IPS joins in mourning the death — but celebrating the life — of Norman Birnbaum, an IPS senior scholar and friend of the Institute from its earliest days. Norman died on January 4 at 92. He was a colleague of IPS founders Marc Raskin and Dick Barnet, even before they opened the Institute in 1963. Through his work as a public intellectual (alongside a long academic career), Norman served as a link between post-WWII left movements in the United States and Europe. He worked with unions and progressive political parties in Germany, France, and Spain, and was also involved in numerous theoretical and political left journals. At the time of his death, he was the senior member of The Nation’s editorial board.
Norman maintained a powerful commitment to helping younger generations connect with the history of left intellectual thought. At an April 2018 IPS event on his memoir, “From the Bronx to Oxford and Not Quite Back.” he regaled our younger staff with tales of firsthand experiences with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Willy Brandt, and even Henry Kissinger.
As his Washington Post obituary noted, when he was asked why he remained part of the left movement, he answered “when I think of the characters and ideas of many of those on the right, the left seems to be the only place anybody with self-respect could be.”
We will miss Norman’s incisive analysis of an incredibly wide span of history, his clarity of vision, and his often-biting wit.