Patterico's Pontifications


James Kirchick on George Soros

Filed under: General — JVW @ 3:52 pm

[guest post by JVW]

As the Koch brothers are to the left, so George Soros inhabits the bogeyman role for the right, the crown prince of dark money funneled into nefarious organizations seeking to advance the causes of global socialism and one-world government. But what if, despite our hysteria, it turns out that the Soros of myth is somehow less than meets the eye? What if there is a complex side to him that at heart is in favor of open markets, democracy, and transparent governments faithfully serving the citizens, yet somehow his own hubris and neediness has drowned his good intentions under the tsunami of trendy social justice concerns? What if he is just another sad story of the philanthropist who aspired to good deeds, but his own insecurities and ego led him to make himself central to the story?

This is the portrait that James Kirchick, writing in Tablet magazine, paints of the Hungarian-born financier and policy dilettante. In an article that is fairly long but well worth reading in full, Kirchick seeks to delineate between Soros’ worthy endeavors to help post-Iron Curtain societies embrace liberal democracy and the billionaire’s need to be taken seriously by the intellectual elite of the West, which has increasingly drawn him into trendy left-wing politics. Kirchick begins by tracing Soros’ history of promoting the causes of society’s outcasts in the ex-Soviet bloc countries:

By the time I finished my European tour of duty, it had become axiomatic that, were I to encounter a democracy activist in Baku, a lesbian-rights campaigner in Bishkek, or a press freedom advocate in Belgrade, more likely than not they would have been beneficiaries of a Soros grant, scholarship, or in his employ. To take but one example of his generosity and foresight usually overlooked both by his detractors and fans, he is by far the largest private benefactor to the cause of the Roma—those long-persecuted, socially excluded, forgotten people of Europe.

Kirchick also gets uncomfortably close to attributing animosity towards Soros in Central European countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary as being laced by elements of antisemitism in those traditionally Catholic countries, suggesting that “[t]here are few better indicators of a European politician’s commitment to basic liberal democratic principles than the degree to which he blames Soros for his country’s woes.” I’ve been reflexively defensive of nationalist/populist leaders in Europe who refuse to knuckle-under to the dictates of Berlin and Brussels, and I am sympathetic to the idea that Soros’ massive wealth can do far much more harm propagandizing in those countries than it can do here. That said, Kirchick makes a solid case that Hungary’s Viktor Orban in particular is using loose language — “they are not national, but international; they do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs” — that has often been used by demagogues to stir up resentments of the Jews, yet I believe that Kirchick gives short shrift to the justifiable paranoia of a people who spent a half-century being dominated first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets, all of which occurred within the lifetime of a present-day octogenarian.

Paradoxically, the man whose followers believe that he is often the victim of far-right antisemitism tends to fund lots of political organizations that engage in their own use of innuendo and bigotry to criticize other Jews. Kirchick reminds us that protests by the Soros-funded group Freedom from Facebook used posters depicting Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg as a two-headed octopus, a image not unfamiliar to the Nazis, and that the Soros Equality Fellowship has passed out six-figure grants to apologists for Islamism and hatred of Israel. Kirchick also documents Soros’ antipathy towards donating to Jewish causes and a general distaste for supporting Jewish identity groups, even as he lavishly funds other racial and ethnic solidarity organizations. Worth noting too, is that Soros funds plenty of the MeToo activity including the anti-Kavanaugh activists who stormed Washington this past fall to confront the judge at his hearing, yet Soros himself has been the subject of shocking allegations of abuse which he has categorically denied.

And much of this gets to the heart of the contradictions of George Soros. The guy who pushes Europe to embrace capitalism, government transparency, pluralism, and freedom is investing his formidable fortune to undermine those very concepts here in the United States. For a guy who last summer told the New York Times Magazine that he yearns for a return to bipartisanship to devote pretty much all of his largesse exclusively to left-wing causes allied with Democrats isn’t just hypocritical, it indicates either a fundamental dishonesty or, at the very least, a willingness to delude himself. As Kirchick notes, groups like FIRE and Heterodox Academy which seek to broaden the narrow-minded groupthink so prevalent today at U.S. universities should be natural outlets for Soros’ philanthropy based upon his espoused principles as applied within Europe, yet instead he ignores those organizations in favor of ridiculously partisan Democrat outfits like the SPLC, the ACLU, and organizations which fund activities conducted under the Black Lives Matters banner.

So why does George Soros play the left-wing mega-donor here in his adopted country? Kirchick argues that it is simply because — like movie stars, athletes, journalists, titans of the tech industry, and others — Soros desires the approbation of the progressive intelligentsia which dominates academia, entertainment, media, government bureaucracies, and most non-governmental organizations. This obsession to be thought of as an intellectual began for him in the mid-90s after he had amassed much of his tremendous wealth, and it’s led him to write fourteen books which are neither widely read nor well reviewed. Yet due to his vast wealth and his willingness to spread it around, venal members of what Mencken liked to call the Smart Set have decided to take him seriously, at least as long as the checks continue to clear. And as he became a darling of the cultural gatekeepers, Soros has expanded his left-wing advocacy, becoming a shrill and even unhinged critic of President George W. Bush which solidified him an enemy of the right every bit as much as it endeared him to the left. Kirchick is absolutely withering in his description of Washington and New York media elites who run interference for Soros, gleefully impugning the protestations of his critics while deftly ignoring some of the more unsavory company that he billionaire keeps and some of the more inflammatory rhetoric he subsidizes.

This write-up is in danger of going on as long as Kirchick’s essay (but I don’t mean that to criticize Kirchick’s piece — I urge everyone to go there and read it for yourself), so I’ll wrap up. The story that James Kirchick tells is that once upon a time George Soros wanted to use his vast wealth to make his native Europe a more open and welcoming place, but ironically he’s spent the last quarter century fanning the flames of division in his adopted country, all to be loved by the sort of people whom he should have recognized cannot hold a candle to his formidable achievements.


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