for the people who read newspaper op-eds.

It appealed to the innate fascination that politicos have for ‘revisionism’, and (treading carefully…) it was a sign of the muddle that the wider left was in at the time that an assertion of rational enlightenment ideas, or a rejection of anti-semitism, made his posts read like revisionism.

Many of us went through a cycle of curiosity, discomfort, reflection followed by the partisanship of the convert. But even for those who didn’t, the challenge was compelling.

A good example

Most instances of Internet activism have been about harvesting existing support or giving energy and efficiency to already-existing viewpoints. Norm established what the necessary conditions are for the creation of an online project that actually changes minds.

I actually can’t think of another project that has changed minds as effectively as The Euston Manifesto. With all due respect and apologies to the other people involved, Norm was the one who co-ordinated the thinking.

It was his incremental work that smoothed the rough edges off it. Ideas that are going to gain traction need this kind of streamlining, and by the time The Euston Manifesto was published, it could be said to have created a new model for the promotion of political ideas.

That’s my fourpence worth. On the wider question of “political blogging”, October 2013 feels like the end of an era on that one. As the old ‘personal blogging’ space gives way to the social networks that are displacing it, it may be the case that we will soon be drawing a line under this particular episode and reaching our conclusions.

Has it improved the way we think, and talk about politics? The jury is still out on that one. But Normblog did. It cascaded and catalysed.

SHUGGY’S BLOG: For Norman Geras

[first published on Shuggy’s blog]

I’m late—again. Like so many who followed his blog and corresponded with him, I was not surprised, yet shocked nevertheless, to hear that Norman Geras had passed away after a long illness. Having read a number of the touching tributes to him, I’m struck by how little I could say that is in anyway original. Not that originality is what is required at such times. Many have talked about his writing, what it meant to them, and what they did and didn’t agree with. I recognise much in what has been said but would want to stress the way in which I found, as many others obviously did, normblog to be an invitation to have a conversation, whether you agreed with him or not. This could, and did, take the form of reciprocal posts across the blogosphere—which were then carried on to the email circuit.

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ROBERT WARGAS: A Marxist who defends the open society? Yes, it is possible (though, alas, he’s just died)

a thoughtful polemicist

a thoughtful polemicist

Robert Wargas

[first published in the Telegraph Blogs]

When you learn of an honourable person’s death, even that of someone you don’t know personally, a strange anxiety overtakes you. It is the feeling that you must race against some kind of imaginary clock to let the world know how much you admired this person.

I learned last week of the death of Norman Geras. Norm, as he was known to everyone, was not a pundit in the conventional sense. We can all thank our lucky stars for that. He was instead a man of ideas in an age of impulses. A relentless defender of the open society, he was one of that rare breed of writer who had admirers across the political spectrum.

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ANDREW WILSHERE: Normblog made me reconsider almost everything on which I’ve ever had a political opinion

Andrew Wilshere

[first published on Andrew’s blog]

I don’t quite remember how I began reading the weblog of Norman Geras. I know it was before I began my Master’s in 2006, because perhaps his greatest book, The Contract of Mutual Indifference, was on the course reading list. It must have been before that, because I remember it taking several months before I realised that this Norman Geras with the weblog was the same Norman Geras who appeared on my university reading list. I was so taken aback that I emailed him to check that I hadn’t made a mistake. “I’m only surprised,” he wrote, “that you didn’t see the Norman Geras connection earlier”.

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Katy Evans-Bush

[first published on Katy’s blog Baroque in Hackney]

Norman Geras

It’s a commonplace, on hearing of the death of someone, to say we’re ‘shocked’ or ‘saddened’. The news that Norman Geras has died is prompting these words more than most I can recall. A shock. A sad, sad shock. And it makes me sad to see his picture and his name like that at the top of this post.

Back in the day, I started a blog, and called it Baroque in Hackney. Then, wondered what on earth I was doing, and in the course of working it out I got interested in what other blogs were doing. So I read blogs, and read and read them. For months I did little else: all sorts of blogs. Book blogs, personal blogs, silly blogs and arty blogs, and lots and lots of political blogs. And among those political blogs was one unlike all the others: a sane, intellectually rigorous, carefully reasoned, often amusing, and usually madly prolific blog, with the says-on-the-tin title of Normblog. It was the blog of Norman Geras, a Marxist academic and writer, cricket fan, reader, movie buff, and country music enthusiast, who would blog several times a day—just quickly—about whatever had come up in the news, or what he was reading, and wanted to untangle his thoughts on. It was a politics blog the way this is a poetry blog: politics, plus everything else, a daily intellectual life filtered through a cast of mind. Gentle but razor-sharp paragraphs, using persistent (never bullying or unkind) logic to get to the crux of an argument or a position. Norm was a philosopher. You trusted implicitly what he said, and you trusted in his decency, even if you didn’t yourself agree with the position he arrived at. (I’m more of a pacifist, to put it mildly, for example.)

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YAACOV LOZOWICK: Shalom Chaver: Farewell, Norm.

Yaacov Lozowick

[first published on Yaacov’s blog Rumninations]

Norman Geras died yesterday. I never met him personally. We met through the blogosphere, where we linked to each other from time to time, and e-mailled back and forth when we wished to speak directly. His blog, Normblog, was a fount of erudite common sense; he was especially good when he clearly dissected the silliness of public discourse.

His final post, earlier this month, contained a list of books he had read and recommended. As a tribute to him, people might like to choose one of the titles they’ve never read, and read it. I certainly will try to.

Rest in peace, friend.

Baruch dayan emet.

BOB FROM BROCKLEY: I miss you Norm

Bob from Brockley

[first published on Bob’s blog Bob from Brockley]

On Wednesday night, I was reading my six-year-old his bed time story: The Strange Bird by Adele Geras. It’s a story we both love, but it’s had a poignant edge for me these last months, since Adele Geras’ husband Norman has been ill. I realised I’d not heard from Norm on Twitter for a little while, and I wondered how he was doing. I was terribly sad to hear on Friday morning that he had passed.

Like many people who are missing him, I never met Norm, but I feel he knew him well. I had read some of his work on Rosa Luxemburg and on philosophy and the Holocaust before I met him in the early noughties in the digital world, but it was through his blog that I came to know him. When I started blogging in 2005, his was one of the first two or three sites I linked to (along with Harry Hatchet, who remembers Norm here), and I was proud that Normblog was the first site to link to mine.

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ANN KLAUSNER: Baruch Dayan Emet: Norman Geras 1943-2013

Ann Klausner

[first published on Anne’s blog Anne’s Opinions]

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:

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FRANÇOIS BRUTSCH [Un Swissroll]: Décès de Norman Geras

François Brutsch

[first published on François’ blog Un Swissroll]

Un Swissroll perd un frère aîné et la gauche une conscience morale

Dernière màj: dimanche 20 à 16h00

C’est par un billet posté par une de ses deux filles vendredi matin sur Normblog que ses amis de la blogosphère ont appris le décès quelques heures plus tôt de Norm (par ailleurs professeur retraité de l’Université de Manchester et auteur marxiste reconnu): il avait manifestement pris ses dispositions, et le blog va rester en ligne avec tout ce qu’il contient.

Norm avait indiqué il y a quelques mois avoir commencé une thérapie anticancéreuse (dont il a ultérieurement donné de rares échos) après avoir été diagnostiqué en 2003, mais le ralentissement alors annoncé ne s’est guère manifesté sur le blog, avec toujours la même humanité dans le style et la même variété de sujets, du jazz (et country, et classique) à l’éthique, de la littérature à sa famille en passant par le cricket ou bien sûr la politique et la lutte pour une gauche fidèle à elle-même.

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