Wednesday, December 19, 2018

George Soros is the Financial Times "Person of the Year"

The Financial Times named George Soros its "person of the year".

This is a bit striking, since the Financial Times is a relatively centrist paper, and Soros of course has a reputation as a hard leftist -- primarily because over the past few years he's become the right's favorite bogeyman.

But maybe this a good moment to reflect on where that reputation comes from. Soros' political reputation was initially built on his efforts to promote democratization and liberal values in states emerging from Soviet dominion at the end of the cold war. His priorities -- open markets, open expression, and open media -- were not particularly controversial, at least in the west, and were in fact widely lauded across the political spectrum. It fit well within the broad post-Cold War political consensus of the 1990s, when globalization was still viewed as an unadulterated positive and the fall of Communism had presumptively left liberal democracy as the only ideological game in town.

What's changed? With respect to Soros' politics, the answer is very little. His agenda is still that of an Open Society, and his political work continues to center on relatively run-of-the-mill promotion of basic democratic and liberal values across the world.

What's changed is simply that today's conservatives increasingly reject those values. They don't care about democracy, or a free press, or free speech, or open societies. In fact that are increasingly hostile to all of these things. And no matter your political agenda, it never hurts to be able to cast your opposition as the project of a sneaky wealthy Jew pulling the strings to nefarious agenda. So Soros, unsurprisingly, becomes an object of conspiratorial hatred on the right.

But we shouldn't forget the roots. George Soros is in reality not all that radical. His projects are important, but also workaday -- they don't really ask for anything more than the basic ambitions of a free liberal society. The assumption that he's some sort of fringe figure who wants to bring a wave of globalist communism(?) crashing over old-fashioned American values is groundless.

Put another way: the right doesn't hate George Soros because it hates "the left". Twenty years ago, George Soros' "left" politics would have been little more than the broad American consensus about how formerly authoritarian states should transition into freedom.

The right hates George Soros because it now hates the very idea of a free society where markets, the press, the university, and opportunities are open and accessible to all. And it hates George Soros, in particular and with such particular vigor, because as a Jew with a lot of money and a financial background, he represents the perfect avatar for conjoining their reactionary politics to the power of antisemitic conspiracy theorizing.

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