RECOLLECTING THE OPEN SOCIETY OF GEORGE SOROS
Recollecting the Open Society of George SoroS
George Soros ardently embraces liberal democracy, or rather the “open society” ideal, as the road to peace. He associates democracy with economic development, and both of the above with national security, stating that, “we ought to fight terrorism by fostering open societies.” His open society instantiated is, generally speaking, a liberal democracy, yet Mr. Soros does not seem to want his idea of an open society to be equated with democracy per se or otherwise exactly defined. He puts a great deal of money where his mouth is, advancing the cause with liberal contributions to grass roots organizations interested in installing open societies in their repressive areas.
In The Age of Fallibility, he insists that the idea of an open society is not a political but an epistemological notion, on knowledge based on what we know about knowing. One thing we can know for sure is that our knowledge is, generally speaking, partial and somewhat erroneous, hence human judgment is fallible. Therefore we should always keep an open mind if we would know the truth – that is not to say that there is no truth or reality to be true to, but implies that what we do know of something, even in the scientific sense, is always, shall we say, an estimate.
Philosophical fallibilism is nothing new. Socrates himself bragged about being the only man in the world who knew he was basically ignorant; that he was the only one aware of it made him the wisest man on Earth. The former soldier and erstwhile star-gazer returned from objects to the subject of subjects and proceeded to plague the aristocratic youth with sophisticated doubting – the young have a natural problem with authority to begin with. The democratic faction thanked him with the death penalty for his skeptical inquiries into the dogma of his day. An attitude given to the critical mode of knowing or experimental truthing is bound to perpetually challenge the power elite and their dogma, hence is, at least hypothetically, compatible with liberal democracy. A democracy may and should freely challenge its own tenets but one, its organizing principle, that of freely expressed, rational self-criticism. Wherefore it might again be said that freedom of opinion and reasonable expression is the linchpin of an open society.
George Soros’ open society is an epistemological attitude, of recognizing that human judgment is fallible hence subject to correction, hence is an antidote to fanaticism. Classically speaking, humility is an antidote to hubris. Nothing is perfect: democracy as we know it now is not good enough for Mr. Soros, because democratically elected governments, for instance that of the United States, can do and actually do a great deal of evil. The democratic majority may even go so far as to destroy the democracy by electing tyrants, who may wage war to make world peace whether the world likes it or not, at the cost of millions of innocent lives. Sometimes the collateral damage done with all good intentions far exceeds the damage done by the repressive regimes for which change is wanted.
Nor is Mr. Soros completely satisfied with the capitalism that provided him with the political-economic environment that fostered his quest for wealth. His perspective is global; he sums up three major “disparities” in the global capitalist system:
First, the disparity between public goods and private goods: Private markets by themselves are not able to meet collective needs nor are they “competent to ensure social justice.” He is an economic determinist inasmuch as his concept of social justice warrants the equitable distribution of presumably scarce goods. He stated that the growing social injustice, evident in the inequality between the rich and poor, arises from the fact that the winners of the globalization game are not “compensating the losers” either within states or between states. What is needed is economic as well as political equality. A redistribution of income by the welfare state outside of the market mechanism is prerequisite to peace.
Second, the disparity between center and periphery: “Whenever the center is threatened,” writes Mr. Soros, “the authorities take decisive action in order to protect the system. As a consequence, the devastation is confined to the periphery.” Since the productive assets of peripheral countries are largely controlled by foreign capitalists, they can repatriate their capital and gut the disadvantaged countries and people at will.
Third, the disparity between good and bad governments: Some countries have good democratic governments while others have corrupt or repressive regimes. The income gap or economic inequality looms large in bad countries, which are plagued by armed conflicts and financial crises. The United States, currently beset with armed conflicts and plagued by a financial crisis, has trended towards bad government for some time; the primary concern of Mr. Soros, elucidated in The Bubble of American Supremacy, is not his usual concern with the excesses of the misguided free-market fundamentalists, but with the “excesses of American supremacists.”
Although Mr. Soros does not believe in the myth of a perfect equilibrium established by the imaginary Invisible Hand, his selection of the term ‘disparity’ gives us cause to believe that he would like to see a better balance between public and private goods, between center and periphery, and between good and bad governments. There is ample room for evil in its parity with good, and a great deal of good will be required to balance the evil on the other end of our teeter-tottering country. It appeared to him that the excesses of American supremacists and free market fundamentalists would be curbed by the presidential candidate he endorsed, Barrack Obama. Mr. Soros’ primary concern has been with bursting bubbles. Given his record for making billions off the pops, the disaffected losers shall no doubt be looking forward to social justice in the form of adequate compensation. Continuous poverty may be tolerated by a people for centuries, but high expectations suddenly let down has motivated many revolts. In any event, Justice was the god of our ancient cultural ancestors, the Hebrews and the Greeks. Only god knows when, but one day justice shall be done. Indeed, in one myth the Greeks had Zeus declare that any person without a sense of justice should be put to death. My inquiry for Mr. Soros’ opinion on this subject and others was responded to by his office in New York: the frustrated philosopher was too busy with his open society organizations to consider it.
War may be waged by one country in response to injustice in another. George Soros would not wage war for economic or irrational reasons simply to exploit another people’s resources, divert attention from domestic problems, or to satisfy the lust for glory and exercise other base passions, but he would intervene to curb abuse of another country’s citizens. To wit, outside interference into the internal affairs of a country is justified if its government is severely abusing its people. The question is: Who has authority to intervene on their behalf? Liberal economic principles as well as the doctrine of state sovereignty dictate against interference.
International institutions such as the United Nations are associations of states who naturally put their interests ahead of the common interest. Still, if the people were sovereign and if all people are basically alike, the sovereign people of any UN member nation would rightfully intervene to prevent people of other nations from being severely abused by their governments. Better yet if the sovereign people of all nations cooperate to curb the abuse. Obviously, the responsibility for aid to abused people should somehow rest with the international community
“The rulers of a sovereign state have a responsibility to protect the citizens,” quoth Mr. Soros. “When they fail to do so, the responsibility should be transferred to the international community. That principle ought to guide the international community in its policies. One of my main objections to the American intervention in Iraq is that it has compromised this principle by substituting American might for international legitimacy.” Furthermore, “There is no better or more appropriate body than the United Nations Security Council to authorize military intervention for human protection purposes. The task is not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority, but to make the Security Council work better than it has.”
To that end Mr. Soros supports the principles laid out in the UN International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty’s report, ‘The Responsibility to Protect.’ When a population is suffering from what University of Hawaii Professor of Political Science Rudolph Rummel calls democide, the killing of people by their own government, the international community has a duty to protect them with appropriate measures, such as preventative foreign aid, economic sanctions, international prosecution, and, as a last resort, the minimum amount of military intervention needed to curb the abuse.
But as we have seen, the minimum amount of military intervention, whether unilaterally or multilaterally engaged in, might necessitate a shocking and awesome pre-emptive strike followed by hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground, and a decade if not decades of military intervention, with the end result wanted, i.e. a liberal democracy, being uncertain. Indeed, the abused people saved might eventually take up the arms they have been provided with to wage war on their savior. In any case, an international assembly such as the United Nations should be responsible for keep world peace.
Mr. Soros admits that the United Nations is an imperfect institution. It refers to itself in the preamble to its charter as “We The People,” but the charter itself is created by sovereign states whose interests may not coincide. The Security Council may override the sovereignty of the member states, and should do so in cases of democide. Mr. Soros presents a formula for obtaining his just war: The Security Council would have to authorize military intervention beforehand, and the Permanent Five must agree not to apply their veto powers where their vital state interests are not at stake. If the Security Council rejects intervention, an appeal may be made to the General Assembly and regional organizations according to their jurisdiction.
Mr. Soros is not the only person around who promotes open societies. In The Bubble of American Supremacy, he confessed that, “I have no right to call the promotion of open societies the Soros doctrine. The idea was endorsed in a little-known document, the Warsaw Declaration.” That declaration, entitled ‘Toward a Community of Democracies’, was made by the members of the Community of Democracies in Warsaw, Poland, on June 27, 2000. First of all, it expresses the intent of its members to adhere to the principles of the United Nation’s Charter and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognizes the “universality of democratic values” and emphasizes “the interdependence between peace, development, human rights and democracy.” To wit, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, as expressed by exercise of the right and civic duties to choose their representatives through regular, free and fair elections with universal and equal suffrage, open to multiple parties, conducted by secret ballot, monitored by independent electoral authorities, and free of fraud and intimidation.” Various civil rights are listed thereafter, such as the right for everyone to participate in public affairs, to enjoy the equal protection of the laws, freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly, the right to equal access to education and to privacy, so on and so forth. The members of the little-known Community of Democracies, including the likes of Bosnia, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua, Thailand, and Venezuela, realize there are no ideal democracies in existence, not even their main sponsoring member, the United States of America; they pledge their determination to “work together to promote and strengthen democracy, recognizing that we are at different states in our development.” Furthermore, “We resolve jointly to cooperate to discourage and resist the threat to democracy poses by the overthrow of constitutionally elected governments.”
Democracy as we know it is not good enough for Mr. Soros because democratically elected governments, for instance that of the United States, can and sometimes do a great deal of evil, not the least of which is the destruction of democracy by the democratic majority. As his adopted mentor Sir Karl Popper pointed out in The Open Society and its Enemies, “The acceptance of even a bad policy in a democracy is preferable to the submission to a tyranny, however wise or benevolent. Seen in this light, the theory of democracy is not based upon the principle that the majority should rule…. He who accepts the principle of democracy…is not bound to look upon the result of a democratic vote as an authoritative expression of what is right. Although he will accept a decision of the majority, for the sake of making democratic institutions work, he will feel free to combat it by democratic means, and to work for its revision.”
In any event, most people seem to know in their hearts what the proponents of open society are talking about when they refer to it. Suffice it to say that the open society is anti-authoritarian; hence no authority could impose a sufficient formal definition.
Should not Mr. Soros the philosopher of peace win a Nobel Peace Prize, not only for his books on political philosophy but for putting his money where his mouth is, for supporting grass-roots open society movements all over the world? He said he would rather leave this world as a philosopher than as a hedge fund operator who struck it rich. He has somewhat ruefully commented that academics don’t believe a hedge manager could possibility say anything of great importance on the subject of economics. But 2001 Nobel Economics Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz believes George Soros’ perspectives might take center stage if expressed a little differently.
We do not know if Mr. Soros actually craves a Nobel, and if he does, in what field – no doubt in Peace. Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president and a contender for the Nobel, said he wished Mr. Soros would win one because of his promotion of democracy, especially in formerly communistic countries.
A false rumor still circulates on the Web that Mr. Soros was indeed a Nobel nominee – his name does not appear in the nominee database of the Nobel Prize organization. An article penned by Sally Jenkins that appeared in the Washington Post June 29, 2005 in reference to the funding of baseball teams may have been the origin of the rumor: “…It was all right for Schott, the racist collector of Nazi memorabilia, to own a baseball team for years, but it’s not for Soros, the billion-dollar philanthropist and Nobel Prize nominee? That’s exactly what some Republicans on Capitol Hill are suggesting, led by Tom Davis, the Republican from Virginia who is trying to steer the sale of the Nationals and who says Soros is just not the kind of person ‘we need or want in the nation’s capital.’”