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Sir Bernard Rowland Crick (16 December 1929 – 19 December 2008)[1] was a British political theorist and democratic socialist whose views were often 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.



Crick was born in London and educated at Whitgift School, University College London, and the London School of Economics 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.

Bernard 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[2] in 1998, known as the Crick Report,[3] led to the introduction of citizenship as a core subject in the National Curriculum.[4] He was knighted in the 2002 new years honours list for "services to citizenship in schools and to political studies".[4] 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 Sheffield University and Birkbeck College, University of London. He was a Vice-President of the British Humanist Association. He took early retirement in 1984, setting off for Edinburgh to be with his wife, Una MacLean. He remained domiciled there, becoming an ardent proponent of a Scottish parliament.

His ambition was not sated by his high academic reputation, which was recognised in the award of 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.

Married and divorced three times, his first wife was Joyce Crick, herself a senior lecturer in German at Univerrsity College, London, and well known as a translator of Thomas Mann and Sigmund Freud. By her he had two sons. His oldest son Olly is an educator and drama practitioner, who among other things has written a well-received book on Commedia dell'arte.[5] His younger son Tom works in international conflict resolution.[6] There were no children of his later marriages.

Crick died from prostate cancer at the age of 79, in St. Columba's Hospice, Edinburgh.[7]

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 5 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 works include:

  • The American Science of Politics (1959).
  • In Defence of Politics (1962).
  • 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).
  • 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 Miller) (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).

Recently he was writing a book on The Four Nations of the UK and a history of the journal Political Quarterly.

edited by Crick:

  • 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).



External links


Simple English

The political virtues were listed by Bernard Crick "In Defense of Politics", 1982. They included but were not limited to:

  • prudence:

take one step, then see its results before taking another

  • conciliation:

making friends with people you have argued with

  • compromise:

giving up some things you want to get those things that are most important to you

  • variety:

people want to have a number of choices that are different from each other

  • adaptability:

meet the needs of changing times

  • liveliness:

never be boring

He sees these virtues as a way of avoiding ideology or "absolute-sounding ethic". More virtues will lead to less conflict. None of them can be forced on anyone.

Some other virtues have also been suggested: humour, empathy, initiative and compassion. "Being brief" or "being positive" are sometimes claimed also to be virtues, but just as many people think they are bad things that only help avoid truth or serious problems.


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