Tag Archives: Adèle Geras

THE MARTLET [Pembroke College, Oxford alumni magazine]: NORMAN MYRON GERAS August 25th, 1943 – October 18th, 2013.


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I’m writing this on the first anniversary of the death of Norman Myron Geras (Pembroke: 1962–5). Norm—he was always called that by his friends and family—was my husband for nearly half a century.

I’ve written a great many different things in my time but never anything as difficult and sad as this. What I say about him cannot be called objective by any standard, but I hope that will be forgiven.

Certain facts, the sort of thing you would find in traditional obituaries, are known and can be looked up on the Internet. The reaction there to his death was something that took me and the rest of his family by surprise. If you had told him, during his last illness, that the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian would carry full obituaries, he would not have believed you. The cards and letters and emails I received after his death demonstrated a fact that none of us had quite realised before: that what he’d been writing on his blog from July 2003 till the last week of his life was important to a great many people in countries all over the world.

Norm was an academic at Manchester University from 1967 to 2003. He wrote books (The Contract of Mutual Indifference, Marx and Human Nature and others) and articles and spoke often at conferences and seminars. But it was normblog, one of the first weblog journals, which best displayed Norm’s particular combination of gifts. Everything he wrote was clear and rigorously logical but he combined these qualities on the blog with other things that made him the person he was. He was passionate about cricket, (especially his great love of the Ashes and his unswerving support of the Aussies) jazz, country and Western music, and Manchester United. Also, he was funny and not a little bonkers. Who else would have a strand on his blog where he reviewed different brands of soap, discussing their respective merits in all seriousness?

He became a born—again fiction reader in 2007, while we were on holiday in Florence. He had taken Pride and Prejudice with him and as he read it, I could see him falling in love. That is not putting it too strongly. From that time on, he was a devoted Janeite, working his way joyfully but in a typically thorough fashion through the novels, biographies, criticism etc.

The strongest and most abiding love of his life was his family. His children were more important to him than anything else, and he was immensely proud of both our daughters. He also loved being a grandfather and doted on all three of his grandchildren. I am sad that he did not live to see the new addition to the family, a boy who was born on August 26th, almost on Norm’s birthday but not quite…

He was never boring. He made me laugh. I get emails from friends all the time saying:

“We need to know what Norm would think about this or that issue. We want to know what his views would have been…”

I feel exactly the same. What disappears when you’ve lost someone you’ve loved and been close to for decades is a private, shared language. You no longer have the conversations which have sustained you for most of your life and which you cannot have with anyone else. I miss him every day.

Adèle Geras

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Norman Geras—obituary


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The Daily Telegraph

[First published in The Daily Telegraph]

Norman Geras, who has died aged 70, was a Marxist academic, cricket enthusiast and political blogger who broke with Left-wing orthodoxy to support the American-led invasion of Iraq.

Geras, a former Professor of Government at Manchester University, set up his website, Normblog, in July 2003, out of a feeling of alienation “from people I perceived as being in my neck of the woods”—academic colleagues, friends and sundry Guardian writers who saw the 9/11 attacks as a response to American foreign policy (notably its support of Israel), and opposed the invasion of Iraq.

“The next day [after 9/11], or the day after, I open the newspaper and see—within hours—people talking about ‘blowback’, ‘comeuppance’,” he recalled. “They didn”t even have the sense of horror, of shock, to wait. I was just appalled. I thought, ‘That’s it’.” His first post read: “In the immortal words of Sam Peckinpah. Let’s go.”

From then on he blogged almost every day, and his website became essential reading—not only for the tiny ranks of the pro-war Left, but also for the Neocon Right. For, despite his Leftist credentials, Geras praised President George W Bush and argued that the invasion of Iraq was necessary to oust the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. His daily jottings earned him the nickname “Stormin’ Norm”. The Wall Street Journal reprinted one of his articles and his words were often cited by American pundits.

One of Normblog’s constant targets was the selectivity in the way people invoke “root cause”explanations for terrorist atrocities. In the wake of the 7/7 attacks in London, which many pundits on the Left attributed to Muslim anger over Western intervention in Iraq, he observed that while such arguments purport to be about causal explanation rather than excuse-making, they are invariably deployed on behalf of movements or actions for which their proponent wants to win sympathy.

“A hypothetical example illustrates the point,” he said. “Suppose that, on account of the present situation in Zimbabwe, the government decides to halt all scheduled deportations of Zimbabweans. Some BNP thugs are made angry by this and express their anger by beating up a passer-by who happens to be an African immigrant. Can you imagine a single person of left or liberal outlook who would blame this act of violence on the government’s decision or urge us to consider sympathetically the root causes of the act? It wouldn’t happen.”

Geras’s measured and tightly-reasoned critiques of fashionable Leftist nostrums were not universally popular, and he found himself denounced as an “imperialist skunk” and a “turncoat”. In one posting, following the Iraqi elections of 2005, he imagined awakening from a nightmare to see Ken Livingstone, Harold Pinter, George Galloway, John Pilger and other opponents of the war advancing upon him—only to raise a finger stained with the purple dye of an Iraqi voter. “Everybody and his brother has had a go at me,” he said. “But I started the blog because I was fed up with the prevailing left and liberal consensus that the war in Iraq was wrong.”

In 2006 he launched a more wide-ranging assault in what became known as the “Euston Manifesto”, a proposal for a renewal of progressive politics, which he put together with others in a Euston pub. The document called on the Left to support universal human rights; to abandon anti-American prejudice; to see all forms of totalitarianism as being essentially the same; to be willing to support military intervention against oppressive regimes; and to promote democracy, equal rights and free speech.

The manifesto was billed as an attempt to reclaim such principles for the Left, but it served only to highlight the gulf between the socialist democratic tradition represented by Geras and the anti-democratic, neo-isolationist and reflexively anti-American tendencies of the contemporary Left.

“I have been flattered by an invitation to sign the manifesto,” wrote another renegade Leftist, Christopher Hitchens, “and I probably will, but if I agree, it will be the most conservative document I have ever initialled. Even the obvious has become revolutionary.”

Norman Geras was born to Jewish parents in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, on August 25 1943, and studied PPE at Pembroke College, Oxford. After graduating with a First, he took up a post at Manchester University, where he remained until his retirement in 2003 as Professor of Government.

Responding to his critics on the Left, Geras was always keen to prove his radical credentials: “I am part of the 1960s generation. I was no Tariq Ali but I took part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War… I was at an academic conference in Italy the day the Left-wing Allende regime was overthrown by a coup in Chile in 1973. I left the conference to join a march in the streets.”

Geras wrote some eight books, ranging from rather obscure works of political theory (Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind; The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard Rorty) to books about cricket (for some reason he supported Australia).

In The Contract of Mutual Indifference (1998), perhaps his most important work, he sought to remedy the inadequacy of response to the Holocaust in political philosophy. Focusing on the so-called bystander phenomenon—the inaction of ordinary Germans, Poles and others while the Jews went to their deaths—he identified a “contract of mutual indifference”, a sort of inversion of the you-scratch-my-back code.

This ethos, he argued, is morally indefensible, yet it still prevails today, reflected in widespread indifference to torture, hunger and other varieties of suffering across the world. Any political philosophy which neglects the primacy of the human duty to help others, he concluded, is short-sighted and shameful.

It was from this perspective that he supported the invasion of Iraq.

After retiring from Manchester, Norman Geras and his wife Adèle, an award-winning children’s writer, moved to Cambridge.

She survives him with two daughters, one of whom is the poet and crime fiction writer Sophie Hannah.

CHRIS WHITE: I will not forget him


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Chris White

@bombaylychee on Twitter

Much has been written here about Norman Geras’ politics and the influence he had on people. It’s where I first got to know about him too, but it was in that huge hinterland of his other interests where we got to know one another.

Continue reading

LYNNE HATWELL [dovegreyreader]: Requiescat in pace, Norm…


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Lynne Hatwell

[first published at dovegreyreader scribbles]

Having flown in a plane the size of an Airfix kit, (I swear I could see the glue on the propellors) it was quite a relief to land in Edinburgh from Orkney on Thursday, and the Tinker and I were pleased to have two hours to recover while we waited for our connecting flight to Manchester (in a slightly bigger Airfix kit) and thence to Exeter. Virgin very kindly supply free airport wi-fi, so it was out with the iPad and a quick catch up with the world.

Writer and knitter extraordinaire Adele Geras and I have been in regular email contact in recent months as her husband Norm took on the mighty beast that is cancer, and I knew that Norm's time left with us was limited, but still how sad I was to read a message from Adele, taking a break from the hospital, to let me know that it wouldn't be long now. There is nothing like news of that calibre to focus the thinking as we then took to the skies, rose up through and above the clouds, feeling very small as we caught glimpses of the earth below, deciding that this must have been Cumbria… maybe…

Holding Adele and Norm and their daughters Sophie Hannah and Jenny in my thoughts wasn't hard, they have all been there a great deal in recent weeks, and readily so as we headed back to Devon, full of the spirit of Orkney. Whoever or wherever your 'God', Orkney is very much a Nearer My God to Thee sort of place, as in it speaks to your soul… and Norm would doubtless have had something very sensible, kind and polite to say about that ethereal thinking of mine.

And then to read the sad news the next day of Norm's death at the age of 70 in the early hours of Friday morning.

Continue reading

ANN GILES: Goodbye Norm


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Ann Giles

[first published on Ann’s blog Bookwitch]

Norm Geras died yesterday morning. He’d been ill for some time, and earlier this year when I asked Adèle how he was, her reply wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. So I knew what to expect, but you still feel sad when it happens.

He was such a widely respected man, and I was extremely flattered when asked to contribute to his Normblog profile early on in my blogging career. That someone like Norm would consider me “grown-up” enough to contribute felt astounding.

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MARTIN ROBB: R.I.P. Norman Geras (1943 – 2013)


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Martin Robb

[first published on Martin’s blog]

It must have been some time in 2003 that I came across an article in a Sunday newspaper, about a Marxist professor who supported the Iraq war. Although it had been a long time since I’d called myself any kind of Marxist, and at the time I was sceptical of the rationale for invading Iraq, I was intrigued. Perhaps it was because I’d been having my own internal debates with conventional Left thinking and was increasingly disappointed and depressed by my fellow progressives’ failure to condemn (and in some cases their tendency to find apologetic ‘explanations’ for) terror and tyranny, as long as it was directed at the ‘imperialist’ West.  To my shame, I hadn’t heard of Norman Geras before then, despite the fact that he was a recently retired professor at Manchester, where I’d been a postgraduate student.

The newspaper article mentioned that Geras wrote something called a ‘blog’ – the first time I’d come across this neologism. Curious, I looked up the eponymous normblog and was immediately hooked. I found myself nodding in frequent agreement with Norm’s concise but elegant posts and reading his disquisitions soon became a daily habit. From normblog, I branched out to read the bloggers and commentators that he linked to, many of them associated with the Euston Manifesto, of which Norm was one of the key authors, and the broader anti-totalitarian, liberal-interventionist Left. As well as finding myself in immediate sympathy with many of Norm’s political opinions, I’m happy to acknowledge that he was also influential in changing my mind on a number of important issues, most notably Israel. In fact, as time went on, I came to see Norm as one of the key influences on my political thinking, on a par with figures like Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall at earlier stages in my life. Of course, it wasn’t all about politics: Norm was just as stimulating and entertaining when writing about Jane Austen, country and western music, John Ford movies, cricket or his beloved Manchester United.

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THE GUARDIAN: Pioneering blogger Norman Geras dies of prostate cancer aged 70


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Author and politics professor was best known for influential ‘Normblog’, which he used to voice opinion on invasion of Iraq

[first published in the Guardian]

Norman Geras disclosed to readers of his blog that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer at the beginning of 2003. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Norman Geras disclosed to readers of his blog that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer at the beginning of 2003. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

The political writer Norman Geras has died, his daughter said on Friday.

Geras, 70, professor emeritus in politics at the University of Manchester and author of eight books, was one of the first writers to embrace the web, launching Normblog, which went on to become one of the most influential left-of-centre blogs in Britain, in July 2003. In May, he used his blog to disclose to readers that he had prostate cancer, which was first diagnosed at the beginning of 2003 but had spread.

His daughter, Jenny Geras, wrote on Normblog on Friday: “I am very sad to announce that Norm died in Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge in the early hours of this morning. Writing this blog, and communicating with all his readers, has brought him an enormous amount of pleasure in the last ten years.

“I know that since writing here about his illness earlier in the year he received a lot of support from many of you, and that has meant a great deal to him, and to us, his family.”

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