DAVID AARONOVITCH: Farewell to Norm, a thinker, not a fighter

Notebook: A professor from my student days was a great influence on me

David Aaronovitch

[first published [£] in the Times]

On Friday morning I received an e-mail to say that Professor Norman Geras was dead. It is a peculiarity of the internet age that you can meet someone no more than a handful of times over a decade and still feel that you know and like them. So it was with Norm, as almost everyone—at his instigation—called him. I will miss him badly.

There will be an obituary for Norm in the paper, so I won’t try to duplicate what you will find there. I just want to explain, not least to myself, why he was important to me.

I first met him when I was a student at the University of Manchester in the mid-1970s. He was a left-wing academic, associated with a Trotskyist organisation called the International Marxist Group. Sometimes we young Communists co-operated with the IMG and sometimes (suffering from what Freud called the “narcissism of minor difference”) we fought them.

But Norm was not a fighter. He was a thinker and an arguer, part of a group of academics at Manchester who—looking back-were a golden bunch. Some were Marxists, some, such as the historian Ian Kershaw, were not. But it was permitted to admire Norm.

I left Manchester and lost track of him until he turned up again around the turn of the millennium as one of the first political bloggers. By now he was on the centre left and his writings, covering political philosophy, sport, literature, ethics and morality, were like an oasis in an endless landscape of sand and broken rock. Trying to find arguments that gave proper shape to my instincts about the world, I went to Norm, online, and often found them.

And found them expressed in the language of humour, proper scepticism, close argument and an absence of rancour. Norm always, always played the ball, not the man