I didn't watch Glenn Beck's three-part series on Hungarian-born currency speculator/philanthropist/amateur philosopher/late-in-life Democratic Party supporter George Soros, but I've read enough of the transcript, and know enough about the subject, to have a couple of thoughts.
First and foremostly, having lived in Soros' home town of Budapest for three years, plus another five in Prague and Bratislava (and an abortive, short-term attempt to "move" to Cuba), I have become convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt about this one thing: As a native son of the free world you can and damn well should cheer a person who acted bravely in the face of a pervasive and murderous totalitarian state, but with the exception of the monsters who willfully abused power there, you had better err massively on the side of reticence before casting negative judgment on the compromises that captive citizens made under a pressure we literally cannot fathom. This goes doubly for pubescent kids, and off the freakin' charts when it comes to a 14-year-old Jew in Jew-butchering Hungary in 1944 trying to stay alive. I would think that this would be a common-sense thing, but I am constantly surprised by how quickly people are willing to toss decency and basic rationality out the window when discussing a hate figure from the other team.
Some of what Beck said this week:
He even had to go around confiscating property of Jewish people.
Now, imagine you are Jewish and you have to go and confiscate the property of your fellow Jews. And you are pretending to not be a Jew and if anybody finds out, you're dead. He actually had to endure watching people sendoff to their eventual murders, watching people gathering their stuff, sending them off knowing that they were going to go to their death.
What does that do to somebody? How do you deal with that? How many years of therapy would somebody need after something like that?
This is where George — I think this is important — this is where George Soros first learned to pretend to be something other than who he was. He had to.
I am not blaming or questioning a 14-year-old or his parents for trying to keep him alive, trying to keep the family alive. I don't think anyone can understand what it must have been like to be Jewish in that scenario. Can you? Especially 14.
I don't want to question the 14-year-old. I would have, however, like to question the 80-year-old man who has never once said he regretted it. But more than that, he views it as the happiest year of his life — again, not my words, his words. Listen:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOROS: It was actually probably the happiest year of my life, that year of German occupation. For me, it was a very positive experience. It's a sage (ph) thing because you see incredible suffering around you and the fact you are in considerable danger yourself. But you're 14 years old and you don't believe that it can actually touch you. You have a belief in yourself. You have a belief in your father. It's a very happy-making exhilarating experience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BECK: I don't think I've ever heard anyone describe the Holocaust years like that. Maybe he's the most healthy man you've ever met. Maybe somehow or another he just got through it. […]
It sure would be interesting to explore how this affected his feelings on Israel, which he does not support. He donates so much money to organizations that speak out against Israel. Some stick out more than others on the donations. But is there any connection there?
So Beck isn't blaming or questioning the 14-year-old, he just thinks that the 14-year-old's actions were worthy of regret, and quite possibly the source of later behaviors--including some directed at Israel--that are wrong-headed and dangerous. Glad we cleared that up!
Beck's critics are describing his characterizations of Soros' wartime activities as factually incorrect; scanning through these links I'm inclined to agree. But even if the descriptions were 100 percent accurate and proportional, I would find the passage above appalling on a basic human level. There is a palpable whiff of suggestion that 14-year-old George Soros not only enjoyed "helping send the Jews to the death camps" (another Beck formulation from this week), but that he still lights up with mirth at the thought of the idea six decades later, perhaps explaining why he hates Israel to this day. It is a hint and a nudge that the hunted teenage Jew might have been and maybe still is an anti-Semite. Not only are we passing over the only real emotional response appropriate for a 14-year-old Holocaust survivor--bottomless, uncomprehending sympathy for the traumas he and so many other children went through--we are passing negative judgment on his actions under fire, and using it as a Rosetta Stone to explain his darkly nefarious afterlife.
Beck didn't invent this stuff; Jackie Mason was calling Soros a "self-hating Jew" back in 2003, and the sins-of-the-14-year-old has been a persistent feature of the conspiratorial right for nearly a decade now. It would all be more convincing if, in the process, the conspiracists didn't get a whole bunch of other basic stuff about Soros dead wrong.
Along with currencies, Soros also collapses regimes with his Open Society fund. He helped to fund the Velvet Revolution in Czech Republic, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, he also helped to engineer coups in Slovakia, Croatia, Yugoslavia. So what is his target now? Us, America.
Uh, what coup in Slovakia would that be? And no, cutting and pasting from the heavy breathers at DiscoverTheNetworks.org does not qualify as scientific here. And as positive a force as Soros has been in expanding civil society in places like the former Czechoslovakia (by doing such oogity-boogity stuff as teaching kids about Hayek), his role in the Velvet Revolution was just a wee bit less than decisive. You will search the many histories of that blessed human event in vain for any mention of his role, and not because he was a deliberately unseen "Puppet Master."
Beck goes on to get Soros' "Open Society" concept all wrong:
The next formulative step in Soros' life was college. Now, this is where he attended the London School of Economics. Now, this is the same school that Hayek was from. He wrote "Road to Serfdom." This is freedom fighter.
But it's also the school where the Fabian socialists hung out, a Fabian socialist university. You remember — the Fabian window we told you about. This is the famous English Fabian society. We took this picture — actually, Blair was standing here with it.
Fabian socialist — what are they doing? They're heating the world up in the fire that they, themselves are stoking. Why are they heating it up? Because they are about to hammer it and remold it nearer to the heart's desire.
Fabian socialists are the American progressives. It's the same thing. Heat the world up, cause the problems so the world heats up so you can remold it.
So which part of the London School of Economics does Soros favor? The Hayek side or the Fabian side? Which one?
This is where he learned about an open society — the Open Society Institute which is now his charitable arm. It sounds harmless on the outside. But, I mean, really — I mean, who doesn't want to be open?
But when you listen to him at the top of the hour and the beginning of the hour, we played that. Notice the logo behind him? That was his Open Society Institute. Can your institute bring in more foreign influence here in America?
What is an open society, really? Well, you saw it a moment ago. The world has a vote in Congress, but you also saw it in his father.
Soros — a world free of nationalities. It is a global replacement for our republic, for all the work our Founders did, that's old news. We must progress past it. We must have a new world order. It is a replacement for the republic.
Yeah, um, not quite. It really isn't hard to find out about the "Open Society" philosopher Karl Popper, the Austrian classical liberal who was the single biggest influence on George Soros. For example, right here on Soros' bio:
Before graduating from the London School of Economics in 1952, Soros studied Karl Popper's work in the philosophy of science as well as his critique of totalitarianism, The Open Society and Its Enemies, which maintains that no philosophy or ideology has the final word on the truth and that societies can only flourish when they allow for democratic governance, freedom of expression, a diverse range of opinion, and respect for individual rights.
Was Karl Popper a Fabian socialist? Here, let's ask someone who was reading Hayek long before Beck started popularizing him: the hardcore libertarian journalist/historian and Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, in a 1994 obituary:
He was one of the major anti-authoritarians of our troubled century.
He was anti-authoritarian in his politics. In his 1945 two-volume work The Open Society and its Enemies, he explored and criticized with cogency and passion the totalitarian views of government and society inherent in the ideas of some of his philosophical predecessors, particularly Plato, Hegel, and Marx. […]
Popper was not a doctrinaire libertarian. Though a long-time friend and correspondent of F.A. Hayek's, he embraced social safety nets and believed in the efficacy of what he called "piecemeal social engineering" to ameliorate social problems. But he did fight brave intellectual battles for greater freedom against the dominant trends in both political and scientific philosophy.
The spirit of free inquiry and an open society that Popper championed will go a long way toward ensuring that his often-expressed optimism about the future of freedom and civilization will be borne out.
Soros is a fascinating, deeply flawed, and (IMO) quite wrongheaded major actor on the world stage. He is also not hard to get a basic read on, since he writes books constantly and is forever talking about his own thought processes, life histories, and conclusions. You want to learn about this important figure? Go read a book. But not by Glenn Beck.