When Communism collapsed, Eastern European countries faced any number of enormous challenges, including this one: How does one form voluntary associations in a society riddled with a collective sense of guilt, mistrust, and mutual suspicion? In the impoverished world of Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, or Romanians, the resources available for building a network of think tanks were very limited, indeed. It was in this post-1989 vacuum that the controversial billionaire George Soros (born in Budapest right before the Second World War) decided to operate. Most Eastern European intellectuals welcomed contributions from his tax-exempt Open Society Foundation to the advancement of knowledge, academic debate, and the public scrutiny of democratic institutions.
Not many supporters of President Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia (or of President Emil Constantinescu in Romania) knew that George Soros had a reputation for being ruthless and made vast sums of money through actions that have severely negative social and moral implications. In fact, Soros embraced business practices that have been detrimental, not only to the lives of millions of people living in Thailand or Malaysia, but also to the English middle class. He has himself deemed some of his actions "amoral," though his supporters have dubbed their fallout “unintended consequences.” Even the European Court of Human Rights has decided that Soros used criminal methods, such as inside trading practices, against the French bank Société Générale.
Despite some evident shortcomings of character, Soros managed to brand himself as a genuine philanthropist, interested in protecting the rights of the disenfranchised, such as the Roma population. During its transition from dictatorship to democracy, Romania benefited from various translation programs and educational seminars sponsored by the Open Society Foundation. Students of philosophy, law, and political science, could finally read in their own native language the works of classic authors like Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, Raymond Aron, Robert Nozick, or even Paul Ricoeur.
Civil society is imperative for the preservation of political freedom.
Advocates of a free society embraced this as a fulfillment of Alexis de Tocqueville’s vision of a healthy organic social system solving its problems from the grassroots. “In democratic countries, the science of association is the mother science,” Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, his narrative of American exceptionalism.
Tocqueville noted that society needs more of these voluntary organizations as the artificial privileges enjoyed, e.g., by Communist Party members in Eastern Europe, disappear. “In order that men remain civilized or become so, the art of associating must be developed and perfected among them in the same ratio as equality of conditions increases.” Civil society is imperative for the preservation of political freedom.
Unfortunately, George Soros’ politically motivated giving aims at increasing state power at the expense of grassroots, or religious, organizations. Soros’ progressive agenda is inimical to everything that Alexis de Tocqueville admired about America: the flourishing of traditional families, the free establishment of churches, the existence of Bible study groups and book clubs, and the encouragement of self-restraint in social settings. The tone and the language used by activists funded by Soros is always incendiary, calling for a revolutionary action.
Oftentimes, the radical ideologues favoured by the Open Society Foundation subvert or divert religious organizations from their high purpose. If there is a Catholic organization that they want to align with Soros’ progressive agenda, they would initially broaden the scope of its mission, soften the pastoral language of its spiritual leaders, and shift the focus of Christian theology from the pursuit of heavenly blessings to entirely earthly matters like income inequality, social justice, or global warming. This gradual transition of Christian civil society organizations, from diversion to subversion, has proven effective. By following the model of Saul Alinsky, the heresiarch of community organizers in Chicago, countless activists from across the globe engage in street mobilization. This astroturf seeks to replace imperfect but legitimate conservative governments with leftist politicians and bureaucrats whose policies will further erode the voluntary sector.
In the past decade, this has taken place in the Balkans under the eyes of the Obama administration – and at U.S. taxpayer expense. In Macedonia alone, since 2012, USAID has provided millions of taxpayer dollars to “civil society” NGOs, which almost exclusively consisted of progressive groups and organizations. In Skopje, these activists supported the policies of the Social Democratic Union (formerly the League of Communists of Macedonia). Journalists funded by the Open Society Foundation-Macedonia also expressed a favourable view towards Angela Merkel’s position towards the refugees coming from the Middle East, through the Balkans, to Western Europe. President Gjorge Ivanov, in turn, came under heavy fire once he denounced open borders policies.
Oftentimes, the radical ideologues favoured by the Open Society Foundation subvert or divert religious organizations from their high purpose.
Some U.S. senators wondered why George Soros’ activism deserved taxpayer funding. In a letter sent to President Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 14, six senators (including Ted Cruz and Mike, Lee) spoke about the collusion between “U.S. diplomats and Soros-backed organizations.”
For what reason does George Soros undermine the notion of national sovereignty, cultural memory, or democratic representation? Does a globalist view of politics fix the problem of personal accountability and rampant corruption so often found in Eastern Europe? For Soros, “the sovereignty of states must be subordinated to international law and international institutions” (as he put in The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered, 1998). If thousands of street activists always dispute the result of national elections (especially when conservatives come to power), then what sort of respect for customs can the populace possibly gain?
Instead of trusting the democratic process itself, Soros’ activists look for the State to push the citizens toward Soros’ desired policy outcome. They see nothing good in having the electoral pendulum swing between the Right and the Left. Though Soros talks about an open society, it isn’t clear if there is any senior professor working for his Central European University who dares to challenge the progressive, economic-interventionist, and globalist philosophy of George Soros himself. While we should disagree with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s attempt to close down an academic institution (established in Budapest and funded with Soros’ private money), we may wonder if Soros truly stands for the values of pluralism and free speech. Without proper intellectual debates between the Left and the Right, any university is failing to carry out its mission. In the absence of neutrality, any graduate school is bound to become not a Socratic agora, but an incubator of propaganda.
The art of using U.S. taxpayers’ money to underwrite George Soros’ network of activists in the Balkans represents the opposite of what Alexis de Tocqueville imagined to be the outstanding virtue of American democracy: the flourishing of intermediary institutions between the administrative State and the free and educated individuals whose deliberations, customs, and morality guide any self-governed nation.
(Photo credit: Alexis de Tocqueville as depicted by Théodore Chassériau. Public domain.)