Category Archives: tributes to Norm

Normblog Remembered—a political bloggers meet-up

Fellow Eustonite Paul Evans has kindly organized a real-world celebration of Norm and his blogging in London, UK at the end of this month. The event has a Facebook page, but the basic details are as follows:

LOCATION: The Yorkshire Grey pub, 2 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8PN

TIME: 1930hr GMT to 2200hr GMT

DATE: Wednesday, 27 November 2013

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ANN STIEGLITZ, née Bischoff: Our Childhood Friend

Norm, just before he left Bulawayo for Oxford

Norm, just before he left Bulawayo for Oxford

Ann Stieglitz and Perlie Harris née Lederer

I was so happy to meet Norm on Facebook a couple of years ago, and then to meet him and Adele in London at a cake shop, Patisserie Valerie, in Soho. When I walked in, I saw Adèle with her back to the door, and felt I had known her forever; then Norm came in, and it was as if I was seeing the seven-year old boy I had first met at Baines School, Bulawayo, in the 1950s–in my eyes, he had hardly changed—and the lovely photo I took, with his cheeky smile, shows, this, I think.

Norm smiles, London, 2011

Norm smiles, London, 2011

I had brought in my school photos, and we pored over them, one of the whole of Standard One, where we were all so sweet. I think he was delighted to see them, and Adèle and I resisted the cakes, spending the time chatting. It was all too short, for a few months later Norm told us how ill he was.

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SHALOM LAPPIN: A kindred spirit and a true friend

Shalom Lappin

Norm Geras was a kindred spirit and a true friend. He embodied the liberal values and commitments of the social democratic left that have always given me my political bearings. His courage in defending these values against apologists for extremism and bigotry, posing as prophets of an “anti-imperialism” of fools, was an inspiration to all of us. The patience and rigour with which he systematically dismantled unsound arguments for misconceived views offered a model of civilized discourse. He effortlessly cut through the noise of partisan rhetoric and polemical hyperbole to penetrate to the core of the most complex issues of the day. He combined a deep loyalty to his Jewish roots with a strongly universalist view of moral obligation and cultural engagement. He was above all a person of decency and moderation, who embraced friends with affection, while sustaining respectful dialogue with adversaries. The world is a better place for his having been in it. I will miss him deeply.

BEN HARRIS: He stood for the very best of our civilisation

I was very sad to hear about the death of Professor Norman Geras on Friday. He and those who were in turn influenced by him such as Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch and John Rentoul have had a truly profound impact on the evolution of my politics over the last decade.

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PETER BRIFFA: Civilised, firm, affable, and interested

Peter Briffa

I only met Norm once. It was at the Adam Smith Institute, at one of the “Whither blogging?” jamborees they used to organise, in which three well-known bloggers would make short speeches about the pros and cons of the medium. Once done, the fun started and we’d all hit the booze. I hadn’t planned on going to this one, but days before it was due I got an email from Norm asking if I were attending and, somewhat startled that such an eminence was interested in meeting, I showed up.

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BOB BORSLEY: Cricket with Norm

Bob Borsley

[link to Bob’s Writer’s Choice entry]

Probably not many of Norm’s fans and friends shared the full range of his enthusiasms. I didn’t share his fondness for film or jazz or country music, but I did share his interest in certain political matters and his passion for cricket (“one of the most sublime creations of the human spirit” in Norm’s words). The first time I contacted him (in 2005) I praised his blog for its political content but also complained mildly about the amount of publicity given to Australian cricketers. However, I conceded that some of them were in fact rather good. He in turn agreed that there were one or two decent English cricketers and that they perhaps deserved some more attention. A bit later he invited me to contribute a piece to his Memories of Cricket series, which I did in October 2006. I then contributed another, and another, and in the end I provided nearly as many as Norm. He always seemed pleased to have them (and they weren’t all about English successes and Australian failures). I was also able to provide a team of food-related cricketers as a follow up Norm’s teams of philosophers and literary figures.

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JOHN ABELES: A deeply dear friend

John Abeles

Norman Geras, a deeply dear friend from Bulawayo, passed away earlier today in Cambridge, England…

He became a prominent, thinking, Leftist political philosopher, an authority on Marxism, the Holocaust, Antisemitism and Crimes of Humanity.

He had a hugely generous mind, and later, after retirement, became a popular bloggist at normblog whose writings on politics—always original, often controversial, even criticising the failings as he saw them of the Left — on country music and jazz, on literature and especially on cricket and football—indeed on a panoply of subjects in skillfully crafted vignettes, became obsessive reading..

Norman’s passing is a shattering loss to us all.

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CHRIS WHITE: I will not forget him

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.

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John-Paul Pagano

…blogs at The Socialism of Fools and John-Paul Pagano

Yesterday I was kicking cans in the junkyard of my 9-to-5 when it occurred to me, suddenly and without ostensible cue, that for some time I hadn’t looked after the status of ailing Norman Geras. When I returned to my desk after lunch, I puttered around the Internet before visiting normblog and there was the news that Norm had died that morning.

Maybe the notion that someone might “let you know” that they’re departing is desperate, or unseemly in a parlor-game way, but I think it serves here as a metaphor for the impact Norm had on so many of us, including and perhaps especially those like me who didn’t know him in “real life”. He was present, even if you didn’t often actively think about him.

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EVE GARRARD: Norm’s influence on me

Eve Garrard

Like many other people, I was influenced by Norm in a lot of ways. The most obvious one was on how to combat anti-Semitism: here I had a great deal to learn, and I learned much of it from Norm (though still not enough—again, like many people I’ll feel the loss of Norm’s steadiness of principle and purpose for years to come). We argued about many things, including meta-ethical issues about the objectivity of moral judgements (I still maintain that I was right and he was wrong); the value of spectator sports (I did finally acknowledge to him that he was right and I really was wrong); the existence in practice of exceptionless moral principles (he was right there too). But thinking about it, I see that the most unexpected influence he had on me was to change my view about Marxists.

Where I grew up, the Marxists around the place (and there were plenty of them) were often Stalinists: ‘I never could see what was so wrong about Joe Stalin’ was a common refrain. Well, even in my adolescence I could see a bit of what was wrong with Joe Stalin, and then as I read Orwell and Koestler, and the political philosophy of Karl Popper, I came to see quite a lot more, and also came to feel that Marxism—Stalinist or otherwise—was an irremediable threat to the kind of liberal democracy that I was coming to think of as the only hope for the protection of human rights. So my view of Marxists was that they were at best deeply mistaken, and at worst murderous totalitarians. No doubt I would have refined my views a bit more respectably if I’d been a political philosopher, but life being short, I concentrated on my main interest in moral theory, and left my political views on the back burner.

And then I came across Norm. Here was a Marxist who clearly wasn’t making any simple mistakes, nor had he any totalitarian leanings. Here was a voice from the Left which had spoken out against the horrors of the Soviet regime well before it became easy and fashionable to do so, and who wrote magisterially on the Holocaust and its implications (I never disagreed with him about a word of that). Here was a secular philosopher who took seriously the idea of human evil, a subject on which all too many impeccably liberal thinkers had nothing of serious interest to say. In the face of that, it was impossible for me to maintain my shamefully crude dismissal of Marxists. Listening to Norm, reading his work, and thinking a bit harder than I’d been accustomed to do about politics, I came to see how it was possible for a person to be both a Marxist and a democrat, and in Norm’s case, to be an absolutely outstanding defender of the universal human rights which play so important a role in liberal political thought.

Damian, in his excellent piece about normblog, A Fine Site, explains why he admires Norm in spite of his Marxism, which Damian entirely rejects. To my considerable surprise, I no longer share this view. I’ll never be a Marxist myself, but I now think that Norm’s liberal and democratic form of Marxism was a powerful element in his distinctive moral stance, the stance which made him the splendid thinker, blogger, and comrade-in-arms whose loss so many of us are now mourning.