Tag Archives: blogging

PAUL EVANS: Encormium

Paul Evans

[first published at Never Trust A Hippy]

Prominent bloggers probably get more obituaries than most, and I don’t think that I can add much to the tonnage of praise and regret that has marked the passing of Norman Geras, late of Normblog.

However, I do have a three-part theory about why Normblog was so important.

Turning off the comments

Sure—the quality of writing and thinking on the site were pretty impressive. It stands to reason that retired Professor who is on a mission is likely to produce something worth bookmarking. But the site’s success can be traced to Norm’s decision not to enable the ‘comments’ function on his blog.

Even if you don’t write about anti-semitism, fielding comments can be a fairly soul-destroying experience. Once you start blogging about the You-Know-Whos, it gets a great deal worse. Norm’s combination of patient rigour and (almost) faultless civility would probably not have lasted long with that additional burden.

A lot of us started blogging to expose our thinking to a critical audience in order to develop our voice. We needed the commenters. We’d be depressed if we didn’t get them.

Norm didn’t have that need. His postings were unusual in that they tended to reflect thinking that was at a more advanced stage of gestation. Turning off the comments feature on his blog undoubtedly suited Norm, but it created a temporary vacuum that allowed this thinking to take on viral properties.

To either challenge or develop Norm’s thinking, you had to set up your own site or comment on the sites of others who linked to him. The need to respond, or to drag a tangent from one of Norms posts brought many of us over the tipping point.

Each new post, sparked by one of Norms, sent dozens of new readers Norm’s way and attracted comments of their own.


Norm’s politics had some of the properties we find in an Internet meme, or at least, one that works for the people who read newspaper op-eds.

It appealed to the innate fascination that politicos have for ‘revisionism’, and (treading carefully…) it was a sign of the muddle that the wider left was in at the time that an assertion of rational enlightenment ideas, or a rejection of anti-semitism, made his posts read like revisionism.

Many of us went through a cycle of curiosity, discomfort, reflection followed by the partisanship of the convert. But even for those who didn’t, the challenge was compelling.

A good example

Most instances of Internet activism have been about harvesting existing support or giving energy and efficiency to already-existing viewpoints. Norm established what the necessary conditions are for the creation of an online project that actually changes minds.

I actually can’t think of another project that has changed minds as effectively as The Euston Manifesto. With all due respect and apologies to the other people involved, Norm was the one who co-ordinated the thinking.

It was his incremental work that smoothed the rough edges off it. Ideas that are going to gain traction need this kind of streamlining, and by the time The Euston Manifesto was published, it could be said to have created a new model for the promotion of political ideas.

That’s my fourpence worth. On the wider question of “political blogging”, October 2013 feels like the end of an era on that one. As the old ‘personal blogging’ space gives way to the social networks that are displacing it, it may be the case that we will soon be drawing a line under this particular episode and reaching our conclusions.

Has it improved the way we think, and talk about politics? The jury is still out on that one. But Normblog did. It cascaded and catalysed.

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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OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: Norman Geras, 1943-2013

James Joyner

[first published on Outside The Beltway]


Norman Geras, has passed. His daughter Jenny posted this on Normblog earlier today:

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. The blog and all its archives will remain online.

Norm had a remarkable career as a political theorist at the University of Manchester, establishing himself as a leading authority on Marxist thought. He’s best known to me, however, for his eponymous blog, which he started around the time of his retirement from teaching in 2003. I’ve enjoyed and linked to many of his posts over the years.

He blogrolled me on his first day blogging and I gave him grief for getting an Instalanche a mere three days later. The early exchanges were peppered with “everybody knows your name” jokes, which I finally had to explain to him.

On a more somber note, Norm live-blogged the terrorist attack on the London Underground.

A few years later, we were commiserating on the difficulties of coming up with new material on a daily basis. He was not, however, a fan of Twitter.

By far the most recurring theme the we cross-blogged was country music. It amused me to no end that a British Marx scholar was a fan of hillbilly music. Sometimes the discussion was profound, as in the sociological meanings of the songs of Little Jimmy Dickens and Charlie Pride singing for President Obama at the White House. There were also brilliant insights such as Geras’ recognition of a Jerry Jeff Walker classic barroom anthem as a Mother’s Day classic. And then there were the polls of the top 15 country music stars, which was top heavy with female artists. My own ballot is here.

I was the subject of normblog profile 23 and my colleague Steven Taylor was normblog profile 76.

The vagaries of life have lately decreased both my blogging and my reading of blogs, and so I missed Norm’s announcement this past May that the prostate cancer that he’d first been diagnosed with in 2003 was spreading and taking a toll. He was characteristically stoic about the matter, which he posted about only by way of apology for an anticipated decline in posting.

Norm was born in 1943, the same year as my parents and mother-in-law.   My mother and mother-in-law are still with us but my father died almost four years ago now.  It seemed much too soon then and too soon for Norm now. All the moreso because he remained forever 24.

He shall be missed.