Author(s): Neil McLaughlin 1
(1) Department of Sociology, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, L8S4L8, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
George Soros is a phenomenon as well as a currency speculator, philanthropist, public intellectual and celebrity political figure. The activities of other liberal billionaire philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, among others, have created the concept of philanthropic capitalism. And certainly conservative billionaires such as the American Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch have gained enormous visibility as ideologically motivated individuals who shape politics and the public sphere with their money. While all of these billionaires are arguably quite different from earlier generations of philanthropists such as the Fords, the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, Soros stands out even among this elite group because of the scale of his giving, his active involvement in his projects, the global reach of his foundations and the idiosyncrasy of his ideology.
Gates and Buffett are corporate liberals/neo-liberals, and the Koch brothers and Murdoch are certainly on the hard right, but how would one describe Soros? Wealthy beyond belief, Soros is arguably a predatory American capitalist who made his fortune in unregulated currency markets based in tax havens outside the United States. Yet, he is a major funder for liberal Democrats in the United States, from Obama to Hillary, the world's most generous advocate for Roma and transgender rights in Europe who played a major role in bringing down communism in the Soviet Union and its satellite states and is a major funder of research on the war on drugs led by the United States. Hungarian-born Canadian author and publisher Anna Porter has attempted to gain insight into Soros, his world-view and activities in her Buying a Better World: George Soros and Billionaire Philanthropy (2015), a book well worth reading and discussing despite its limitations.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last writing on Soros. There have been a number of official and unauthorized biographies written on Soros (Kaufman and Slater respectively), a major survey of his philanthropy (Sudetic) and various academic works in English, Russian, Hungarian and other languages on his influence, ideas and politics. These books tell the story of how Soros was born and raised in Budapest, survived the Nazi terror, learned about the concept of an "Open Society" from philosopher Karl Popper at the...
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