Sir Bernard Crick, Political Theorist, Dies at 79
Sir Bernard Crick, a prominent democratic socialist and political theorist who also wrote the first complete biography of George Orwell, one of his heroes, died on Friday in Edinburgh. He was 79.
The cause was cancer, The Guardian of London reported.
Sir Bernard, a moderate socialist, believed in gradual reform, social equality and the importance of citizen participation in politics. He often served as an adviser to top Labor politicians and in recent years devised the civics exam that new arrivals to Britain must pass before becoming citizens or permanent residents.
But it was “George Orwell: A Life,” published in 1980 and widely praised for its wealth of detail and its shrewd analysis of Orwell’s politics, that stood as his finest achievement. “Not only was it a pioneering biography, but it remains the best one there is,” said John Rodden, who has written several books on Orwell and edited The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell. “For anyone who wants the full story of his life explained comprehensively, at times exhaustively, it is the book to go to.”
Sonia Orwell, the writer’s widow, granted Sir Bernard full access to all Orwell material but later grew alarmed at his zealous inquiry into the facts, like whether Orwell shot the elephant he wrote about in his famous essay “Shooting an Elephant.” Shortly before her death, in 1980, she stripped the book of its imprimatur as an authorized biography.
Bernard Rowland Crick was born in London and educated at the Whitgift School in South Croydon and at University College, London, where he earned a degree in economics in 1950 and a doctorate in political economy in 1956. After teaching at Harvard, McGill University in Montreal and the University of California, Berkeley, he returned to Britain in 1957 and spent the next eight years as a lecturer at the London School of Economics, where his politics put him at odds with the prevailing conservatism of the school’s government department.
Unable to gain a professorship there, he traveled north to the University of Sheffield, where he created the department of politics. In 1971 he was named professor of politics at Birkbeck College, London, where he taught until 1984. For nearly 40 years, beginning in 1966, he helped edit the journal Political Quarterly.
After publishing “The American Science of Politics” (1958), a revised version of his doctoral dissertation, Sir Bernard made his mark with “In Defense of Politics” (1962), a spirited polemic in favor of politics as a worthy pursuit. In it he argued against ideology and in favor of “political virtues” like conciliation and compromise. The book quickly became a standard textbook in political science courses.
Throughout his career Sir Bernard looked for ways to apply political ideas to public policy. His book “The Reform of Parliament” (1964) led to his participation in practical efforts to change parliamentary procedure during the prime ministership of Harold Wilson.
Later, David Blunkett, a former student of his at the University of Sheffield who became a member of Tony Blair’s cabinet, called on his former teacher to develop a program for teaching citizenship in schools, a subject now taught at all state-run schools to students between 11 and 16. At Mr. Blunkett’s request, he also devised a test on the English language and British culture for immigrants applying to become citizens or permanent residents. It became mandatory in November 2005.
His three marriages ended in divorce. Sir Bernard is survived by two sons, Oliver and Thomas. In 2002 he was knighted for “services to citizenship in schools and to political studies.”