George Soros"s Betrayal

This man is a puzzle to me. He left Hungary back in 1947, just managing to escape both the Nazis and the Communists, ending up at the London School of Economics and learning his philosophy and politics, if you can call it learning, from Karl Popper. He became a devote but, paradoxically, not a very critical one for someone who was taught to think by Popper, the advocate of critical rationalism. Soros went on to make gobs of money, mainly by dealing in the international money markets where he got very good at arbitrage. He made so much money that in time he felt he needed to get rid of some of it in public spirited fruitful ways, so he started his Open Society Foundations, which are still going pretty strong. (I once gave a talk at the Central European University, Budapest branch, and was paid some for doing so, just to come clean about that.)

Recently Soros has decided to spend his money on defeating George W. Bush in the coming presidential election, setting up a fund that managed to circumvent campaign finance reforms'-which, in any case, were a sham'-and wrote a book advancing his cause, titled The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2004). It is mostly about how America should use its power responsibly and not act as if it had answers to the problems of other countries'-a kind of pseudo-Popperian message that cannot escape the paradox of humble counseling (which is that the humble have no business counseling even humility since it isn't humble to do so).

If there has ever been a case of someone being smart in just a few areas, sort of like an idiot savant, it must be Soros's. The man's writing is simplistic and his attempts to discuss his very own ideas are hopeless. His appearance on Booknotes, hosted by C-Span's Brian Lamb, was painful to watch since Soros is nearly inarticulate. In addition he knows very little about some things he chooses to weigh in on, such as the ideas of Leo Strauss or the meaning of 'self-evident' in the Declaration of Independence. (Of course, many others fail to heed the fact that the founders wrote 'We hold these truths to be self-evident,' not that 'These truths are self-evident.' Yes, the difference is crucial, considering the purpose of the Declaration.)

Soros did manage to point out that he differs with F. A. Hayek on the nature of a free market, although he got Hayek dead wrong by claiming that the late Nobel Laureate thought markets were perfect. That claim is made by members of a different school, not Hayekians. The latter just think, as did Churchill about democracy, that free markets are pretty messy but the best thing going, nonetheless.

Soros' teacher, Popper, had confusing politics-'he thought an open society could accept a pretty hefty measure of government tinkering, social engineering. Soros agrees, so he has been supporting Liberal Democrats lately and considers libertarians extremists. It is sad, though, that a man who left the Nazis and the Communists behind, as did I, would then opt not for a categorical rejection of the use of coercive force in human relations but merely a tempering of this, not allowing it to get too much out of hand. Like someone who believes in beating his wife, but only every other week, not daily! Problem is once politicians and bureaucrats accept coercion here, they tend to accept it there and everywhere'-there's no stopping them.

Not that there isn't something to what Soros is worried about regarding US foreign policy. Most libertarians share those worries and I even like his noting that neo-conservatives are crypto Marxists when they so eagerly explain world affairs by reference to economic development alone. But the remedy for the neo-conservative driven US foreign policy isn't to elect a bunch of welfare statist liberal democrats (who, at any rate, nearly did what Bush did, if only they had won in 2000). What is needed is to rid the country of the leadership of both of the major parties. And to do that a massive infusion of good sense would do the most good, along lines similar to Hayek's and, especially, his teacher, von Mises, and the other contemporary classical liberals and libertarians. Not until these folks have their ideas spread around abundantly enough will the country get on with its peaceful, civilized leadership toward genuine liberty everywhere.

Soros could do a lot to help this along.

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Tibor R. Machan's picture
Columns on STR: 70

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and recent author of Neither Left Nor Right: Selected Columns (Hoover Institution Press, 2004).  He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.