Remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum
January 25, 2018
The current moment in history
Good evening. It has become something of an annual Davos tradition for me to give an overview of the current state of the world. I was planning half an hour for my remarks and half an hour for questions, but my speech has turned out to be closer to an hour. I attribute this to the severity of the problems confronting us.
***I find the current moment in history rather painful. Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of dictatorships and mafia states, exemplified by Putin’s Russia, are on the rise. In the United States, President Trump would like to establish a mafia state but he can’t, because the Constitution, other institutions, and a vibrant civil society won’t allow it.
Whether we like it or not, my foundations, most of our grantees and myself personally are fighting an uphill battle, protecting the democratic achievements of the past. My foundations used to focus on the so-called developing world, but now that the open society is also endangered in the United States and Europe, we are spending more than half our budget closer to home because what is happening here is having a negative impact on the whole world.
But protecting the democratic achievements of the past is not enough; we must also safeguard the values of open society so that they will better withstand future onslaughts. Open society will always have its enemies, and each generation has to reaffirm its commitment to open society for it to survive.
The best defense is a principled counterattack. The enemies of open society feel victorious and this induces them to push their repressive efforts too far, this generates resentment and offers opportunities to push back. That is what is happening in places like Hungary today.
***I used to define the goals of my foundations as “defending open societies from their enemies, making governments accountable and fostering a critical mode of thinking”. But the situation has deteriorated. Not only the survival of open society, but the survival of our entire civilization is at stake. The rise of leaders such as Kim Jong-Un in North Korea and Donald Trump in the US have much to do with this. Both seem willing to risk a nuclear war in order to keep themselves in power. But the root cause goes even deeper.
Mankind’s ability to harness the forces of nature, both for constructive and destructive purposes, continues to grow while our ability to govern ourselves properly fluctuates, and it is now at a low ebb.
The threat of nuclear war is so horrendous that we are inclined to ignore it. But it is real. Indeed, the United States is set on a course toward nuclear war by refusing to accept that North Korea has become a nuclear power. This creates a strong incentive for North Korea to develop its nuclear capacity with all possible speed, which in turn may induce the United States to use its nuclear superiority preemptively; in effect to start a nuclear war in order to prevent nuclear war – an obviously self-contradictory strategy.