JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 7, 2010
One thing I've never understood about soccer advocates is that they simultaneously argue for nationalism (how can you not care about the fate of American soccer against the foreigners?) while decrying nationalism among American soccer-haters. The usually brilliant Rick Hertzberg seems to fall for the same bifurcated view of nationalism and soccer in a New Yorker editorial:
One of the things that Franklin Foer’s charming book “How Soccer Explains the World” explains is how soccer, along with its globalizing, unifying effects, provides plenty of opportunities for expressions of nationalism, which need not be illiberal, and for tribalism, which almost always is. The soccerphobia of the right is tribalism masquerading as nationalism.
Hertzberg doesn't really explain this assertion and I don't understand it. One form of nationalism is taking pride in aspects of your country's culture. Another form of nationalism is more competitive -- wishing to assert your country's superiority over other countries. Some Americans take pride in their country's distinct, if not unique, status as a non-soccer-following country. That's the first kind of nationalism. Other Americans take pride in the performance of their country's soccer, although -- given America's huge size and terrible record -- this is a bit like taking pride in your college debate team fighting the local elementary school squad to a draw. That's the second kind of nationalism.
Both kinds of nationalism seem fine and harmless to me. The difference is that the competitive nationalism brought out by international soccer has more potential for ugliness -- as Frank's book shows -- than the national pride of American soccer haters, who are like French who take pride in their lax attitude toward fidelity or Russians who take pride in their drinking. I'd like to see Hertzberg explain what makes the nationalism of soccer-haters inherently worse than the nationalism of soccer fans.