Baruch Dayan Emet: Norman Geras 1943-2013

Norman Geras z’l

With great sadness I learned that one of my favourite bloggers passed away on Friday: Professor Norman Geras, otherwise known as “Normblog“.

I never had the privilege of meeting or getting to know Professor Geras but from I have read about him, he was a remarkable man both in his academic career and in his personal traits. A short excerpt from his obituary in The Tablet might explain some of his essence:

Geras was, to be sure, a Marxist and a man of the left. His books included a study of the Polish-Jewish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg and an important treatise entitled “Marx and Human Nature,” in which he argued that Marx did, in fact, accept that there was such a thing as human nature, and that socialists consequently needed to grasp the ethical implications of this position.

Later in his life, Geras grappled on a daily basis with those ethical implications. A stalwart opponent of Stalinism during the Cold War, in its aftermath he emerged as perhaps the most tenacious critic of the western left’s embrace of dictators and tyrants from Slobodan Milosevic to Hugo Chavez, by way of Saddam Hussein.

The platform he used to express these views was, at least at the time he launched it, a novel one: a blog simply entitled“Normblog.” During the decade or so of the blog’s life, its austere design never once received a makeover, yet each day, thousands of readers would flock to read the latest posts by “Norm,” the name by which Geras became universally known. Norm’s interests­–reviews of books and films and music, interviews with other bloggers about why they blog, ruminations on political philosophy, reminiscences of his favorite cities, observations about cricket, a sport he truly loved–more than anything else brought to mind the phrase flung by Stalin’s prosecutors against the Jews they loathed. For Norm, who was born in what was then Southern Rhodesia, and who spent the bulk of his life domiciled in the United Kingdom, was truly a “rootless cosmopolitan.”

In challenging the orthodoxies of the left, Norm adopted stances that were denounced as heretical by his comrades in the Marxist academy, most especially the editorial board of the New Left Review, a journal he was long involved with before they parted ways over the issue of supporting authoritarian regimes in the name of “anti-imperialism.”

[…]

This sensibility was carried over into his writings on anti-Semitism, a subject he addressed with increasing frequency and urgency, given the vogue among some of his fellow academics for boycotting their Israeli colleagues, and more generally depicting Israel as the source of all evil. And in doing so, his Jewish identity was placed front and center.

[…]

Through his unfailing insight and disarming honesty, Norm was unique. And now that he is gone, it is safe to say that we will not see his like again.

From my own experience, all I can say is that he was enormously kind to me, linking to my blog in his blogroll almost immediately after I set up this blog, and on the few occasions that I emailed him about a post he had written or an interesting link that I had found, he unfailingly answered me immediately and with utmost courtesy – something that I do not take for granted, especially from such a busy and well-known person.

There are several very moving obituaries out there on the internet tonight, all of which help us get to know the man behind the screen name, and all of them shed more light on his personality than I ever could. Here are a few:

From Harry’s Place:

From Engage Online: Norm 1943-2013

From the American Spectator: Norman Geras RIP

Who will take Norm’s place on the “sane Left”? Prof. Geras has left a huge gap which will be hard to fill.

May his family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and may his memory be for a blessing.

This entry was posted in Academia, Antisemitism, Boycotts and BDS and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Baruch Dayan Emet: Norman Geras 1943-2013

  1. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Unlike Anne, I did have the privilege of meeting Norm when he was running his Manchester University seminar on the Holocaust (once a term for post-grads & practitioners) and once afterwards. Indeed, as soon as I read the oblt in The Tablet, I added a comment with my remembrance of him. I can confirm Anne’s statement of his kindness and courtesy in replying to those who emailed him. That he added Anne’s blog to his blog roll further indicates his open-mindedness: he was of the left (arguably, the far left) while Anne is of the sane right.

    However, they shared one vitally important belief: the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. That does not imply that Israel should therefore exist uncriticised! No state should be uncriticised – they all do things that need a careful eye kept on.

    But as Anne says, we will miss him deeply.

    Worse (as I say in my Tablet comment), he was only a year older than me: the shades creep in…

  2. cba says:

    I have no words to add to the many that have been said already.

    Such a loss…

  3. PeteCA says:

    anne – I did not know him or his blog. sorry that he is gone.
    maybe in the future you can do a story about your current list of favorite bloggers and why you like them. the world is such a big place right now – many of us never even meet these people on the Internet.
    best wishes, Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Oh boy! That would be some huge undertaking! I’ve listed all my favourite bloggers down my sidebar. The best thing would be for readers to take a look at each one, one by one, no rush, and make their own decisions. I simply don’t have the time to write about each one.

      As you say, the world is a much bigger place than it used to be. But that means so much less time to do everything in!

  4. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Pete, I guess that what you have to do (as an alternative to what Anne suggests, which is just as good a way of doing it) is to note anyone who comments on the sites you visit and who leaves a link to their own site (they are usually highlighted and one can click on them). It’s how I found my way to Anne’s Opinions: she commented on engageonline.wordpress.com, which is now much less active, sad to say.

    In turn, this leads to further links.

    One must be careful: it’s easy to finish up with a HUGE list of sites (I have one on my “Documents” list on my iMac), which takes forever to go through. What happens then is that you skip some, as you find that you don’t look at them very often! Maybe, you even delete the link. Life’s too short to waste time visiting sites you don’t get anything out of.

    One glorious bit of serendipity is that you find yourself reading and agreeing with writers of blogs with whom on at least some topics you completely disagree with. It was like that with Normblog (although Norman Geras was such a wonderful person and excellent teacher that he was never rude to anyone. He always accepted the right to disagree. Except for extremists, of course, on whichever wing of politics). And, for me, it’s like that with Anne: sane left meets sane right. What we have in common is a love of Israel and a large area of agreement as to how to protect Israel and advance its interests. It’s why she turned up on engage and why Norm linked to her on his blogroll.

    Sorry for such a long to such a short question!

    • anneinpt says:

      No need to apologize Brian. That’s excellent advice, and certainly true for me about reading writers with whom I disagree. I found it was boring to only read blogs where I agree with everything. Not that I object to such blogs obviously, and I love reading them, but I love the challenge of reading something that makes me think, that challenges my received view. This helped me formulate my own (sometimes blurry) worldview, encouraged me to research my answers properly and enabled me to defend them when necessary.

  5. lewy14 says:

    I encountered Norm through Joe Katzman at Winds of Change. Will always remember his civility and reason. Too few like him now.

    • anneinpt says:

      Wow. Winds of Change – there’s a blast from the past. I didn’t know that Norm wrote there. Yes, his civility and reason are much too rare qualities nowadays.

      Good to see you here Lewy14.

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