Since the last Davos meeting, the course of history has changed dramatically. Russia invaded Ukraine. This has shaken Europe to its core. The European Union was established to prevent such a thing from happening. Even when the fighting stops, as it eventually must, the situation will never revert to the status quo ante. Indeed, the Russian invasion may turn out to be the beginning of World War III, and our civilization may not survive it.1
The invasion of Ukraine did not come out of the blue. The world has been increasingly engaged over the past half-decade, or longer, in a struggle between two diametrically opposed systems of governance: open society and closed society. Let me define the differences as simply as I can.
In an open society, the role of the state is to protect the freedom of the individual; in a closed society, the role of the individual is to serve the rulers of the state. Other issues that concern all humanity – fighting pandemics and climate change, avoiding nuclear war, maintaining global institutions – have had to take a back seat to this systemic struggle. That’s why I say our civilization may not survive.
I became engaged in what I call political philanthropy in the 1980s, a time when a large part of the world languished under Communist rule. I wanted to help people who were outraged and fought against oppression. I established one foundation after another in rapid succession in what was then the Soviet empire. The effort turned out to be more successful than I expected.
Those were exciting days. They also coincided with a period of personal financial success that allowed me to increase my annual giving from $3 million in 1984 to more than $300 million three years later.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the tide began to turn against open societies. Repressive regimes are now ascendant, and open societies are under siege. Today, China and Russia represent the greatest threats to open societies. [Continue reading…]