We all live in Peter Thiel’s world. From business to technology to politics, he’s used his massive wealth to shape society and control your life. And he wants even more power.
In 2022, Thiel’s investment in handpicked far-right candidates — some of whom he nurtured for years — shaped the narrative for the entire election.
[News clip]: JD Vance will be the next Republican Senator, a victory for Peter Thiel who spent millions backing JD Vance.
But Thiel wasn’t always on top of the world. In 1996 Peter Thiel was lost — a law school graduate and the author of a middling book on the dangers of diversity.
[Peter Thiel]: The problem of racism, sexism, other forms of oppression have been vastly exaggerated.
But then he found something: venture capital. In just a few short years Thiel took a million dollar investment from friends and family and created a massive amount of wealth for himself. Lots of tech founders say they’re going to change the world — it’s a big part of the VC schtick — but Thiel is different.
[Peter Thiel]: Our goal was nothing less than to replace the U.S. dollar by creating a new digital currency.
For him, it wasn’t about making a pitch sound good to investors, it was about using the philosophy of venture capital investing to forcibly shape the world to his liking. And the world Peter Thiel wants to create is chilling, and rooted in VC philosophy: monopolization, anti-democratic ideology, and absolute power for corporations over American working people.
This is The Class Room from More Perfect Union, and today we’re looking at How Peter Thiel Got Rich — and what it means for the rest of us.
Growing up, Peter Thiel was like a classic nerd trope: obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons and sci-fi. Not just Star Wars and Star Trek, but the real stuff — Clark, Asmiov, Heinlein. He was a chess star, and the head of the math team.
Thiel’s good grades and familial wealth earned him a spot at Stanford University — for undergrad and law school — where he got into his first venture, an alternative student newspaper aimed at conservatives, The Stanford Review. The publication was Thiel’s response to what he perceived as a takeover by the ‘politically correct.’ It seemed designed to offend: calling the school’s sexual assault regulations too strict, excortiating diversity initiatives, and attacking anything that questioned “western culture.”
The Review was the beginning of Thiel’s later network. Many of the students who wrote for or staffed the far-right newspaper would end up as Thiel’s future business partners.
Stanford is also where Thiel was introduced to philosopher and professor René Girard, who influenced Thiel’s worldview. Girard wrote about how humans intently imitate each other, and how that holds society back. He specifically pointed to human’s competitive nature holding back scientific and technological progress.
Thiel really connected to this viewpoint, and it fueled his belief that monopolies are actually a good thing.
[Peter Thiel]: If you’re a startup, you want to get to monopoly. You’re starting a new company, you want to get to monopoly.
Before graduating, Thiel wrote one last op-ed for the Review, where he said, “The PC alternative to greed is not personal fulfillment or happiness, but anger at and envy of people who are doing something more worthwhile.”
So what was more worthwhile to Thiel? The money business.
Peter joined up with a few young engineers building a new way to send payment digitally, pretty revolutionary in the late 90s. The company started as ‘Confinity’ — a play on “infinite confidence.” It briefly became x.com, as partner Elon Musk insisted, but eventually became PayPal.
Staffing up, Thiel recruited some of his friends from The Stanford Review. The anarcho-capitalist views of that contingent were essential in the founding of PayPal, he explained at Libertopia 2010.
[Peter Thiel]: The initial founding vision was that we were going to use technology to change the whole world and basically overturn the monetary system of the world… We could never win an election on getting certain things because we were in such a small minority, but maybe you could unilateral change the world without having to constantly convince people and beg people and plead with people who are never going to agree with you through technological means, and this is where I think technology is this incredible alternative to politics.
You might think of PayPal today as a harmless mechanism for buying vintage movie posters on eBay, but the real goal was to completely destroy the global order of currency.
[Peter Thiel]: We need to take over the world, we can’t slow down now.
In a PayPal all-hands meeting in 2001, Thiel told the full staff “the ability to move money fluidly and the erosion of the nation-state are closely related” as they were building a system to move money fluidly. But just a few months later Thiel took the money and ran: PayPal went public with an IPO.
[Peter Thiel]: We were the first company in the U.S. to file after 9/11.
Shortly after, PayPal sold to eBay. Thiel’s 3.7 percent stake in the company was worth 57 million dollars. What happens when you give a guy who wants to remake the world into one that follows his own twisted political vision 57 million dollars? Well, it’s not great.
Look at his investment in Patri Friedman, a young Google engineer, pickup artist blogger, amateur model, and grandson of Milton Friedman, which… don’t get us started on Milton Friedman.
But Patri had a big idea: build artificial islands at sea to house lawless libertarian “utopias.” Peter Thiel got wind of this and offered Friedman $500,000 to quit his job at Google and get started on the project.
Thiel truly saw starting new nations as the same as starting companies. Really, he said it.
[Peter Thiel]: Just like there’s room for starting new companies because not all existing companies solve all the problems we need to solve, I think there should also be some room for trying to start new countries, new governments.
But starting countries is difficult.
[Question for Thiel]: What if you start a new country somehow, with a few billion dollars, and build it from the ground up?
[Peter Thiel]: We’ve looked at this. We’ve looked at all these possibilities. I think the basic challenges are that it’s not that easy to get the country, you might not want to be stuck with the people you already have, and then the basic infrastructure might cost quite a bit more. You want to do something that works much more incrementally and organically.
Friedman eventually left the Seasteading Institute and Thiel’s involvement seemed over, but let’s look at the last part of that quote: “do something that works much more incrementally and organically.”
After giving up on starting a brand new country, Thiel set about refashioning the country he already lived in.
This is how Peter Thiel used the venture capital mindset to seize political power. Presumably to the chagrin of Thiel’s friends at Libertopia, he immediately got involved with the CIA.
His next company was Palantir — a surveillance and data tech outfit — and seed funding came from In-Q-Tel, a non-profit venture capital firm dedicated to funding projects that would be helpful to the CIA. The firm isn’t officially run by the CIA, but there is a revolving door of staff between the two, and the firm is colloquially referred to as “the CIA’s private equity firm.”
Palantir eventually did help the CIA and the FBI and the CDC and a host of other governmental organizations that would’ve gotten Thiel booed right out of Libertopia. But to Thiel, it didn’t matter that he didn’t live in an anarcho-capitalist utopia because he was building his own using his enormous wealth.
Thiel exploited systems within the existing libertarian-but-only-for-billionares system, like his tax trick. ProPublica unveiled in 2021 that much of Thiel’s wealth is held in a Roth IRA, a type of tax-free investment fund meant for retirement. The amount you’re allowed to contribute is capped at a few thousand dollars a year, but in 1999 Thiel turned $2,000 he had in his account into PayPal stock, an investment which paid off.
When Thiel was the first large investor in Facebook, that half-a-million dollar “angel investment” — immortalized by this guy who looks nothing like Thiel in The Social Network — was just a restructuring of his tax free retirement fund. He can eventually withdraw the over 5 billion dollars in the account, tax-free. The average IRA has .000008 percent of that. Thiel’s Libertopia friends have to pay high taxes, but Thiel won’t on a large portion of his wealth.
Then there’s litigation financing. The ultra-rich can actually gamble on court cases: they fund legal fees for a lawsuit, then take a percentage of the winnings if they picked the right side. It’s completely legal. And Thiel used it to silence free speech.
After Gawker, an online news and blogging outlet, outed Thiel as gay he set his eyes on destroying them. When Gawker posted a shadily-acquired sex tape of Hulk Hogan, the wrestler,
Thiel bankrolled Hogan’s lawsuit against the publication. Gawker was bankrupted, and Thiel made a profit.
Thiel uses his inordinate wealth — and investment principles — to get richer, to destroy the free speech of others, and to live in his own libertarian paradise.
Another big investment area is in ideas — pretty chilling ones.
Let’s look at the Dark Enlightenment movement, which Quartz calls an “obscure neo-fascist philosophy,” and media researcher David Golumbia calls “the worship of corporate power to the extent that corporate power becomes the only power in the world.”
One of the movement’s loudest voices is blogger Curtis Yarvin. Thiel has invested heavily in Yarvin’s startups, basically funding a big portion of the Dark Enlightenment movement, and it’s obvious the movement mirrors Thiel’s beliefs — complete corporate control.
And two of his assets — long term investments that he’s been nurturing for years — could help that goal: 2022 Senate candidates JD Vance and Blake Masters. Both of them worked for Thiel firms, and he’s been bolstering their careers this whole time, supporting their projects along the way. Vance and Masters are long term Thiel investments.
[Peter Thiel]: As an investor I’ve always tried to be contrarian, to go against the crowd, identify opportunities in places where people were not looking.
And they’re just two of the far-right candidates Thiel invested in in 2022. He’s been donating big for years in order to further his political goal: a corporate ruled utopia for billionaires.
He’s also investing in tech companies that will help his dark political project like Rumble, a “free speech” focused social network populated almost entirely by the far right. So if Thiel is treating politics like investing, what can his investment strategies teach us about what’s to come? Well the guy loves monopolies.
[Peter Thiel]: I have a single, idée fixe that I’m completely obsessed with on the business side, which is that if you’re starting a company — if you’re the founder, the entrepreneur starting a company — you always want to aim for monopoly. You always want to avoid competition, hence “competition for losers,” something I’ll be talking about today.
What does it mean when a nation is ruled by a monopoly — one single all-powerful entity? Well, let’s just say it’s not a democracy.
[Peter Thiel]: There also should also be some room for trying to start new countries.
And that country would have a complete lack of accountability for the ultra-rich.
[Peter Thiel]: We want to get rid of government regulation of technology, to allow us to build nuclear power, go into space, have supersonic planes again, allow us to get rid of the FDA.
Peter Thiel doesn’t need to build an island to have his libertarian dreamland, he can build it right here in America, and he already is.