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|Born||16 December 1929|
|Died||19 December 2008 (aged 79)|
|Alma mater||London School of Economics (B.Sc., PhD)|
Sir Bernard Rowland Crick (16 December 1929 - 19 December 2008) was a British political theorist and democratic socialist whose views can be summarised as "politics is ethics done in public". He sought to arrive at a "politics of action", as opposed to a "politics of thought" or of ideology, and he held that "political power is power in the subjunctive mood." He was a leading critic of behaviouralism.
Crick was born in England, the son of Harry Edgar and Florence Clara Crick, and educated at Whitgift School. He read Economics at University College London, obtaining a first, before transferring to the London School of Economics for doctoral study. While working on his Ph.D.--published in 1958 as The American Science of Politics--he was a Teaching Fellow at Harvard, 1952-1954; Assistant Professor, McGill, 1954-1955; Visiting Fellow, Berkeley, 1955-1956). Returning to Great Britain in 1956, he obtained his Ph.D at the LSE and was appointed to an Assistant and later a Senior Lectureship, 1957-1965.
During his time at LSE, recollections of which appear in his contribution to My LSE, Crick craved for greater recognition than his Senior Lecturership signified. LSE's promotion system was notoriously slow at the time. When appointed Professor of Political Theory and Political Institutions at Sheffield in 1965 Crick told Beaver, the LSE student newspaper, that he was "going to a better place from the point of view of teaching students". The ambition for a professorship also played its part.
Crick sponsored the LSE's new-formed "Society Against Racial Discrimination" (1963). The indigenous British, he remarked, should treat immigrant ethnicities "as equals - and as no more than equals". An anonymous contributor adds : 'At least one member of audience wondered who proposed treating immigrants as "more than equals".'
Any university teacher has to manage the transition from school to university for his or her students. A first-year undergraduate in 1963, Geoffrey Thomas (later of the School of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, London) recalls his naive bewilderment at a clash between authorities. Professor H. R. G. Greaves promoted one view of cabinet collective responsibility in his lectures, and Dr Crick quite another in his classes. "You might be interested to know," Thomas innocently remarked with some bafflement in a tutorial, "that your views on collective responsiibity are polar opposite to those of Professor Greaves". "Then," Crick urbanely observed, "having equal access to both of us you are in a position of unique advantage." A student learnt one difference between school and university that afternoon.
Crick's lectures at LSE displayed the freshness of his language - one might approach a subject, he once said, "with an eye well-dressed with knowledge" but this is only one of many Crickian metaphors. Crick's sharp but kindly humour should also be noted. Thomas recalls the following: "There are two questions: whether ideals have an influence on history and whether politics is to be sensibly seen as the attempt to achieve values. Are all ideals the product of circumstance?" The answer might have been sententious. Instead Crick said: "Marxism grew out of one messianic, ill-tempered, bearded, boily individual".
Crick was an advisor to British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock during the 1980s. When Labour came to power in 1997, Crick was appointed by his former student David Blunkett to head up an advisory group on citizenship education. The group's final report in 1998, known as the Crick Report, led to the introduction of citizenship as a core subject in the National Curriculum. He was knighted in the 2002 new years honours list for "services to citizenship in schools and to political studies". He authored the 2004 Home Office book Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship, which forms the basis for the new citizenship test required by all people naturalising as British citizens.
He taught for a number of years at the University of Sheffield (1965-1971). and founded the Department of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London in 1972. He was a Vice-President of the British Humanist Association. He took early retirement from Birkbeck in 1984, setting off for Edinburgh to be with his partner, Una MacLean Macintosh. He remained domiciled there, becoming an ardent proponent of a Scottish parliament.
Once in Scotland, Crick, who eventually came to view himself as an "honorary Scot", engaged vigorously with political and civil society in Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole. Thus for instance, he for many years wrote a weekly column for The Scotsman newspaper and he was active in the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly, which was the precursor to the push for a full Scottish Parliament.
Crick co-authored, with David Millar, an influential pamphlet entitled Making Scotland's Parliament Work. This paper helped drive the move to structure the new parliament and its committees in line with European rather than Westminster norms; this was in fact achieved and the parliament today reflects Crick and Millar's recommendations.
Later in his life in Scotland Crick was delighted to be appointed Stevenson Visiting Professor at Glasgow University. Despite his frail health at that time, Crick delivered a series of widely praised and very popular public lectures. Upon his death Glasgow University marked his contribution by establishing the Bernard Crick Memorial Lecture.
Crick made many other contributions to Scottish political life, from participating in his local Labour Party, to defending Glenogle Baths from closure, to, in his last weeks of life, penning a humorous Op-Ed for The Scotsman on the chaos caused by the tram line delays in Edinburgh.
Crick was married three times and divorced twice. His first wife was Joyce Crick, a senior lecturer in German at University College, London, and a translator of Thomas Mann and Sigmund Freud. They married in September 1953 and had two sons. Their older son, Olly, is an educator and drama practitioner, who among other things has written a book on Commedia dell'arte. Their younger son, Tom, works in international conflict resolution. He married Margaret Emily Cahill in 1978, and his third wife was Freda Edis. They married in December 1989 and later separated. There were no children from the later marriages.
He was followed in death by his first grandchild, Georgia Leigh Crick, 27, on August 12, 2019.
Crick was awarded four honorary doctorates. He was made a vice-president of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom (PSA), which also gave him a lifetime achievement award on its 50th anniversary in 2000.
The PSA also created the Sir Bernard Crick Awards for Outstanding Teaching in honour of Crick and his work. Two awards are made at the PSA Annual Conference, the Main Prize, and a New Entrant Prize for early career academics.
Crick was knighted in 2002.
After his death, the University of Sheffield established the Sir Bernard Crick Centre. The centre aims to 'Bridge a number of gaps that appear to have emerged in recent decades (if not before). The first gap concerns the relationship between the governors and the governed in democratic countries.' The centre also aims to communicate social science to the public - or the social implications of 'hard' scientific advances - without, in doing so, losing those elements of scholarship that provide depth and context.
Glasgow University also recognised Sir Bernard's contribution by establishing an annual memorial lecture series.
In 1974 Crick started work on a biography of George Orwell with the help of Orwell's second wife Sonia Brownell. The hardback edition rights were used to set up a grant in conjunction with Birkbeck College to fund projects by new writers that would have interested Orwell. In 1980, just before the book was published, a friend of Crick's, David Astor, agreed to match the grant. Over the years there were contributions by Richard Blair, Orwell's adopted son, and also The Observer newspaper, among others. Due to a lack of discernible projects, after five years the fund was diverted to produce an annual memorial lecture at Birkbeck College and the University of Sheffield, and also to provide small departmental grants. The lectures continue: they are now hosted each year by the Orwell Foundation (originally established by Crick as the Orwell Prize; see below) at University College London, home of the Orwell Archive; in November 2016 the Orwell Lecture was given by Ian Hislop. Previous lecturers include Rowan Williams and Hilary Mantel. In 2017, the Orwell Foundation and the Sir Bernard Crick Centre re-established a new Orwell Lecture in the North at the University of Sheffield: the inaugural lecture was given by Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry.
In 1993 Crick set up the Orwell Prize with sponsorship from The Political Quarterly to honour political writing. Initially, two awards were given out each year - one for political journalism and the other for a political book. The first awards in 1994 went to Anatol Lieven for his book The Baltic Revolution and to The Independent on Sunday journalist Neal Ascherson. Crick was on the judging panel until the 2007 awards. BBC official historian Professor Jean Seaton became Director of the prize in 2006 and the prize became a registered charity (The Orwell Foundation) in 2015. The Foundation awards four Orwell Prizes - for political journalism, political writing (non-fiction only), political fiction and Exposing Britain's Social Evils - and hosts regular debates, lectures and events, including the Orwell Lecture. Judging panels are appointed each year.
According to Crick, the ideologically driven leader practises a form of anti-politics in which the goal is the mobilisation of the populace towards a common end--even on pain of death. Mao Zedong of China said, "Power grows from the barrel of a gun", and Joseph Stalin of Russia said, "The Pope? How many battalions does he control?" Such views, in Crick's estimation, are anti-political, because the speaker seeks to overcome any ethics of his constituency with the threat of violence.
The "political virtues" were an important feature of Crick's classic book In Defence of Politics; he saw them as an alternative to "ideology" or any "absolute-sounding ethic". They included but were not limited to:
Crick's first book, The American Science of Politics (1959), attacked the behavioural approach to politics, which was dominant in the United States, and little known in Britain. He identified and rejected their basic premises: that research can discover uniformities in human behaviour, that these uniformities could be confirmed by empirical tests and measurements, that quantitative data was of the highest quality, and should be analysed statistically, that political science should be empirical and predictive, downplaying the philosophical and historical dimensions, and the value-free research was the ideal, with the goal of social science to be a macro theory covering all the social sciences, as opposed to applied issues of practical reform.
Crick's works include: