Billionaire George Soros is known as “the man who broke the Bank of England,” a reference to the major gamble the financier took in order to make his fortune. Since then, Soros has been a major political donor to progressive and liberal causes as well as an avowed philanthropist. However, with the rise of the alternative right in America and in Europe, the tycoon has become a target of conspiracy theorists who blame him for single-handedly trying to destroy Western Civilization by funding the leftist rabble-rousers of the world.
To be sure, Soros is an extremely influential person. According to the Atlantic, he came to the attention of many on the right as a result of his efforts to prevent the reelection of George W. Bush by donating a whopping $27 million, an unheard of amount at the time. Since then, he has tempered his political giving somewhat, although he was roused to action by the prospect of Trump presidency. However, it is not his political contributions that have earned him the ire of the right`s stalwarts, but rather his unparalleled status as a patron of NGOs and social initiatives around the world. Right-wing news outlet Breitbart likened Soros` Open Society Foundation to the “Death Star” in the classic movie Star Wars.
The demonization of Soros is symptomatic of a broader culture of political divisiveness. Just as arch-conservatives spin wild tales about Soros and his supposed secret agenda, progressives hurl invectives at a number of high-profile Republican and conservative donors, the most noteworthy of which are the Koch Brothers. Part of the problem is that outlandish conspiracy theories crowd out legitimate questions that should be posed about the role of super-donors such as Soros and the Koch brothers. The level of partisanship in media makes it difficult not to conflate bonafide concerns with puffed up demagoguery.
Historically, this makes a lot of sense, as both the right and left at various times have held deep reservations about the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy elite. These narratives hearken back to the country`s complex relationship with industrialization and progress in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was the captains of the Industrial Revolution who invented the contemporary notion of a philanthropist, and so concerns about corruption and undue on the part of donors have been raised for over a century.
Although the alt-right views Soros as the embodiment of globalist and liberal values that they abhor, in fact the first conspiracy theories about the magnate were circulated by libertarian socialists on the left, who were opposed to his vision of globalization. Not surprisingly, the narrative has been utilized by authoritarians such as Putin, who have exploited anti-immigrant sentiment and skepticism about globalization to label social movements as kind of sabotage by outside political and economic interests.
Although it may be legitimate to question whether philanthropists such as Soros should wield as much power as they do, it is impossible to analyze this question fairly in the current climate of conspiracy and scapegoating. With all of the concern on the liberal left over the rise of the authoritarian right, it is unlikely that the issue will be taken up in any meaningful way.
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