The noted philanthropist diagnoses threats to liberal democracy.
Wealthy financier Soros (The Tragedy of the European Union: Disintegration or Revival?, 2014, etc.), founder of the Open Society Foundations, gathers a selection of recent articles, speeches, and book excerpts offering an impassioned analysis of what he considers the most pressing political, social, and economic problems. The author has devoted vigorous efforts and considerable funds to support what he calls political philanthropy: the influx of money and expertise aimed at making the world “a better place.” At first focused on developing nations, he now assigns more than half of his foundations’ budget to the U.S. and Europe, where he believes the “democratic achievements of the past” are being undermined. Among the threats he cited in a 2018 speech at the World Economic Forum are North Korea, climate change, the lack of a functioning two-party system in the U.S., artificial intelligence and social media as tools for social control, extremist ideologies, and repressive regimes in Europe and China. He is concerned, as well, about attacks on the European Union, conceding that the EU, governed by outdated treaties, “needs to be radically reinvented” through “a collaborative effort that combines the top-down approach of the European institutions with the bottom-up initiatives that are necessary to engage the electorate.” Three issues loom as especially problematic for the EU: the refugee crisis, “territorial disintegration as exemplified by Brexit,” and the need to address economic growth. Soros recounts the difficulties he faced in establishing Central European University to promote academic freedom. A final chapter explicates his economic theory, “radically different from orthodox economics”; although revised from an earlier article, it is still somewhat confusing. Characterizing himself as “admittedly selfish and self-centered,” an egocentric philanthropist in love with his own ideas, Soros admits to finding pleasure in altruism. “I no longer see any reason to feel ashamed of having such a large ego,” he writes, “because it turned out to be beneficial both to me and to many others.”
A timely appeal for radical change.