Category Archives: newspaper articles about normblog

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

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

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.

THE TOWER: The Decent Marxist

John-Paul Pagano

Editor’s Note

[Norm told me more than once to my face that, even when it was used ironically, he detested the term “Decent Left”—not least of all for its presumption of moral superiority. It was used in to mock him (and the rest of us) on more than one occasion, but he never to my knowledge used it of himself. Because of that, I’m pretty sure that he would have disliked this article—respectful, admiring and well-written as it is.

As with the other entries in this archive, I have cleaned up the HTML source of the text of this essay for mark-up consistency, typography, semantic tagging, and formatting; but, despite my strong reservations, I have not changed its title or content. I just felt I owed it to Norm to add this note.]

[first published in the The Tower magazine]

Until his final blog post, Norman Geras dedicated his life to showing that you can be a faithful member of the hard Left without submitting to the temptations of anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism.

When I heard the news that blogger, activist, and political philosopher Norman Geras—known affectionately to all of us as “Norm”—had died on October 18, 2013 at the age of 70, the first thing I thought of was, strangely enough, the day of the September 11 attacks. A native New Yorker, I was far from home when the attacks occurred, and I learned of them from a stranger on a quiet train platform in Hungary. Like many Americans overseas, I was promptly stranded for days, trying to find a way to get back to the United States. I made it as far as London, and was made to wait there indefinitely.

To add insult to injury, I had just been robbed. So there I was, living on limited, borrowed funds, barely enough to pay for the use of Internet kiosks and despondent visits to pubs. During one of these visits, I happened upon a large Englishman slumped in front of a pint. He had a tabloid open to a picture of a radical Muslim, who was demonstrating either against the U.S. or in favor of the attacks. I grimaced and felt forced to say, “I’m from New York.” He gestured toward the guy in the picture and, with a look of bovine malice, replied, “Well, I think he’s got a point.”

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THE TIMES: Professor Norman Geras

Oliver Kamm

[first published in The Times]

Wide-ranging political philosopher who was an unswerving enemy of tyranny and terrorism and found late fame as a blogger

Norman Geras was a penetrating political theorist who found fame in retirement as a pioneering blogger.

In his scholarly work he made substantial contributions to the study of Marxism and of international ethics. He served his entire academic career at the University of Manchester, where he was head of the Department of Government from 1998 till 2002, and ended as Professor Emeritus of Politics.

He then made skilful use of the new medium of the internet to inform and entertain a much wider audience. In dismay at what he considered their failure to defend Western democratic values against totalitarianism, he broke with many of his former comrades on the Left.

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MARTIN BRIGHT: Norman Geras—the man who changed the way I think

[first published in the Jewish Chronicle]

Following the news of the untimely death at the age of 70 of thinker, teacher, writer and pioneering blogger Norman Geras, I have been re-reading his essay, The Contract of Mutual Indifference, first published in 1998.

It is a masterpiece of the form—just over 80 pages of knot-tight argument on the ability of human beings to live their lives in apparent contentment even when living alongside others who suffer.

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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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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.

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THE GUARDIAN: Norman Geras obituary

Leftwing theorist and pioneer blogger with a mission to take on political orthodoxy

Eve Garrard

[first published in the Guardian]

Norman Geras

Norman Geras started Normblog in order to engage with a wider audience. It was a runaway success. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Norman Geras—professor emeritus of government at Manchester University, philosopher, cricket fan, country music lover, Marxist, liberal socialist, democrat, political blogger behind the influential Normblog—has died of cancer aged 70. His interests were rich and varied, but his thought and writings form an integrated whole. He was centrally and always a man of the left, but one who became a scourge of those parts of left/liberal opinion which, in his view, had slid away from commitment to the values of equality, justice and universal rights, and in so doing ended up by excusing or condoning racism and terrorism.

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SALIL TRIPATHI: The politics of an odd couple

Salil Tripathi…

…lives in London, but is a contributing editor at Mint, India’s second-biggest business newspaper and on the board of English PEN. He asked that this article of his about the Euston Manifesto be reproduced at normfest.


On a windy Saturday in February, thousands of people congregated at London’s Trafalgar Square, saying no to the deployment of the Trident missile and demanding that Britain withdraw its troops from Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Blair had already rained on the parade (this being England) by announcing that some 1,600 troops will leave Iraq later this year.

Peace marches have been a common feature in democracies, but what’s unusual about the recent peace marches, in particular the epochal march on 15 February 2003, which writer Ian McEwan immortalized in his novel, Saturday, is the strange alliance between Britain’s extreme left and radical Islam. Forged by their intense dislike of American dominance in global affairs, those who ostensibly consider religion to be the opium of people, oppose the death penalty and torture, and believe in the equality of sexes, sexual preferences and ethnicities, seem to find nothing odd in making common cause with those who are fervent about their faith, who want apostates to be put to death, and who justify discrimination against women, homosexuals and minorities.

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THE TABLET: Norman Geras: 1943-2013—Remembering the academic, writer, and fighter against anti-Semitism

Ben Cohen

[first published on The Scroll, The Tablet‘s news commentary blog]

Norman Geras

Norman Geras

There is one memory of Norman Geras—the distinguished academic, prolific author and blogger, and doughty fighter against anti-Semitism and racism, who passed away in England earlier today—that has stayed with me for the last twenty-five years. It was a dreary afternoon in the northern English city of Manchester, late in 1988. About twenty students, nearly all of us professed Marxists, had gathered for Geras’s weekly university seminar on Marxism. As we discussed how class interests manifest in politics, one participant, who clearly wasn’t a Marxist, opined that not every owner of the means of production was hellbent on class warfare. Could we not accept, in his inimitable phrase, that there were “cuddly capitalists?”

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