Arsene Wenger: public intellectual

February 27, 2008


Word reaches me that Prospect magazine are inviting submissions from prominent types for their second Global Intellectuals Poll. The last one, in 2005, had Noam Chomsky, Umberto Eco and Richard Dawkins in the medal positions.

Not being one of the prominent types in question, I haven’t been asked to give my recommendations. Were I to be though, I would only have one man in mind. Our most important living public intellectual is clearly Arsene Wenger.

Think about it – he’s got it all:
– As thoughtful as Sen.
– As witty as Hitchens.
– As iconoclastic as Dawkins.
– The broad appeal of Chomsky.
– The patriotism of Havel.
– The ability to stir up a shit load of fuss of Rowan Williams.
He’s got that turns-out-he-was-right-after-all thing the best intellectuals always have. And he’s probably given more to public life than the rest of them put together.

ps. This is not – heaven forbid – an Arsenal thing. I say this as a Spurs fan. We can afford to be magnanimous these days.


Why China is on our side

February 25, 2008

I went to a talk the other day about China…the Olympics…human rights…Darfur recently. Here’s what struck me:

Some people see the world divided up into two teams. On one side, there’s the dictatorships and their tyrannical leaders (sturdy Kim Jong Il in goal); on the other there’s the democracies (George Bush marooned on the right flank).

Internally, the division makes sense. So calling China a dictatorship gets at the brutal way the Chinese regime treats its own people. When it comes to foreign policy, however, the black-and-white view can only be misleading.

Democracies make cruel and nasty foreign policy just as effectively as dictatorships. The history of American colonialism in Latin America show this all too clearly. So does the behaviour of Britain and France after WWI, as Pankaj Mishra said recently in the LRB: “in Paris, Lloyd George and Clemenceau demonstrated that leaders of democracies could be just as brazenly imperialistic as military dictators”.

China’s human rights record is related to its foreign policy – but the link is not nearly as important as some people (alright, Nick Cohen) would have you think.

In this case, as so often, black-and-white thinking is simply muddle-headed. For all the wrong reasons, China is already on our team.


West Wing reference: Series 7, “Internal Displacement”; after a dinner date with Danny, C. J. decides to sort out Darfur.