All of us are the product of our backgrounds. George Soros is no exception. “Soros,” a new documentary about him opening tonight, shows vividly why he is so committed to an “open society.”
Filled with interviews by people who have known him for decades, the film explains Soros’s attraction to the views of the philosopher Karl Popper, under whom he studied in London after fleeing his native Hungary. Popper’s vision of an open society appealed to Soros because he had experienced the opposite.
Growing up in Hungary in the years around World War II, Soros witnessed the Nazi deportations to death camps. With Hitler’s defeat, Hungary was taken over by Soviet-backed Communists, who replaced the repression and atrocities of the Nazis with those of their own.
Thanks to the ingenuity of his father, Soros survived, but it left him deeply distrustful of any ideology of absolute truth. For Soros, the safest governing philosophy is one that recognizes our inherent fallibility and hence is open to free debate and the need to consider opposing points of view.
That lived experience explains Soros’s devotion to human rights, of which Human Rights Watch has been an enormous beneficiary from our earliest years. Today, the world no longer breaks down so easily by ideology, but there are plenty self-ascribed guardians of “truth” who use the power of the state to suppress alternative perspectives that might threaten their rule.
For a number of autocrats, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Soros has become enemy number one. Part of that is simple antisemitism, which Orban and his government subtly promote. But much of it is that Soros is indeed an enemy of any autocrat who enforces an orthodoxy. This powerful new documentary helps us to understand the connection between George Soros’s vision of an open society and his early life under those who imposed the opposite.