Peter Thiel, the gay tech billionaire who sits on Facebook’s board, will soon address a gathering of elderly white people as the guest of a pontificating neo-fascist. We refer not to Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention, though Thiel will also be speaking there – on its final night, right after Jerry Falwell Jr. and an hour or so before Trump. Rather, this is the annual conference of the Property and Freedom Society, taking place in September in Bodrum, Turkey.
The Southern Poverty Law Center highlighted Thiel’s speaking slot there last month. Crickets from the media, even though the Property and Freedom Society is a frankly terrifying place to find one of the most important men in Silicon Valley. And Thiel’s importance is difficult to overstate. He is, among many other things, the co-founder of PayPal, the original Facebook angel investor, and the founder of a massive, super-secretive surveillance firm called Palantir, which helps the government sift through petabytes of raw data in search of terrorists (or whatever). He is also a member of the very small group of people midwifing humanity’s rebirth as a race of immortal cyborgs. He’s probably the most successful enemy of the free American press. And he’s a Trump delegate.
As the SPLC details in its report, the gatherings of the Property and Freedom Society are salons for white supremacists and their fellow travelers, and for libertarian extremists whose ideology creeps right up to crypto-Nazism. These are not the fun, pot-smoking libertarians with the ponytails. These are paleo-libertarians, so far to the right they think Milton Friedman’s a socialist. They long for the freedom to discriminate at will, for reasons racial, religious, aesthetic or capricious. They yearn for the abolition of the state, and the supreme and eternal reign of whoever’s smart, strong, rich, or talented enough to hoard all the resources when it’s gone.
The group’s founder and Thiel’s host is Hans Hermann-Hoppe, an anarcho-capitalist former professor at the University of Nevada. Hoppe sets the tone for these gatherings. In his book Democracy: The God That Failed, he envisions a stateless “libertarian order” that purges homosexuals and literally anyone who believes in democracy. “They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society,” Hoppe writes, referring to “advocates of parasitism, homosexuality, or communism,” among other undesirables.
Why is totally-gay Thiel associating with such a person? Set aside questions of Thiel’s possible self-hatred, legitimate though they are. (Thiel has been waging a successful proxy war against Gawker Media as revenge for its reporting on the then-open secret of his homosexuality; and twenty years ago a more closeted Thiel co-authored a book that took special issue with gays seeking domestic partner benefits. On the other hand, Thiel intends to tell the RNC that he’s “proud” to be gay, so maybe he’s feeling better now.) The people with whom Thiel shall rub elbows in Turkey believe in radical intellectual freedom, which implies a certain tolerance for kooky and unpleasant ideas. (Though one wonders if it’s difficult to valorize freedom in the same breath with which one calls for a purge.) Perhaps Thiel is merely an idealist; so committed to the un-encumbered intellect that he flies happily on the winds of freedom, even when they blow him onto stages full of Nazis.
Well, no. Thiel isn’t merely tolerant of kooky and unpleasant ideas. He’s an incubator and promulgator of kooky and unpleasant ideas. In an essay in 2009, Thiel argued that democracy and capitalism are “incompatible,” and have been ever since women got the vote. (It’s a wonder that Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and author of the privileged-feminist manifesto Lean In, didn’t deem Thiel incompatible with the company.) Thiel is an outspoken proponent of the notion that democracy is antithetical to true freedom, and he believes that American economic instability will eventually give rise to either a Marxist dystopia or a libertarian paradise. To escape our crumbling matriarchy, Thiel has funded a so-far unsuccessful effort to build new, libertarian nations on artificial islands in international waters. The media has tended to paint the venture as romantic or quixotic, but one shudders to imagine what Hoppe would do with an island of his own.
At the PFC conference in September, Thiel will give a speech titled “In Praise of Free Market Monopoly.” Other speakers include a German author, Gerd Schultze-Rhonhof, who will hold forth on “the many fathers of World War II.” Schultze-Rhonhof is a leading proponent of the theory, popular with Holocaust denialists and neo-Nazis, that the Allies, not Hitler, provoked WWII. Also onstage will be Heiner Rindermann, who is deeply concerned that brown immigrants with low IQs will bring about the downfall of European society.
Even a casual survey of the news suggests such ideas are becoming less and less distressing to more and more people, and Peter Thiel’s new political prominence, evident from his prime slot at the RNC, could bespeak a mainstreaming of anti-democratic sentiment. At least, it would have been difficult to imagine an avowed foe of democracy taking the stage at past Republican National Conventions.
In September of last year, the young critic Park MacDougald published an excellent, alarmed essay on the ascendant “alt-right,” in which he imagined an “alliance of convenience between the tech elite and an intransigent white identity politics [that] begins to look a lot like the Nazi coalition of German industrialists and a downwardly-mobile middle class.” It’s ten months later, and no such alliance yet exists. But the beginning of one might look something like this.
*Thiel actually calls himself a friend of the free press, and is a contributor to the Committee to Protect Journalists. He claims his proxy lawsuits against Gawker Media, which have led to the company’s imminent auctioning-off, are due to Gawker’s unique awfulness. But Gawker’s rarely very awful, and Thiel has funded and defended the career of “citizen journalist” James O’Keefe, whose manipulation of video led to the destruction of ACORN, the loss of hundreds of jobs, the ruination of dozens of careers, and the withholding of needed aid (and voter registration) from countless citizens. So Thiel’s probably just sore that Gawker outed him.