The latest issue of The New York Review of Books contains a strange article by none other than George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management and of the Open Society Foundations and, although the literary review does not see fit to mention, funder of scores of different left-wing institutes and foundations. Although Soros writes apparently to let his audience know what his hopes are for his work to endure after his death — the title of his article is “My Philanthropy” — he explains that his one hope is to make sure that in our own country “the government upholds the right of all people and adheres to the restrictions on state power established by the Constitution.”
For a brief moment, Soros sounds like a rock-ribbed conservative, concerned with fidelity to the Constitution and curbing the power of big government. But have no fears — that is not Soros’s intention. In Eastern Europe in the age in which the nations there were under Soviet captivity, Soros notes that he started “with supporting critical thinking or dissident activity.” Certainly, even he must know that the United States has little resemblance to the nations held under the realm of Soviet power in the Cold War days. Indeed, as he writes, “The United States has been a democracy and open society since its founding,” and the idea that it might cease to be “seems preposterous.”
In his very next sentence, however, Soros writes that, in fact, the end of democracy in America “is a very likely prospect.” How? Some might think he would be about to suggest the bypassing of Congress by the executive; the move to institute unpopular programs that extend the power of government by stealth means, like ObamaCare, or to issue executive edicts that accomplish what the president desires and what Congress opposes. But no, this is not the danger to which Soros points.
Rather, it is the fragility of the Open Society of which philosopher Karl Popper wrote. Unlike Popper, Soros says he has learned that free speech does not lead to better laws. The reason he advances is one I call Chomsky lite — a version of Noam Chomsky’s belief that consent can be manipulated by the media and the ruling class, as explained in his book Manufacturing Consent. Soros is too wise to acknowledge any debt to Chomsky, who is regarded today as such an extremist that he has not appeared in the pages of the NYRB for decades.
However, his analysis greatly resembles the argument of Chomsky and his co-author Edward Herman. He puts his theory this way in a rather remarkable paragraph:
People like me, misguided by that fallacy, believed that the propaganda methods described in George Orwell’s 1984 could prevail only in a dictatorship. They [the Bush administration]knew better. Frank Luntz, the well-known right-wing political consultant, proudly acknowledged that he used 1984 as his textbook in designing his catchy slogans. And Karl Rove reportedly claimed that he didn’t have to study reality; he could create it. The adoption of Orwellian techniques gave the Republican propaganda machine a competitive advantage in electoral politics.