[reproduced from Nick’s Spectator blog]
I was shocked this morning to log on to Twitter and learn that Norman Geras had died. I can think of few political writers, who have influenced me more comprehensively. Whenever I faced a difficult moral question, I would at some point think ‘ah, what is Norm saying about this,’ go to his blog and see that Norm had found a way through.
Last year Norm’s colleagues Stephen de Wijze and Eve Garrard published a collection of essays in Norm’s honour. I was flattered when they asked me to write about Norm’s dual life as Manchester University’s Emeritus Professor of Politics and one of the first writers to embrace the Web.
As a tribute to him, I reprint it below.
[first published in Norm’s Festscrift]
Norman Geras is an emeritus professor of politics, with well regarded books to his name. However it was not through these that I first became aware of him, but through his Weblog. ‘normblog’ is now an institution, one of only a handful of UK blogs worthy of the description. I suspect that its regular readers number in the tens of thousands and that hundreds of thousands have visited the site during its six years of existence. Although Norm is responsible for by far the greatest part of its content and he must be given credit for its extraordinary success, others have contributed to this achievement. Their contribution is, in turn, a result of Norm’s willingness to offer space to the opinions of others — even when those opinions differ from his own. As well as individual essays from friends, colleagues, comrades, opponents, and others; Norm publishes correspondence and runs regular slots, in which, for example, a different (dead-tree) writer each week writes about other writers, and a different blogger answers questions about him- or herself. Even without such contributions, normblog’s archive would still be a valuable scholarly resource in its own right.
Many people complain that, while the World Wide Web overflows with data, little of its content is true or useful information, and still less of it embodies any kind of wisdom. It is true that the medium is used to spread myths, publish libels, perpetrate fraud, cultivate hatred, and celebrate violence. (This has also long been true of the written word. One of the earliest and most prominent blogging software companies, the one responsible for hosting Norm’s blog in fact, refers the earlier technology of the printing press in its trade name: “Movable Type”.) Despite all this, the Web is a store of human knowledge unprecedented in its accessibility and scope. In return for its easy bounty, we have to apply more sophisticated forms of the skills we have had to cultivate since our ancestors first learned to speak: the ability to recognize accurate accounts of the external world, and the ability to identify worthwhile conclusions based on such accounts. There is both information and wisdom in normblog.