There Is No Enigma — He's a Fascist
With excellent timing, a gushing interview with Thiel in UnHerd today (the British Quillette). The whole bundle of the fasces is there: futurism (we focus too much on the interior, rather than things that whizz and bang), Christian mysticism (society needs a "Christian vision of history" to truly progress), dismissal of bureaucracy (abolish the FDA!), pro-Imperialism (literally, both the UK and US fell off when they stopped being implicitly imperial). The comments on Europe reveal the sense of frustration with the boring reality of democratic compromise and incrementalism:
"Failing other options, Thiel thinks even bleak or apocalyptic visions are better than no vision at all. The picture of European climate catastrophe associated with Greta Thunberg is, as he sees it, one of only three realistic European futures; the other two are “Islamic sharia law”, and “Chinese Communist AI”. He views the social-democratic models typical of contemporary European politics as variations on the theme of stagnation: “a sort of eternal Groundhog Day”. And while Greta’s vision is “in some ways too apocalyptic, in some ways not apocalyptic enough”, it is at least “a very concrete picture”, and represents the least worst of the three alternatives to stagnation."
He found the perfect interviewer though. Her conclusion:
"And as I’ve argued, the alternative to such figures may not be democracy but governance by a decentralised post-democratic swarm (analogous, perhaps, to what Thiel calls “Chinese Communist AI”). Given these options, we may yet conclude that the political return of human lords and princes — however unnervingly untrammelled their power, or remorselessly tech-optimist their worldview — is far from the worst option currently on the table. The premodern world of aristocratic patronage was far from being a cultural desert, an achievement that contrasts sharply with the militantly anti-aesthetic (and anti-human) character of post-democratic swarm politics. If I’m right about the prognosis for liberal democracy in the digital age, the available options for our future may be culturally vibrant human-led neo-feudalism, or aggressively anti-cultural swarm governance. And in this case, even those of us who mourn the passing of the liberal world may yet find ourselves, however ambivalently, on the side of Caesar."
The usual deeply troubling, brilliant piece from John Ganz. Here is my contribution to Unpopular Front: the proliferation of small typographical errors in these essays reduces both the clarity of thinking and the fun of reading this otherwise extremely rewarding and insightful substack. Sometimes the typos are bad enough that I can’t really understand what is meant in a particular sentence. I presume that a good, available proofreader is both hard to find and expensive, but I believe it would be worth it. (And they say reader comments are trivial—where do people get this stuff?)
This is very good, and for all non-scholastic purposes, the conclusion is dead-on: Thiel is a fascist.
But here in the seminar room, I'd like to raise an objection. Your essay pulls in two directions. On the one hand, you note the features of Thiel's ideology that also formed parts of historical fascist ideology. On the other hand, you note that fascism never really was a coherent ideology, and was more like a large coalition of different groups who favored different parts of it. That's the "hyphenated fascism". These disparate elements make their coalition effective by lining up behind a charismatic leader whose own views are vague, flexible, and opportunistic enough that each audience hears what they want, and believes that he shares their priorities. The leader is ideological incoherence made flesh, but this is part of his strength: he is able to keep everyone on board. (Even in a democracy, leaders succeed by appearing to be all things to all voters -- Obama just as much as trump. Leader-cults like fascism simply intensify this.)
My objection is simply that each of the hyphenated fascists, when faced with the accusation of being fascist, may simply disavow the other strands in the bundle. Five different supporters of Mussolini can all say variations on, "I was never a fascist, just a Catholic traditionalist!" "I was never a fascist, I simply wanted to save industry from Bolshevik unions!" And so on.
In Thiel's case, he would presumably say that he's not a fascist, just a white supremacist, anti-democratic advocate of state-capital integration with a taste for futurism.
You may respond, "but he's ticked the box on five out of nine elements on the menu -- isn't that enough to nail down the family resemblance?" I agree, as I agreed above, that for most purposes it's enough. But the further question arises, what the additional label "fascist" adds to the diagnosis? After all, family resemblance does not allow us to predict from one element to another. Just because you're a trad-Cath fascist, we cannot assume you like futurism, and so on for every other pair of items on the list. We don't get anymore diagnostic leverage by adding the umbrella-name of the coalition than we have when we list each element separately.
But I'll end as I began, in agreement with you. Perhaps like Pynchon's child faced with Kreplach assembled, we provoke a stronger sense of political revulsion when we use the name "fascism". And outside the seminar room, it is worth doing it for that reason.
"Do other members of his class share his view that some form of dictatorship is a necessity for their continued domination of the economy? Can he persuade the other members of his class to back his next pet political project?"
Bad news- they absolutely do and he absolutely can. I've heard every idea you've listed here echoed back at me from other SV elites. They'd be absolutely convinced that AOC is Rosa Luxemburg, except they're historically illiterate.
The continued grotesque incompetence of California (particularly SF) Democratic machine politics will only make this worse with time; as you hinted at a few months back, California is experiencing a very deep crisis of hegemony, such that any critique of actually existing democracy in California can resonate pretty deeply-leaving Thielite fascism a pretty appealing alternative.
I've wondered for a while now if there was a space for a popular, English language work on industrial/commercial elites in the 1930s in the big industrialized states. The parallels between Thiel, Larry Ellison, much of the a16z crowd, and others to the German industrialists who often found Hitler distasteful but supported him anyway are scarily close. A book (or blog or podcast?) targeted at educating Silicon Valley's rank and file about why their bosses' stuff can be seductive but goes down horrifying roads would potentially be an interesting rallying point.
You should read his essay, The Straussian Moment, if you have not; it's a decent lens on Palantir.
>I think this experience still forms the core of his entire worldview, that of a petit-bourgeois or professional-managerial adjunct to . . . capitalist exploitation: there are highly-competent, technical managers with a crystalline vision, the engineers, and then there is a biologically-inferior, racial underclass of labor that has to be kept in line.
But as you know, a big priority now is to cull and chastise the "PMC." It is feminized, adulterated by ascended-admixed-biotrash, recruited and incentivized poorly. A complex society requires managers, but they should at least be competent and non-malevolent. And so on.
A few years ago everyone was apoplectic over white nationalism. But white nationalism, in this worldview, is a compromise with liberalism: if you curate your population so it's relatively high-trust and high IQ, you end up with a less-glaring class divide, fewer armed overseers at the mines. You can have nice things.
I don't know for sure if it's right, but one account would be: white nationalism failed, so now we're here.
Obviously we should take all these people seriously but there is something uniquely pathetic about believing a second Trump term will usher in “a singular vision of utopia.”
Great stuff, sir.
Excellent piece John. I was curious if Thiel has ever publicly talked about or reflected on his time in South Africa, and about apartheid?
Thank you for not mincing words here
Fascism is at its heart, an attempt to bring back pre-liberal structures of acceptable domination by the empowered.
There is a fantastic Russian sociologist, a Wilson fellow, Kamil Galeev, active on twitter. He gets this exactly right with his conceptions of "violent entrepreneurs" and "nonviolent entrepreneurs" IMO as it applies to Elon Musk
If the violent entrepreneurs are in power, they eventually degrade rule of law (as they are violent and not one wants to be killed.) As such, they can then take anything from anyone.
Nonviolent entrepreneurs are what Galeev refers to as "hothouse flowers" - these would likely not flourish naturally, but in the artificial environment where the competition from violent entrepreneurs is constantly being removed, can thrive.
Often the hothouse flowers are deluded into thinking they'd exist without the hot house, that their businesses would be allowed to exist independently when the gangsters are in charge, not realizing mobsters could just take anything they wanted before one is empowered, or whenever they'd like, and that one likely would not have been motivated to succeed under this framework to begin with.
Libertarianism was and is only a waiting room for fascists biding their time for the right moment for "coming out". That moment has clearly come to pass.
I can't shake the feeling that Thiel is many of these things to avoid being 'a homosexual', especially considering some of the attitudes of much of his allies…and he can do this because, to quote the theatrical avatar of another Trump crony:
AIDS, homosexual, gay, lesbian, you think these are names that tell you who someone sleeps with? They don’t tell you that. No. Like all labels they tell you one thing and one thing only: where does an individual’s sole identity fit in the food chain. In the pecking order. None of ideology or sexual taste but something much simpler, clout. Not who I fuck or fucks me but who will pick up the phone when I call, who owes me favors. This is what a label refers to. Now to someone who does not understand this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men but really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in 15 years of trying can’t pass a pissant anti-discrimination bill through city council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows, who have zero clout. Does this sound like me Henry? No. I have clout. Lots.
RE: Your twitter algo problems referenced in other post, I thnk you should consider Blue check sub. $96/year as an investment to higher visibility. I have not done so myself, but have a book coming out and just may do so.