The son of Jewish refugees, Robert Manne was born in Melbourne and educated at the universities of Melbourne and Oxford during the 1960s and early 1970s. He joined the Politics Department of La Trobe University, Melbourne in 1975 and has lectured there for many years, specialising in European politics, twentieth century political history and communism.
Between 1989 and 1997 Manne was editor of the conservative periodical Quadrant, resigning after sustained criticism of his editorial policies. He also published the widely read and reviewed book, The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust (1996), a strong interpretation of the controversy surrounding Demidenko's prize-winning novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper (1994). Manne is a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers, including the Melbourne Age, and speaks regularly on radio. He published a book of political writing, Making Trouble : Essays Against the New Australian Complacency in 2011.