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How a Democratic Counteroffensive Can Win

With authoritarian nationalism continuing to gain ground around the world, it would be easy to give in to despair. But there are also grounds to hope for the survival of open societies, which are, despite appearances, far stronger and more stable than repressive regimes.

DAVOS – We’re living at a transformational moment in history. The survival of open societies is endangered, and we face an even greater crisis: climate change, which threatens the survival of our civilization. These twin challenges have inspired me to announce the most important project of my life.

As I argue in my recent book, In Defense of Open Society, in revolutionary moments, the range of possibilities is far wider than in normal times. It is easier to influence events than to understand what is going on. As a result, outcomes are unlikely to correspond to people’s expectations. This has already caused widespread disappointment, which populist politicians are exploiting for their own purposes.

Open societies have not always needed defending in the determined way that they do today. Some 40 years ago, when I became engaged in what I call my political philanthropy, the wind was at our back and carried us forward. International cooperation was the prevailing creed. In some ways, it prevailed even in the crumbling and ideologically bankrupt Soviet Union – remember the Marxist slogan “workers of the world, unite”? The European Union was in the ascendant, and I considered it the embodiment of the open society.