Pep Guardiola is one of the best managers in football, which he has just proved yet again when his Manchester City won the Premiership with five games to spare.
Glowing tributes have poured in, deservedly so. Yet one tribute, though meant to be glowing, sounds very much like actionable libel. An article on Yahoo describes Pep as “football’s Che Guevara”.
That sounds as if the article is claiming that Pep is a sadistic torturer, mass murderer, a man who tried to impose sadistic torture and mass murder internationally, and, incidentally, a homosexual (not that I’m comparing this little quirk with Guevara’s crimes).
Implying that the happily married serial father is a closet case no longer constitutes libel, quite the opposite. But likening a public figure to mass murderers and torturers is definitely libellous. What if I described the nice Mr Guardiola as ‘football’s Himmler’? ‘Pol Pot’? ‘Fred West’?
I can’t help feeling he’d take exception to that, and a letter from his solicitor wouldn’t be long in coming. Yet I’m equally sure that Pep took the Yahoo description in the spirit in which it had been offered, as unqualified praise.
For lost in the popular mythology is the direct and obvious parallel between Guevara and Messrs Himmler, Pol Pot and Fred West. They are generally regarded as not very nice, while Guevara is seen as a romantic hero.
After all, what else can a revolutionary be other than a romantic hero? There’s only one sane answer to that: a sadistic torturer and mass murderer. But that’s not the answer accepted by most people, even those who don’t sport Guevara’s likeness on their T-shirts or bedroom walls.
Guevara the revolutionary is exhaustively summarised in his fond recollection: “I ended the problem by giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal lobe.”
Only a coldblooded murderer would describe an execution with such enviable anatomical erudition and such blood-chilling moral detachment.
And Guevara the Marxist chieftain in Cuba is best understood through this heartfelt statement: “The executions by firing squads are not only a necessity for the people of Cuba, but also an imposition of the people.”
I’d suggest that the question “What do you think of Che Guevara?” is a useful and sufficient test of political convictions – and, I dare say, morality. No conservative would disagree with my assessment of Guevara; no leftie would agree with it.
(Another such test, but with a smaller moral dimension, could be the question “Do you think the right side won the Civil War in a) America, b) Spain. The unequivocally conservative reply would be a) no, b) yes. Any other combination is suspect.)
So let’s apply this test to some public figures, starting with my favourite pundit Peter Hitchens, who once wrote:
“[Che’s] death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time, he was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do – fought and died for his beliefs.”
That Mr Hitchens was 16 in 1967, when Guevara finally got his just desserts, is a mitigating circumstance. But not an exculpating one: like conservatism, communism is above all a matter of temperamental predisposition, and this doesn’t change with age. Witness Mr Hitchens’s enthusiastic support of another mass murderer, Putin.
Nelson Mandela, another idol of the Left, described Guevara as “an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom”.
Well, all my friends and I love freedom, but none of us is inspired by Guevara. Mandela undoubtedly was, hence the torture and murder centres his ANC set up before it gained power. Hence also the ANC’s widespread practice of ‘necklacing’, whereby an old tyre was filled with petrol, put around a dissident’s neck and set alight. Guevara would have been proud.
To Jean-Paul Sartre, Guevara was “not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age.”
I agree with the first part: only an intellectual would be so intimately familiar with the anatomy of the brain through which he fires a .32 calibre bullet. But the most complete human being? Surely Stalin was even more complete? Actually, Jean-Paul loved Stalin too.
Graham Greene remarked that Guevara “represented the idea of gallantry, chivalry and adventure.”
Given that, what’s a bit of sadistic torture and mass murder? But then Greene probably could have said the same thing about Pol Pot.
And even Murray Rothbard, the shining light of libertarianism, described Guevara as a “heroic figure”, who “more than any man of our epoch or even of our century, was the living embodiment of the principle of revolution.”
That view would be unimpeachable had Mr Rothbard equated the principle of revolution with mass murder and sadistic torture. But his description of Guevara as heroic, rather than evil, suggests he meant something more positive than that. He obviously doesn’t share my belief that the only real purpose of mass murder is the murder of masses.
This goes a long way towards vindicating my view of libertarianism being more leftist than conservative. But I won’t expand on this now, fearing that some of my friends and readers may suffer dental problems brought on by the gnashing of teeth.
I wonder how successful Guevara would have been had he applied his talents to football management. Not very, would be my guess.
Revolutionaries are good at destruction, but creating even something as trivial as a winning football team is usually beyond them. Anyway, I doubt footballers would play for a manager whose training techniques include sadistic torture and mass murder.