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The politics of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will dominate the world post-Brexit

Unless we pull ourselves together, the sworn enemies of enlightenment will win. 

Brexit marks a victory not of the people but of populism. Not of democracy but of demagogy. 

It is a victory of the hard right over the moderate right and of the radical over the liberal left. 

It is a victory of xenophobia in both camps, of long-simmering hate for the immigrant and of obsession with the enemy within. 

It is the revenge of those throughout the United Kingdom who could not bear to hear Obama, Hollande, Merkel, and others offering their views on a matter that was theirs to decide. 

It is, in other words, a victory of sovereignism at its most rancid; of nationalism at its most idiotic. 

It is the victory of fusty England over an England open to the world and fully in touch with its glorious past. 

It is the defeat of the Other before the puffed up I, the defeat of complexity before the dictatorship of the simplistic. 

It is the victory of the followers of Nigel Farage over the “political-media class” and “global elites” who supposedly “take their orders from Brussels.” 

Abroad, it is a victory for Donald Trump, who was one of the first, if not the first, to welcome the historic vote, and for Vladimir Putin, whose dream and whose plan - this cannot be repeated too loudly or too often - has long been the break-up of the European Union. 

It is a victory, in France, for the Le Pens on the right and their twins on the left who dream of a French variant of the Brexit while not knowing the first thing about the intelligence, heroism, radicalism, or rationality of the culture in which they live. 

It is a victory, in Spain, for Podemos and its cartoonish indignados. 

In Italy for the 5 Star Movement and its clownish leaders. 

In Central Europe for those who, having pocketed their EU dividends, are ready to dissolve the Union . 

It is a victory for those everywhere who were just waiting for a chance to get out while the getting was good - and it is thus the beginning of a process of disintegration that no one yet knows how to stop. 

It is the victory of the mob of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis over Renoir’s “Boating Party.” 

It is the victory of the wreckers and dimwitted leftists, of drunken skinheads and hooligans, of illiterate rebels and bull-headed neonationalists. 

It is a victory for those who, in imitation of the unbelievable Donald braying “We will make America great again!” as his yellow pompadour snaps like a lasso, dream of building a wall between “the Muslims” and themselves. 

It will be declaimed in every language, dialect, slang, and patois. 

It will be pronounced while grumbling, bashing heads, turning away the other, pushing him into the sea, forbidding him from returning, while saying haughtily: “I, sir, am English!” - or Scottish, French, German, or any other nationality. 

And each time it will be a victory of ignorance over knowledge. 

Each time it will be a victory of the petty over the great, of brutishness over spirit.

Read more: I want my country back - the country of Jo Cox

Because, British friends, by “great” I do not mean the “plutocrats” or the “bureaucrats”. 

I do not mean the “privileged,” whose heads everyone in your country and everywhere else now seems to want to see impaled on a pike.

Those whom the Brexit took out while taking Britain out of Europe are not, alas, the “oligarchs” decried by the podium thumpers. 

The greats are the agents and the inspiration of the true greatness of every people. 

The greats are the inventors of this splendid dream full of the brilliance of Dante, Goethe, Dickens, Byron, Husserl and Jean Monnet - a dream called Europe. 

Those are the greats that you are cutting down to size. 

It is Europe itself, Europe as Europe, that is dissolving into the nothingness of your resentment.

It is true that Europe played a part in its own death. 

Certainly this strange defeat is also the defeat of a bloodless entity that scorned its own soul, history, and vocation. There is no doubt that the Europe we are executing had been moribund for years, incarnated in listless, ghostly leaders whose historical error was to believe that the end of history had arrived and that they could sleep the sleep of the last man on earth provided they remembered to turn on the automatic sprinklers—that is too true. 

That responsibility for the catastrophe also lies with political leaders who preferred, having consulted their spin doctors and sociologists, to massage events along the line of least resistance and in a fog of ahistoricism, to shrug off the rumbling of looming storms, and to wrap themselves in a newspeak that has always been used more to impose silence than to speak truth—that is equally obvious. 

But we must not permit the British majority who voted “Leave”, or those who have applauded the outcome, tell us that their real intention was to advocate for some vague “Europe of the people.” 

Because this Brexit does not signal the victory of “another Europe” but rather of “no Europe at all.” 

It is not the dawn of a reconstruction but the possible twilight of an ambitious project of civilization set in motion by a band that included a certain Winston Churchill.

Unless we pull ourselves together, Thursday 23 June will mark the consecration of the grisly International of the sworn enemies of enlightenment and the eternal adversaries of democracy and human rights. 

Europe certainly was unworthy of herself. 

Her leaders were pusillanimous and lazy. 

Her captains were set in their ways, and their art of governing was somnolent. 

But what is coming in place of this garden of the Finzi-Continis is a globalized suburb where, because one sees only garden gnomes, it is possible to forget that once there was Michelangelo. 

Between those resigned to let this world rot in the Trumpian dumpsters of gun-toting, cowboy-booted “greater America,” or under the spell of a Putinism that is reinventing the language of dictatorship or, since Friday morning, in the desolation of a Great Britain turning its back on its own greatness—between those current realities and the heat of an oven from which the most frightening demons of Europe emerged lies but a single human lifetime. 

So the choice is clear. 

If Europeans do not seize the moment, the referendum will be remembered as the baptism of a Holy Alliance of the dark horsemen of the new reaction - baptized not in the waters of the Jordan but on the banks of the Thames. 

Either we emerge together - through strong words matched by decisive action - from a crisis that is without precedent in the past 70 years, or, across the broad spectrum of modern pre-totalitarian languages, where  grimaces vie with belches as forms of expression, incompetence with vulgarity, and love of the abyss with hate for the other, the worst of humanity will come surging back. 

 

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Arsène Wenger: The Innovator in Old Age

As the Arsenal manager announces his departure from the club after more than two decades, the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, appreciates English football’s first true cosmpolitan. 

How to account for the essence of a football club? The players and managers come and go, of course, and so do the owners. The fans lose interest or grow old and die. Clubs relocate to new grounds. Arsenal did so in the summer of 2006 when they moved from the intimate jewel of a stadium that was Highbury to embrace the soulless corporate gigantism of the Emirates. Clubs can even relocate to a new town or to a different part of a city, as indeed Arsenal also did when they moved from south of the Thames to north London in 1913 (a land-grab that has never been forgiven by their fiercest rivals, Tottenham). Yet something endures through all the change, something akin to the Aristotelian notion of substance.

Before Arsène Wenger arrived in London in late September 1996, Arsenal were one of England’s most traditional clubs: stately, conservative, even staid. Three generations of the Hill-Wood family had occupied the role of chairman. In 1983, an ambitious young London businessman and ardent fan named David Dein invested £290,000 in the club. “It’s dead money,” said Peter Hill-Wood, an Old Etonian who had succeeded his father a year earlier. In 2007, Dein sold his stake in the club to Red & White Holdings, co-owned by the Uzbek-born billionaire Alisher Usmanov, for £75m. Not so dead after all.

In the pre-Wenger years, unfairly or otherwise, the Gunners were known as “lucky Arsenal”, a pejorative nickname that went back to the 1930s. For better or worse, they were associated with a functional style of play. Under George Graham, manager from 1986 to 1995, they were exponents of a muscular, sometimes brutalist, long-ball game and often won important matches 1-0. Through long decades of middling success, Arsenal were respected but never loved, except by their fans, who could be passionless when compared to, say, those of Liverpool or Newcastle, or even the cockneys of West Ham.

Yet Wenger, who was born in October 1949, changed everything at Arsenal. This tall, thin, cerebral, polyglot son of an Alsatian bistro owner, who had an economics degree and was never much of a player in the French leagues, was English football’s first true cosmopolitan.

He was naturally received with suspicion by the British and Irish players he inherited (who called him Le Professeur), the fans (most of whom had never heard of him) and by journalists (who were used to clubbable British managers they could banter with over a drink). Wenger was different. He was reserved and self-contained. He refused to give personal interviews, though he was candid and courteous in press conferences during which he often revealed his sly sense of humour.

He joined from the Japanese J League side, Nagoya Grampus Eight, where he went to coach after seven seasons at Monaco, and was determined to globalise the Gunners. This he did swiftly, recruiting players from all over the world but most notably, in his early years, from France and francophone Africa. I was once told a story of how, not long after joining the club, Wenger instructed his chief scout, Steve Rowley, to watch a particular player. “You’ll need to travel,” Wenger said. “Up north?” “No – to Brazil,” came the reply. A new era had begun.

Wenger was an innovator and disrupter long before such concepts became fashionable. A pioneer in using data analysis to monitor and improve performance, he ended the culture of heavy drinking at Arsenal and introduced dietary controls and a strict fitness regime. He was idealistic but also pragmatic. Retaining Graham’s all-English back five, as well as the hard-running Ray Parlour in midfield, Wenger over several seasons added French flair to the team – Nicolas Anelka (who was bought for £500,000 and sold at a £22m profit after only two seasons), Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pirès. It would be a period of glorious transformation – Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup “double” in his first full season and went through the entire 2003-2004 League season unbeaten, the season of the so-called Invincibles.

The second decade of Wenger’s long tenure at Arsenal, during which the club stopped winning titles after moving to the bespoke 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium, was much more troubled. Beginning with the arrival of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, the international plutocracy began to take over the Premier League, and clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, much richer than Arsenal, spent their way to the top table of the European game. What were once competitive advantages for Wenger – knowledge of other leagues and markets, a worldwide scouting network, sports science – became routine, replicated even, in the lower leagues.

Wenger has spoken of his fear of death and of his desire to lose himself in work, always work. “The only possible moment of happiness is the present,” he told L’Équipe in a 2016 interview. “The past gives you regrets. And the future uncertainties. Man understood this very fast and created religion.” In the same interview – perhaps his most fascinating – Wenger described himself as a facilitator who enables “others to express what they have within them”. He yearns for his teams to play beautifully. “My never-ending struggle in this business is to release what is beautiful in man.”

Arsène Wenger is in the last year of his contract and fans are divided over whether he should stay on. To manage a super-club such as Arsenal for 20 years is remarkable and, even if he chooses to say farewell at the end of the season, it is most unlikely that any one manager will ever again stay so long or achieve so much at such a club – indeed, at any club. We should savour his cool intelligence and subtle humour while we can. Wenger changed football in England. More than a facilitator, he was a pathfinder: he created space for all those foreign coaches who followed him and adopted his methods as the Premier League became the richest and most watched in the world: one of the purest expressions of let it rip, winner-takes-all free-market globalisation, a symbol of deracinated cosmopolitanism, the global game’s truly global league. 

(2017)

Postscript

Arsène Wenger has announced he is stepping down, less than a year after signing a new two-year contract in the summer of 2017. A run to the Europa League finals turned out not to be enough to put off the announcement to the end of the season.

Late-period Wenger was defined by struggle and unrest. And the mood at the Emirates stadium on match day was often sour: fans in open revolt against Wenger, against the club’s absentee American owner Stan Kroenke, against the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and sometimes even against one another, with clashes between pro and anti-Wenger factions. As Arsenal’s form became ever more erratic, Wenger spoke often of how much he suffered. “There is no possibility not to suffer,” he said in March 2018. “You have to suffer.”

Arsenal once had special values, we were told, and decision-making was informed by the accumulated wisdom of past generations. But the club seems to have lost any coherent sense of purpose or strategic long-term plan, beyond striving to enhance the profitability of the “franchise”.

The younger Wenger excelled at discovering and nurturing outstanding young players, especially in his early seasons in north London. But that was a long time ago. Under his leadership, Arsenal became predictable in their vulnerability and inflexibility, doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes, especially defensive mistakes. They invariably faltered when confronted by the strongest opponents, the Manchester clubs, say, or one of the European super-clubs such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona.

Wenger’s late struggles were a symbol of all that had gone wrong at the club. The vitriol and abuse directed at this proud man was, however, often painful to behold.

How had it come to this? There seems to be something rotten in the culture of Arsenal football club. And Wenger suffered from wilful blindness. He could not see, or stubbornly refused to see, what others could: that he had become a man out of a time who had been surpassed by a new generation of innovators such as Pep Guardiola and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino. “In Arsene we trust”? Not anymore. He had stayed too long. Sometimes the thing you love most ends up killing you.

 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.