There are many signs suggesting that America is changing. In fact, to an outside observer America is starting to look a lot like Europe on many fronts.
One indication of the Europeanization of America might be the growing interest towards soccer. (For the purpose of this article and to avoid confusion, I will, albeit reluctantly, refer to football as soccer.)
The New Republic, once the torchbearer of American liberalism – the classical kind – and now largely a progressive voice, dedicated a whole section for the ongoing soccer World Cup taking place in Brazil.
Granted, I have always been uneasy about Americans and soccer. I love soccer and see it as part of being European. But in my murky soul, soccer represents nothing more than the same lightness and irrelevance of European cultural novelties and indulgences as coffee shops, fashion and high-speed trains.
Of course Americans love sports, but should they embrace a sport that has a bloodier history than any other sport in modern times?
Football and its all-pervasive fan culture is yet another example of the tribalism that Europeans – excluding the euro elites – are sinking into. Western Europe today is defined not by a coherent set of values, but by its identity crisis and deep divisions between lawmakers and the public, Brussels and local governments – and of course between the secular and the religious.
But since the number of religious Christians – those who attend services – is decreasing, other venues serve as attractive alternatives. And soccer is offering one such channel. Of course, soccer fans aren’t flocking to games because they’re bored with church ceremonies, but because people feel an intrinsic need to belong to a community.
But what happens when the outlet (soccer) has no intrinsic value? It will require quite a bit of verbal juggling to convince me that soccer serves as an important vehicle to convey European values to a child or a student.
In other words, soccer has no inherent value and is void of anything meaningful. Just like coffee shops, fashion and most things we love, soccer is shallow. While the game itself is beautiful, the energies and passions conflated with it serve no purpose and are in fact dangerous because they glorify and often justify hateful behavior, whether xenophobia, racism, antisemitism — or simply provide an excuse for brutish and barbaric behavior.
In other words, modern European passions and soccer tribalism have very little to do with values. Sipping an espresso in Rome or watching a game in London are both expressions of nothingness.
Ironically then, The New Republic, America’s new soccer journal, published a piece about Borges and his declared antipathy towards soccer. Perhaps as a carefully thought-out expression of self-criticism or as a mere oversight, the website ran a piece articulating the very reasons why America shouldn’t embrace soccer.
According to Borges, quoted in the article, “nationalism only allows for affirmations, and every doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity.”
Indeed, do American progressives really want to advocate a sport that is currently serving as the only legitimate channel for mass movements and their side-product, uninhibited violence?
Soccer fans are true believers and hatred is their weapon of choice.
Instead of going to church, Brits, the French and the Italians flock to soccer games where they express some form of brotherhood and unity for their teams and against their opponents. Indeed, the unifying agent among soccer fans is their hatred of the opponent, whether an individual player (racism) or the club’s association with a certain minority (Jews, communists).
As Eric Hoffer wrote in his monumental book The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements, “hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”
As much as I love the beautiful game, I share Borges’s antipathy towards the game’s true-believing fans and its many deplorable undercurrents and connotations. The fanatic fans are brutish, and color-professing politicians are nothing more than charlatans looking to capitalize on the fans’ fervor.
For decades now, America’s progressives have admired Europe’s many wellfare states and its strict gun laws. However, if the editors at The New Republic assume that by embracing soccer, America will continue its march towards a more tolerant and liberal society, they should think again. Soccer isn’t the answer.