The Corner

Politics & Policy

Thielism: Trumpian Elitism

Maureen Dowd outdid herself with a long and hugely informative interview with Peter Thiel.

Thiel, of course, is the PayPal guy, and one of the Facebook guys. As a result, he’s undeniably richer than Trump.

Not only that, Thiel is distinguished from the other Silicon Valley titans by having more than a bit of a liberal education. He knows a lot about Leo Strauss, and even writes esoterically. And he’s no slouch too when it comes to the thought of René Girard. Compare his reading list with, say, that of Bill Gates!

Thiel was astute enough to sign up early with Trump’s campaign, speaking nervously but still rather eloquently on the final, “diversity” night of the Republican convention.

Before Trump won, Thiel was almost ostracized from the respectable Silicon Valley community. And The Advocate proclaimed that he no longer had any business calling himself a gay man, despite his openness about his sexual orientation and activity. One of his criticisms of his fellow denizens of Silicon Valley is that they are way too puritanical because they just don’t have much sex.

Now, of course, Thiel is not so lonely in the Valley, as plenty of disruptive innovators now want access to Trump, if only to sustain and enhance the “crony capitalism” they’ve enjoyed under President Obama.

What does Peter see in Donald?

​First, he appreciates the apocalyptic tone of his campaign. Going negative and trumpeting crisis is the ticket to victory.

But what he really wants Trump to do is restore optimism about our techno-future, and partner with startup guys and others to develop a plan to bring the future under our personal control.

Thiel is nostalgic for the era of The Jetsons and Star Trek and JFK’s energetic, can-do spirit that so quickly put a man on the Moon.That spirit is what’s required to make America great again.

In general, our problem is that we’ve lost faith in real technological development, such as what’s required to conquer space. We’re diverted from our techno-stagnation by advances in information technology, which, in truth, are more sources of entertainment than anything else.

Meanwhile, Thiel remarks, our subways are a hundred years old. So he, we can say, is for infrastructure development of all kinds that increases real human freedom.

Most of all, Thiel wants government to be a strong partner in the development of biotechnology that will lead to the conquest of death. One way, he observes, in which the men and women of Silicon Valley are more realistic than the rest of us is that they treat death as problem to be solved. Thiel is ticked off that the Food and Drug Administration still doesn’t regard aging as a disease to be cured.

And in some strange way, he agrees with Saint Augustine and Pascal that it’s deeply inauthentic to divert oneself or just be fatalistic about one’s inevitable biological demise. Thiel’s War on Death would dwarf the War on Poverty, and, in his view, definitive success is very possible. Or at least we have no reason to believe it’s not if we’re intentional and industrious enough.

Someone might object that the War on Poverty was very altruistic, insofar as it was led by prosperous people. The War on Death is the most selfish one imaginable, insofar as Thiel and the others are, first and foremost, concerned about fending off their own personal extinction. He might respond that that just makes him an eyes-wide-open libertarian.

Thiel, meanwhile, thinks that Trump, with his New York values, has a fine record on gay rights. There’s no going back on same-sex marriage or even Roe v. Wade under his administration. Thiel’s America is one in which nobody cares about the Supreme Court, just as nobody cares about North Carolina bathrooms. His often expressed view is that social liberalism has won, leaving us more space to work together on the real issues.

Now Thiel is not an elitist in the pernicious sense about being indifferent to the well-being of ordinary people. He actually is about meeting their most basic needs, even if he puts his own first.

But what he cares about, most Trump voters just don’t.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...