Have you seen what’s going on with George Soros? I quote from today’s Washington Times: “A petition asking the White House to declare liberal mega-donor George Soros a domestic terrorist has garnered over 100,000 signatures, or more than enough to necessitate a response from the Trump administration……[The petition states that] George Soros has willfully and on an ongoing basis attempted to destabilize and otherwise commit acts of sedition against the United States and its citizens.’ through allegedly creating and funding organizations exclusively devoted to facilitating “the collapse of the systems and Constitutional government of the United States.”
Now, nothing could be more ridiculous than this. But in fact (and I know this from some people that I know, who are otherwise fairly smart) many right wing Americans are convinced that George Soros is evil incarnate, and that declaring him a terrorist would be most appropriate. Unbelievable.
George Soros, a Hungarian-American Jewish investor, is one of the world’s wealthiest men. Born in Budapest and a young teenager when the Germans invaded Hungary, he was hidden with false papers in the home of a non-Jewish friend of his fathers, who (for whatever reason) provided assistance to the German regime. Young George accompanied him on some missions where his false father was apparently identifying Jews for the Nazis. Based on this history, which saved Soros’ life, right wingers have decided not only that Soros was a self-hating Jew (whatever that really is supposed to mean), and that he was a willing Nazi sympathizer and supporter. Some websites have even concluded that Soros was a German SS officer during World War II (putting aside the fact that the war ended when he was 15). Have I said this before? Unbelievable.
After the war, Soros went to London to study philosophy at the London School of Economics, and then (realizing that teaching philosophy after World War II was not going to result in his earning a good income) went into finance, finding himself quite adept at anticipating changes in equity, loan and currency markets. He became very wealthy. (Much of his wealth came from his anticipation of the collapse of the British pound and certain other currencies, and his shorting these currencies; his critics have claimed that he engineered the collapse of the currencies himself – something that is pretty difficult for one person to have done.)
He kept up his interest in and study of philosophy and its practical application, especially to social structure and political organization. Having the resources at his command, and seeing where governments were failing their citizenry, he decided to set up a number of Open Society Foundations, supported by his own foundation, but by and large up to local leadership and direction. His first efforts were in the Soviet Union and the countries freed from the Soviet grip during the 1980s and 1990s. In all, it’s been estimated that he has donated $12 billion of his own money to these efforts.
Why have the right wing crazies (my term) targeted Soros? Jealousy of his wealth? Failure to understand his thinking? Antisemitism? Suspicion of motives (which can be influenced by Antisemitism)? Follow the leader? I am not sure.
I wanted to learn more about Soros, so I picked up his 2006 book, The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror, to see if I could learn a little more as to why he has been personified by so many as the enemy.
Soros was a very vocal critic of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq (his reasons are those that now seem obvious – the entire Middle East would be destabilized, and Iran would be the winner). He put a lot of money and effort in ensuring that Bush would not be elected to a second term. He was obviously not successful, but he earned a lot of Republican enemies in the process. By the way, his main efforts to stop a second term for W were in voter registration drives – obviously a very un-American activity, to be certain.
The Age of Fallibility is a short, and unusual, book. It is not Soros’ first, and he cites his others throughout, as his world view seems to have been very consistent over the past 50 years (he even quotes at length from a piece he wrote in 1961). The first part of the book is about Soros’ philosophical stance, much of it based on his studies at LSE, and in particular on the teachings of Karl Popper and his book The Open Society and its Enemies. From Popper, Soros got the name for his various foundations.
Much of the first part of the book relates to concepts such as reality and truth. It’s important to search for truth, but it is impossible to identify truth (as I understand Soros) because so much of what one sees as reality is influenced by oneself. So, when one observes something, he is observing the object as he observes it, thus becoming a part of what he is observing and distorting the apparent reality as he does so. Can you follow that? Was I at all clear? It helps explain, for example, why two people with different basic world views can look at the same item, or the same occurrence, and reach very different conclusions as to what they are seeing. An important concept when thinking about today’s political realities.
I’m obviously not going to try to restate Soros’ full book; I encourage you to read it yourself, although the first part does require patience and attention. When you get to the later parts, dealing with today’s political realities (today being 2006), it is easier to follow.
My brief analysis of Soros’ views is as follows: There are “open societies” and “closed societies”. Clearly, Communist and fascist societies (both of which Soros lived in, so he has personal experience) are “closed”, but so are any societies led by leaders or parties with fundamentalist ideologies. An “open society” is one that permits individuals to live their lives as much as possible in accordance with their own needs, desires and beliefs; it is a tolerant society. A “closed society” is one where leadership is such that citizens need to conform to the party line, or risk being ostracized or punished one way or another.
Here we reach what I would call a paradox. Soros, called by his enemies a “liberal”, would probably not call himself a liberal, at least as that term is understood today. Soros is against, not for, big government. He believes in citizens taking action themselves (in his own life, through his Open Society foundations). In many ways, Soros is more a Libertarian than a Democrat, He supports Democratic candidates, not because he always believes what they believe, but because he finds the right wing Republican (and, with regard to foreign policy, the right wing ‘neocon’ positions) to be so wrongheaded.
The Open Society Foundations promote open societies, and teaching citizens how to strive for and operate open societies. This is why he was so effective in the former Soviet occupied countries. It is equally why today, in countries such as his native Hungary, which have become more “closed” and more right wing in recent years have also, like the American right, turned Soros into a bad guy.
The other reason that the right is so opposed to Soros is that Soros and the right have very different concepts of patriotism. Soros’ concept of patriotism is to support your country as a citizen-country of the world; he is against nationalism, and he would certainly be against anything called “America First”. This is not because he doesn’t support his country, but because he believes that nationalism and American First-ism will lead away from, not towards, the goal of making the country the best it can be. He believes that American consumerism is an evil that has led to many of today’s problems – that we were stronger when we were implementing the Marshall Plan to rebuild other countries. He believes that globalism is here to stay, and that it should be encouraged and developed for the overall benefit of the planet, not that it should be manipulated for the supposed benefit of one country or another, and that his country should lead this effort.
He is also very concerned about the conservation of the resources of the planet and its energy sources. He is very concerned about climate change. He is very concerned about nuclear arms. He is a strong believer in democracy, but does not think that democracy can be imposed from the outside, or can be rushed.
Soros is clearly very bright, and very serious in following what he believes is the right course. He understands that, because of his enormous wealth (he is much richer than, for example, Donald Trump), he has opportunities that others do not have. But he is not perfect. Many of his efforts have failed, and he treats them as defeats, sometimes victims of circumstance, sometimes of bad planning. He has an enormous ego, and I guess would be difficult to be around for long periods of time. He is now in his upper 80s, and knows that his time is limited – whether he has provided for succession in his various enterprises, I am not sure. He has a number of children, some of whom do work with him.
I hope I have done a decent job in describing Soros as I see him. I have a biography of him, Soros, by Michael Kaufman, written about 15 years ago. I know nothing about the book, but I plan to look at it soon to see if it adds to, or changes, my current views.
I certainly cannot see why Soros should be considered a terrorist any more than I should be. But, I guess, anyone who supports open societies would be targeted by those who favor closed societies (even those people who don’t know that they favor closed societies – this gets us back to our discussion of truth and reality), and that an open society advocate with tens of billions of dollars behind him would naturally become the biggest target of them all.