Why do so many conservatives revile hedge-fund pioneer and philanthropist George Soros? The Hungarian-born Soros — who, with his family, fled Nazism and Communism — chairs Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Foundations, a global private foundation that promotes democratic institutions. Soros has waged a lifelong battle against intolerance, authoritarian governments, and racism, but his financial support of Democrats (Hillary Clinton in 2016 and whoever opposes Donald Trump in 2020) and leftwing causes irritates conservatives.
London’s “Financial Times” — hardly a left-wing, anti-capitalist newspaper — named Soros its 2018 “Person of the Year” for his achievements and “the values he represents.” His critics, however, consider him another embodiment of “Davos Man” — who favors globalization, opaque international finance, liberal causes, and, given his immense wealth, greed.
Does today’s hyper-partisanship impair our ability to assess a person’s entire life and career? Are we sometimes too quick to apply facile labels and political stereotypes? Can Soros’s critics acknowledge the many good — and brave — things he has achieved through his writings and his generosity?
I have yet to meet a Soros critic (or supporter, for that matter) who can answer this question: Why did Soros name his philanthropic organization The Open Society Foundations?
Soros studied at the London School of Economics, where the late Sir Karl Popper was his teacher, mentor, and friend. In 1945, Popper published a landmark, two-volume book (now reissued by Princeton University Press in one 755-page volume), “The Open Society and Its Enemies.”
“The Open Society” remains the best, most lucid, and eloquent defense of liberal democratic institutions. Popper eviscerates totalitarianism’s intellectual origins, along with Marxism, Leninism and communism. His book is a political-philosophy tour de force.
Soros honored his mentor by naming his foundation after Popper’s most famous work. As a Popper disciple, Soros remains a staunch advocate of the liberal, democratic values and institutions currently under assault in the West. The notion that George Soros is an anti-democratic, pro-Communist sympathizer is ridiculous.
I have met Soros on four occasions and confess that I admire him. The first two times were at small dinner parties hosted at the late John Diebold’s Manhattan apartment. Soros struck me as quick, personable, entertaining, and funny. Like William F. Buckley, Jr., Soros has a delightfully mischievous grin that exudes charm, energy, and intelligence.
I met Soros again at a New York City gala hosted by the Committee for Economic Development, where Soros was recognized for supporting democratic institutions around the world. (Full disclosure: for approximately a decade, Soros’s Open Society Foundations funded part of CED’s work on state-level judicial-selection reform).
The fourth meeting occurred at his hedge fund’s office in late 2003 or early 2004 to discuss a proposed CED international project. CED’s then board chair was also there, along with a Soros business colleague. We first strayed into money in politics — specifically, campaign finance reform. At that time, Soros was planning to plough millions of dollars into so-called Section 527 organizations that were being established under the Internal Revenue Code to circumvent the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law’s soft-money restrictions.
I told Soros politely that funding 527 groups contradicted his own previous views about campaign finance. He looked at me, smiled broadly, and then chuckled: “I know. I know,” he said. “I’m violating my own principles here, but I just believe that re-electing George W. Bush would be terrible for this country.”
While I disagreed with his reasoning and conclusion, I nonetheless respected his position. But I added: “The problem with what you’re doing is you’re launching a campaign-finance arms race. Sometime in the future, there will be a conservative George Soros, and we’ll be off to the races again with unlimited campaign spending.”
So here we are, as predicted, with the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and others (on the right and the left) who stand ready to match — or exceed — Soros’s political spending.
George Soros has many more dimensions than just his partisan political views. At Davos 2018, he unleashed a scathing attack on internet platforms and their harmful impact on democracy, and at Davos last month, he criticized China’s efforts to develop artificial intelligence in ways that undermine individual privacy and openness.
While I do not share Soros’s partisan views, I nonetheless have enormous respect for his devotion to democratic principles and values. Through his philanthropy, he was an early, major supporter of emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and Africa.
Let’s recognize our differences at election time, but let’s not allow partisanship to keep us from seeing the whole person. Instead, let’s emphasize what we have in common: the values we share as Americans, as citizens of this country and the world.
Charles Kolb served as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy in the Bush White House from 1990-92.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.