[From time to time since I started running these profiles, it's been suggested to me that I might take a turn and be the subject of one of them myself. As the biggest score I ever made playing cricket was 20-odd, I appropriate the normblog profile double century spot to take up that suggestion.]
Norman Geras was born in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He came to the UK in 1962 and spent five years studying in Oxford, at Pembroke College, then at Nuffield. He has lived in Manchester since 1967 where he is Professor Emeritus in Politics at the University of Manchester. His books include The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend, Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind: The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard Rorty and The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy after the Holocaust. Norm, as he is known to most of his friends, blogs right here.
Why do you blog? > To argue for political positions that I think matter; to discuss ideas I find interesting; and to have some fun.
What has been your best blogging experience? > Making friends with a lot of good people I might not otherwise have got to know.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Primo Levi.
What are you reading at the moment? > Jane Austen - all of it. I've just finished Emma (the only one of her novels I'd already read, but way back), and just started Persuasion.
Who are your cultural heroes? > William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Alfred Hitchcock (and see also the answer on composers, below).
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Amongst novels I've read recently enough to have a clear memory of them it's between Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It's so long now since I read Jane Eyre that I'd need to re-read it to see if it belongs in the same company; but I loved it when I read it and so I tentatively include it in the present line-up.
What is your favourite poem? > T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.
What is your favourite movie? > For many years I've said it's a tie between Hitchcock's Psycho and Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch; but now that I have to make an 'official' declaration I find I've got to add Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront.
Who is your favourite composer? > Beethoven, with Bach a hair's breadth behind him - then daylight, then Mozart and Schubert.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > There was a time when I thought that, if not all, then at least most, human wickedness was produced by circumstance. I no longer think that. I believe there are bad impulses within the nature of human beings, though that's not to say that circumstances aren't important in either encouraging or restraining these. One of the things that changed my mind was studying the literature of the Holocaust. But as important an influence was observing the smaller-scale episodes of selfishness, dishonesty, mean-spiritedness, unkindness, and all the rest of it amongst people with comfortable enough lives and no obvious external reasons for behaving badly.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > 'If there is no truth, there is no injustice.'
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > That 'there is no such thing as the way the thing is in itself, under no description, apart from any use to which human beings might want to put it' (Richard Rorty).
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Mill's On Liberty. For the usual reasons: the arguments for freedom of thought, and on individuality, are inspiring; and the attempt to delineate the proper sphere and limits of individual liberty, though not without its problems, remains a basic starting point for seriously thinking about the issue. I first read On Liberty as a second-year undergraduate and it has been part of my mental framework ever since.
If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister, who would you choose? > I'd like to see my friend Oliver Kamm take a shot at it. I think he'd do well.
What would you do with the UN? > Try to reform it: by giving more voting power to countries that have met certain stipulated human rights standards and standards of democratic governance; and by barring countries that haven't met these standards from specialized UN committees dealing with rights and related matters. How easy it would be to achieve these reforms is something else.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > It is often said that whereas through much of the 20th century there was a spirit of optimism about the future, this is no longer the case. Yet it is striking that virtually everyone who answers this question from the normblog profile questionnaire says (just like that!) that the best is yet to come. If bloggers are anything to go by, hope for the future is doing pretty well. Me, I don't know. I'd like to think the best is yet to come, but I'm not confident of it.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Don't throw away a friendship or other relationship of value over nothing - just through being too proud to acknowledge that you have behaved badly.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > I don't know. I believe there are quite a lot of political differences which I'd be able to live with inside a long-term relationship, marriage or other. But there are some that would lead to constant trouble.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Integrity.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > The worst is cruelty; but down the scale a way, and more commonly encountered in ordinary life, malice.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > I won't go to the opera.
What is your favourite proverb? > 'Recoil for a better potato' - my version of 'Reculer pour mieux sauter'.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > I'd read more.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > New York or Sydney. Trouble is, they don't play Test cricket in New York; and Sydney, where they do, is a long way away from nearly everywhere else.
What would your ideal holiday be? > I already had my ideal holiday. Last northern winter and southern summer, I went to Australia and followed the Ashes series. I loved what I saw of the country, I was met with great hospitality, friendship and kindness there, and the cricket itself was the business - a 5-0 clean sweep to Australia, which I relished from beginning to end. I don't think it possible I'll ever have another holiday as good as that.
What talent would you most like to have? > To be able to play the piano - properly, not just in the very limited way I now can.
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > Jazz musician.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Groucho Marx.
Who are your sporting heroes? > When I was a boy, it was the Springbok off-spin bowler Hugh Tayfield; today, Allan Border and Steve Waugh.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > My own season ticket at Manchester United, preferably right next to my friend Morris.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I'd give a lot of it away to members of my family and increase what I give to charity. Otherwise I wouldn't change a thing. Oh, except for getting myself a stretch limo - and maybe a barouche.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]