Tribute to Norm Geras

I was saddened to learn on Sunday evening that Norm Geras, one of my favourite writers, died last week.

Norm was, for this reader, a “Sunday evening blogger”. Where many writers, journalists, and reports can be easily read while on a conference call or during a hurried droid-assisted walk through a train station, Normblog, as it was called, commanded one’s full attention and a dedicated sitting.

Norm Geras was a particularly rare kind of Marxist; like Karl Marx himself, he loved many aspects of the United States and – again like Marx – he could see how great power could and at times should be used for moral ends. Geras’ precision with language and logic, and his dedication to clear argument and coherent reasoning were matched by his enthusiasm for applying these rare and cultivated skills to the muddy debates of the day.

Here’s a simple, recent example that – with one obvious tweak – could double as an an anti-sectarian instruction manual for Northern Ireland:

Insult of colour

I’d sort of lost sight of this one: the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins. But it’s still going strong. It seems that those defending the team’s hanging on to that name are appealing to the alleged fact that ‘only one in 10 Native Americans were offended’ by it, as well as to the more general consideration of ‘history and legacy and tradition’. Tradition it certainly is but it’s the wrong tradition.
As Dana Milbank argues here, racism isn’t OK even when ‘it polls well’. He tests out the following by analogy:
The Washington Wetbacks? The Houston Hymies? The Chicago Chinks? Or perhaps the New York Niggers?
Or, if one wants to make the link, those ‘Yids’ of White Hart Lane. It is constantly surprising how stuck people can be over the view that racist prejudice is simply a matter of what one intends; and how stubbornly they resist the obvious truth that words and symbols carry meanings associated with their history and which cannot simply be disowned by declarations of good will.
Posted by Norm at 12:28 PM | Permalink

Like many of his readers, I’ll miss Norm’s cogent writings very much indeed.

Strategic Communications Consultant, located Washington DC