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City Journal Summer 2006.
Summer 2006
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NEW BOOK:
The Voodoo That They Did So Well: The Wizards Who Invented the New York Stage
by Stefan Kanfer
The Voodoo That They Did So Well: The Wizards Who Invented the New York Stage.
 
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Soccer Louts
Stefan Kanfer

And the European culture that nurtures them

For old-fashioned hypocrisy, no one beats Europe’s anti-American elites. Always quick with a pejorative, they regularly denounce the New World’s “cowboy capitalism,” revile President Bush as a trigger-happy criminal and career liar, and, as the late Jean-François Revel notes, tell anyone who will listen that “everywhere you go in the U.S., violence reigns with uniquely high levels of delinquency and criminality. . . . [T]he nation is a lawless jungle.”

Alas for their side, the violent nature of their own societies is getting hard to hide. This spring’s World Cup soccer matches featured fights in Dortmund, Germany. The participants: fans of the host nation’s team versus some visiting Poles who wanted to cheer on their guys (and incidentally do a little damage to people and property).

Clashes between fans were no joke. Some proved so horrific that riot police had to seal off Dortmund’s central square. To restore order, the authorities ordered a preemptive operation to arrest “violent hooligans in the city center,” including some 60 Polish troublemakers. (Preemption is okay with Euro officials, provided that they’re the ones doing it.) Later, a brawl erupted between fans of the British and German teams. Result: 400 Brits and 14 citizens of Deutschland arrested.

Soccer violence is nothing new. During the 1988 World Cup, German fans beat a French cop nearly to death. In 2000, fans of Turkey’s team killed two Leeds United supporters. Currently, reports the BBC, “where the phenomenon is at its worst—in the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Holland, and Italy—about 10 percent of games witness ‘serious incidents,’ according to researchers.”

Collectors of wrought irony have noted that a preponderance of such lumpen fans have long lived off public largesse. Living in housing projects, on the dole, rudderless, and full of numb hostility, they are the sort F. A. Hayek foresaw in The Road to Serfdom. There, Hayek warned of states that, in the name of compassion, wanted to usurp control of citizens’ lives and fortunes. The resultant cradle-to-grave socialism would produce people without personal responsibility. Why should they bother with the consequences of their actions? Nanny (aka the government) would clean up the mess.

Granted, the U.S. is hardly free of unsportsmanlike conduct. The NBA has a long list of athletes who father illegitimate kids and then pay no attention to them, except for court-mandated child support. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig recently ran a full-page letter to fans in the New York Times. Addressing alleged steroid use by San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley, he wrote: “I will try to do everything I can to keep up with or even stay ahead of those who break the law and break our rules.” Some pro football players are notorious for late hits on the field and for physical abuse of women and children off the field.

But deplorable as it is, this kind of aggressive deportment largely confines itself to the ranks of overpaid, overprotected athletes. Though their fans can be raucous and disorderly, they seem objects of refinement compared with the thugs who regularly despoil Europe’s soccer matches.

Danger lurks, however; thus Selig’s statement is an ad in the right direction. The correctives lie with the leaders, owners, sponsors, managers, and team captains who need to set positive examples. The worst thing they could do is to look to the Old World for instances of good behavior. It’s not just the double-digit unemployment and Muslim and antigovernment riots that mar today’s Europe. The conduct of its accusatory leaders and its ordinary citizens is also blameworthy. They have yet to learn that anti-Americanism and “do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do” statements don’t make a policy—and that Europe’s decline is no game.

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More by Stefan Kanfer:
“The American Theater’s First Broad”
Summer Shorts in a Wide Range of Styles
Operatic Naiveté
More . . .
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The Last Communist City
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