Interviews & Speeches
The Age of Fallibility: The Consequences of the War
26 August 2006
The Age of Fallibility: The Consequences of the War on Terror
By George Soros
Allen & Unwin, 259pp, $24.95
FROM his empirical perch as a self-made billionaire, George Soros provides a thought-provoking, contemplative and informed perspective on what is wrong with the US. In The Age of Fallibility, he contends that the US has seduced itself into becoming a feel-good society unwilling to face its own unpleasant reality, and this is why its society has been so easily misled by the Bush administration.
Unless this changes, he says, America’s position as a dominant nation is in jeopardy.
The Soros judgment is to be respected. He is the “man who broke the Bank of England”; a philanthropic philosopher, the second richest investor in the US and a member of the elite collectively dubbed the Thinking Rich (which also includes Bill Gates and Warren Buffett).
Soros is a Hungarian-born New Yorker who escaped Nazi Germany in his youth and studied at the London School of Economics. After years of working in the financial markets in New York and starting his Quantum Fund, he orchestrated a currency devaluation of the British pound in 1992, netting $US1.1 billion in the process.
His life, as he sees it, is the product of right choices under what he terms “far from equilibrium” situations. And his outlook is significantly underpinned by theories pertaining to financial markets and economics.
The Age of Fallibility is in two parts, the first of which proffers Soros’s conceptual framework as a point of departure. He extracts meaning from the central concept of an open society, an idea that has underpinned his philosophy and much of his life’s work; he has consistently refined its meaning to him and his application of it since learning it from Karl Popper, his final-year tutor at the LSE. The concept of an open society is an epistemological one built on the relational dichotomy of freedom and governance and inherent imperfection, and Soros analyses it very effectively and in detail through the separation of thought and reality as illuminated by concepts of reflexivity, fallibility and far-from-equilibrium situations.
In the second part of the book, Soros uses his conceptual framework as an applied science and postulates what in his opinion is wrong with the US. His indictment of the feel-good society and the effects of consumerism on politics as well as the marketability of the war on terror make for an interesting stance.
He goes beyond the obligatory liberal indictment of George W. Bush and his presidential puppetry at the hands of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. At times the vehemence of Soros’s critique resembles that of escapees from dictatorships, and his analysis of modern America appears to owe something to the fear-driven environment of Philip Roth’s fictional The Plot Against America. His study is somewhat complex and extensive but the crux of his polemical argument is that America’s convergent crisis lies in the central problem that “mankind’s power over nature has increased cumulatively while its ability to govern itself has not kept pace”, a far from equilibrium situation that violates the principles of an open society.
Ultimately, interest in Soros’s opinion lies less in his theory and more in his ability and efforts to effect change. In an era dominated by dogmatic and ineffective corporate social responsibility and governance, he has made legitimate change through his Open Society Foundation. Soros and his foundations have made a difference, particularly in eastern Europe. His influence on the US may be more subdued (he spent $US27.5 million trying to prevent Bush’s re-election in 2004, to no great effect), but as an independently wealthy “stateless statesman”—as a former prime minister of Macedonia described him, a description in which Soros clearly revels—his capacity to attempt change is remarkable: Soros is Noam Chomsky with a war chest. But at 75 he is moving towards the end of his life and there is a sense of this in The Age of Fallibility, which comes across as a recontextualised compendium of his philosophies.
It is compelling to encounter a powerful and independent voice, eloquently composing his life’s theories. Privileged access to such a great mind is rare.