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 and educated at Whitgift School, University College London, and the London School of Economics (LSE) for his doctorate (1950–52). He began teaching at Harvard and taught at McGill before returning to Britain and the LSE in 1956, where he taught for 11 years.
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". This may have been true but only a half-truth about his motivation: he was going quite reasonably for a professorship.
Crick sponsorsed 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". At least one member of audience wondered who proposed treating immigrants as "more than equals". The remark was an arrow without a target.
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 Philosophy department, 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 – and his humour. 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 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 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 heath 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, married September 1953, herself a senior lecturer in German at University College, London, known as a translator of Thomas Mann and Sigmund Freud. By her he had two sons. His older son Olly is an educator and drama practitioner, who among other things has written a book on Commedia dell'arte. His younger son Tom works in international conflict resolution. He was then married to Margaret Emily Cahill in 1978, and Freda Edis in December 1989 whom he later separated from. There were no children of his later marriages.
Crick died from prostate cancer at the age of 79, in St. Columba's Hospice, Edinburgh.
Awards and legacy
Crick was awarded four honorary doctorates. He was made a vice-president of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom, which also gave him a lifetime achievement award on its 50th anniversary in 2000.
Crick was knighted in 2002.
After his death, the University of Sheffield, established the Bernard Crick Center. The center 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 center 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.
Work on George Orwell
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 at Birkbeck continue; in November 2009 the Orwell Lecture was given by Hilary Mantel.
In 1993 Crick set up the Orwell Prize with sponsorship from The Political Quarterly to honour political writing. Two awards are 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.
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 uniformitiess 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:
- The American Science of Politics (1959)
- In Defence of Politics (1962, and five subsequent editions, the last in 2002)
- Political Theory and Practice (1963)
- The Reform of Parliament (1964)
- Parliament and the people (with Sally Jenkinson) (1966)
- Essays on Reform (1967)
- Crime, Rape and Gin: Reflections on Contemporary Attitudes to Violence, and Addiction (1974)
- Essays on Political Education (with Derek Heater) (1977)
- George Orwell: A Life (1982; revised and updated edition 1992)
- Socialist Values and Time (1984)
- Socialism (1987)
- What is Politics? (with Tom Crick)
- The Labour Party's Aims and Values: an unofficial statement (with David Blunkett) (1988)
- Essays on Politics and Literature (1989)
- Political Thoughts and Polemics (1990)
- To Make the Parliament of Scotland a Model for Democracy (with David Millar) (1995)
- Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools (aka The Crick Report) (1998)
- Crossing Borders: Political Essays (2001)
- Democracy: A Very Short Introduction (2002)
- The Commons in Transition (with A. H. Hanson) (1970)
- The Future of the Social Services (with William Robson) (1970)
- Protest and Discontent (1970)
- Taxation Policy (with William A. Robson) (1973)
- The Discourses by Niccolò Machiavelli (1974)
- Political Education and Political Literacy (with Alex Porter) (1978)
- Unemployment (1980)
- National identities: the constitution of the United Kingdom (1991)
- Citizens: Towards a Citizenship Culture (2001)
- Education for Democratic Citizenship (with Andrew Lockyer) (2003)