That was the stark message that Hungarian-born billionaire and philanthropist George Soros delivered on Tuesday to attendees at the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“Even when the fighting stops, as it eventually must, the situation will never revert” to where it was before, warned the 91-year-old Soros.
“Other issues that concern all of humanity — fighting pandemics and climate change, avoiding nuclear war, maintaining global institutions — have had to take a back seat to that struggle. That’s why I say civilization may not survive.”
The former hedge fund manager, who is chair of Soros Fund Management LLC and founder of the Open Society Foundations, is famous for using his wealth to help foster open societies and create inclusive democracies with governments that are held accountable.
But after the events of September 11, he noted, the tide began to turn against open societies. As a result, “repressive regimes are now in the ascendance and open societies are under siege,” he said Tuesday. “Today, China and Russia present the greatest threat to open society.”
Open societies have governments that are diametrically opposed to governments in closed societies, Soros noted. “[In an] open society, the rule 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.”
Speaking about Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping, Soros said: “They rule by intimidation, and as a consequence they make mind-boggling mistakes.”
He pointed to China and Russia as the greatest threats to open societies aided by the development of digital technologies and especially artificial intelligence. “In theory, AI ought to be politically neutral — it can be used for good or bad. But in practice the effect has been asymmetric. It is particularly good at creating instruments of control that help repressive regimes and endanger open society,” Soros said.
The billionaire also criticized China’s “zero Covid” lockdown policy, saying it has had “disastrous consequences, pushing the Chinese economy into a freefall since March,” with “negative results” for the global economy.
On a more uplifting but still somber note, he commended Ukraine for fighting for the western world’s values.
“I think Ukraine today is rendering a tremendous service to Europe and to the western world and to open society and our survival because they are fighting our fight,” Soros said. “They have a really good chance of winning…[W]e must give them all the support that they ask for.”