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from the kaaba-chameleon dept.
Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism
George Soros has been working on this book for most of his life. It was unfinished when Russia defaulted on its internal debt in 1998, but the author felt that the ensuing financial crisis compelled him to get his message out in a hurry. He accordingly published a preliminary form of the book as The Crisis of Global Capitalism. As interesting as his ideas were, the premature condition of the work was quite evident.
It turned out that he was mistaken about the imminent demise of the international financial system. So he's had the opportunity to actually complete the book and reissue it under the title Open Society. This version is the one to read.
Soros made his fortune as an investor, then later became well known for his philanthropy. His foundations played an important role in the breakup of the Soviet Union and the development of functioning democracies in Eastern Europe. Within the United States, his Lindesmith Center has poured substantial resources into countering the draconian War on Drugs, backing legislation for medical marijuana, promoting reduced penalties for drug "offenders," and supporting treatment centers across the country.
But all of his diverse activities have been rooted in his philosophy of the open society, which he attempts for the first time to fully express in this book. The term "open society" was originally coined by Henri Bergson (MacGregor Mathers' brother-in-law, incidentally), but brought to prominence by Karl Popper in his most famous work, The Open Society and Its Enemies. Popper contrasted social orders that attempt to impose an official viewpoint upon its members (such as Fascism and Marxism) with orders that allow for many alternative viewpoints, which he referred to as open societies. As Soros describes it, the open society is one where no one is held to be in possession of the ultimate truth, as human beings are inherently fallible. Therefore everyone is entitled to their view, and no one is immune from criticism.
I first became aware of Soros when his essay, "The Capitalist Threat" (which served as a kind of seed for the present book) was published in the February 1997 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. In it, he espoused an update of Popper's concerns. Authoritarian regimes, he said, were no longer the greatest threat to the freedom of the individual promoted by the open society. Instead, the single-minded pursuit of profit and individual interest at the expense of the common good has erected a tyranny of a different kind, one that imperils the freedoms of all but the most wealthy of humanity.
His argument was based on a detailed and sophisticated philosophical analysis only hinted at in the original article. But Open Society describes his position in much greater depth. He uses the concept of reflexivity to show how our knowledge is inherently imperfect when our beliefs can influence what we observe. He explores the conflicts between market values and social values. He provides an in-depth critique of the current dogma of laissez-faire capitalism (which he calls "market fundamentalism"), including an analysis of the dynamics between the center and the periphery of the global capitalist system.
Most interestingly, he proposes an Open Society Alliance, wherein democratic states would coordinate their efforts to promote a global open society, asserting the civil and human rights of all people. But great changes will be required to meet this lofty goal.
While the United States views itself as the upholder of lofty principles, others merely see the arrogance of power. It may be shocking to say, but I believe that the current unilateralist posture of the United States constitutes a serious threat to the peace and prosperity of the world. Yet the United States could easily become a powerful force for the good, simply by shifting from a unilateral to a multilateral approach. The world needs some rules and standards of behavior. If the United States were prepared to abide by the rules, it could take the lead in establishing them.
The global open society is, I believe, the vision of the emerging world order most consistent with Thelema. Authoritarianism is unbalanced Severity. Market fundamentalism is unbalanced Mercy, which allows and abets the oppression of the individual by the wealthy and powerful.
Thelema respects the sovereignty of the individual will. This respect is needed for the accomplishment of the open society; the open society is the natural expression of this respect.
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