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.