Beyond Athens and Jerusalem

Far-right intellectuals love to steal left-wing economic ideas. But what’s their real agenda?

When John McCain selected former Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate in 2008, it was the gift that kept on giving to the United States’ media and entertainment establishment.

For the mostly liberal chattering classes, her folksy mama bear affect, ignorance about basic geopolitical facts (the existence of two Koreas among them), and possible illiteracy were far more interesting than John McCain’s platform. Fifteen years later, Palin’s candidacy is far less amusing than it was to noughtie-era Daily Show writers, recognized instead as a pivotal moment in the emergence of movements that today constitute the New Right. From the Tea Partiers and Obama birthers to Trump stans, white nationalists, and anti-vaxxers, Sarah Palin walked so they could run (into the Capitol).

Outside observers peering into the abyss that is the New Right often envision it as a coherent force. The real divide, we hear, is between the conservative establishment – “respectable” Republicans of the George W. Bush type – and upstarts like J.D. Vance and lunatics like Marjorie Taylor Greene. If you’re able to forget the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq, CIA black sites and the routinization of domestic surveillance, one might indeed prefer the oil-painting ex-president to Greene’s fleet of Jewish space lasers. But this divide is not the only fault line that runs through contemporary right-wing politics. Indeed, we find that the coalition of New Right Forces – a motley crew of techno-libertarians, America Firsters, post-liberals, economic nationalists, monarcho-fascists, vitalists, social conservatives, conspiracy theorists, incels, racists, and anti-Semites – is hardly proceeding in lockstep formation. In the words of one of its leading funders, Peter Thiel, the New Right is “a very ragtag Rebel Alliance. It’s like we have diversity on our side.”

“Looking beyond superficial similarities – chiefly cozy feelings toward actual or aspiring authoritarians and a burning hatred for all things woke – is both illustrative and frightening, because it helps reveal a political strategy that is significantly darker than usually realized.”

Perhaps the most significant fissure within the Rebel Alliance has to do with capitalism, its social effects, and the purview of the state vis-à-vis the ‘free market.’ This raises a puzzling fact. How is it that Peter Thiel has thrown his weight behind both national conservatism, whose adherents argue that capitalism is undermining family formation and thus the traditional moral order, and the sort of amoral techno-monarchism increasingly popular in Silicon Valley? It was with this question in mind that I took a deep dive into the economic visions (hallucinations?) coming out of different quarters of the New Right, with an eye toward making sense of their contradictory messaging about the family, the nation, private enterprise, and governance. Looking beyond superficial similarities – chiefly cozy feelings toward actual or aspiring authoritarians and a burning hatred for all things woke – is both illustrative and frightening, because it helps reveal a political strategy that is significantly darker than usually realized. Understanding it requires looking more closely at Peter Thiel’s own political trajectory and his two pet projects: the national conservatism movement helmed by the Israeli-American political theorist, Yoram Hazony; and the neoreactionary monarchist one associated with tech bro-cum-blogger, Curtis Yarvin. Far from suggesting some sort of conservative synthesis, the growth of these two movements in recent years illustrates that the old battle between Jerusalem and Athens rages on.1 The idea that Athens and Jerusalem, or in Moses Hess’s formulation, Rome and Jerusalem, represent competing ethical and political models has been a keystone of modern political thought. See, for instance, Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem: The Last National Question (1862), Leipzig; Leo Shestov, Athens and Jerusalem, translated by Bernard Martin (1966), Ohio University Press (originally published in 1938); and Leo Strauss, “Jerusalem and Athens: Some Introductory Reflections.” Commentary (1967).  

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On a sunny day last May, I flashed my press pass, weaved through protestors, and made my way into the Emmanuel Centre in London – an evangelical congregation-qua-event space that was the site of the 2023 national conservatism conference. The brainchild of Hazony – author of the 2018 book The Virtue of Nationalism, which I have argued represented an attempt to construct a coherent political theory around rising right-populism – NatCon conferences have also occurred in Miami, Brussels, Washington D.C., and Rome. Bringing together the who’s who of New Right intellectuals, writers, wonks, and politicians, the London meetup featured MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg and Suella Braverman, Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts, Spectator editor Douglass Murray, and former Trump advisor Michael Anton among its speakers. Donning my best trad-wife twinset, I found a seat in the front and tried to look inconspicuous.

I’ve written elsewhere about the event, Hazony, and the animating role of Zionism in constructing a theory of authoritarian blood-and-soil nationalism for the 21st century. But of equal importance is the new-old economic vision offered by national conservatism’s champions, which has developed rapidly over the past five years.2 Compare, for instance, Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism (Basic Books: 2018),which still adheres more or less to many conservative economic orthodoxies, with his presentation at NatCon London, which openly advocated protectionism. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_wk-J18PVo  Even I was surprised by the frequency with which rather left-sounding names and ideas surfaced among the speakers in London. I had trouble imagining anyone at CPAC – or the Center for American Progress for that matter – explicitly appealing to Marxist analysis to explain the degrading effects of capitalism, or (as was the case with Compact editor Nina Power) encouraging attendees to pick up The German Ideology. Reference to the founding text of historical materialism was not a fluke; rather, it seems that after forty years of neoliberal faith in individualism and markets, the New Right has come around to the idea that social conditions are directly related to the material means of production, and that you cannot support an atomistic economic order characterized by working-class wage stagnation and downward mobility while expecting to maintain 1950s-era domestic bliss.

Indeed, it is the recognition that Thatcherite economic policies have eroded the patriarchal family as a social form that has led many in the national conservative movement to break with the precepts of economic neoliberalism and attempt – via a combination of economic carrots and legal sticks – to use state power to re-engineer the conditions for ‘virtuous’ family life. Thus, despite exhibitors handing out stickers featuring Margaret Thatcher’s face and some appeals to her legacy by older speakers, the critical distance that many presenters assumed from the Iron Lady was striking. Telegraph columnist Juliet Samuel opened her remarks by noting that “A specter is haunting the conservative party, the specter of Margaret Thatcher. In every debate, her authority is invoked…and in every political battle, many Tories ask themselves ‘What would Maggie do?’” Samuel continued that, however admirable Thatcher’s resolve, “looking at the particular economic conditions that we face today, then it is entirely the wrong question.” The remainder of her speech, tellingly titled “Three Times the State Made Growth Happen,” argued that economic miracles like Silicon Valley (contrary to libertarian fantasies) were actually the product of wise state investment. Likewise, and however uncomfortable it might seem to many, the state must once again assume responsibility for economic growth by embracing a new form of industrial policy that includes infrastructure support, savvy use of procurement policies, tax breaks, “the right kind of immigrants,” and even subsidies.

Samuel was hardly alone in her appeal to rethink the innate goodness of the free market. In a speech that decried “the cultural effects of liberal capitalism,” economist Philip Pilkington rejected the mainstream view of capitalism as an “unalloyed good.” National conservatives, he argued, needed instead to take note of the cultural revolution brought about by revolutionizing the means of production:

Marx and Engels, who are obviously very popular in this room, certainly thought that capitalism had a specific cultural effect. Constant revolutionizing of the means of production, they wrote in their Communist Manifesto, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguishes the bourgeois epoch from all others. “All fixed, fast-frozen relations with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away. All new-formed ones become antiquated before they could ossify.”

In short, “all that’s solid melts into air” – a line from the Manifesto that MP Danny Kruger quoted directly. Later in his remarks, Pilkington argued that while Marx may not have been right about the rate of profit tending to fall, he was correct in noting that capitalism did contain internal contradictions.3 Amusingly, but also depressingly, long-winded and abstruse debates over the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF) not only remain a large part of contemporary Marxism but have dominated the headlines of the left-wing intellectual press for over a year now. The main exchange began with Robert Brenner and Dilan Riley’s full-throated defense of the TRPF as definitive proof that Bidenism as an economic programme cannot work in New Left Review (“Seven Theses on American Politics” [Nov/Dec 2022]); which was rebutted by a number of intensely skeptical responses (Tim Barker, “Basic Questions about Brenner and the Profit Rate,”Origins of Our Time on Substack [21 December 2022]; Unlearning Economics, “The Astonishingly Poor Empirics of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall” on Medium [20 July 2023]; and most prominently, Seth Ackerman, “Robert Brenner’s Unprofitable Theory of Global Stagnation” in Jacobin [12 September 2023]); which were dutifully followed by additional defenses of Brenner and the TRPF (Aaron Benanav, “We’re All Stagnationists Now” in Jacobin [29 September 2023]; Michael Roberts, “On Profitability and Reforming Capitalism” in Spectre [11 October 2023]). On a technical level, the debate has to do with whether the true source of all capitalist crises is rooted in the inevitable replacement of human by machine labor as a result of capitalist competition, leading in turn to lower prices and an inevitable overall decline in profit rates across the economy (measured, by Marx, in an equation resembling a return on investment formula, only for the economy as a whole). This is a crisis theory he outlines in Volumes I and III of Das Kapital, in varying levels of detail. On the one hand, it should be a simple empirical question (are profit rates overall going down? is there any reason to believe the overwhelming specific cause might be Marx’s “increased organic composition of capital”?). On the other hand, it’s politically loaded – for certain nerds anyway – due to its implications. If all slumps are caused by unemployment and underinvestment due to a crash of the financial system caused by bad investor behavior that led to systemic instability, then a tight leash on Wall Street during the good times and Keynesian full employment policy in bad times are enough for a government to get the economy going again whenever it falters, and there’s no inherent or inevitable final crisis of capitalism as per Marxist prophecies. But if the true and deeper cause underlying these occasional financial crises is an inevitable decline in profit rates, one that results from structurally determined actions that all capitalist firms must undertake if they’re to survive, then not only does the system generate crises from its own logic, but these crises are also not amenable (or eventually won’t be) to Keynesian policies, making the collapse of capitalism inevitable and the only humane solution some sort of socialism (though why specifically socialism would solve this problem is not always made clear). Hence, while it’s seemingly a rather abstract technical question, the participants in such debates are only ever really arguing about an old political question within socialism – reform, or revolution? – and using the technical debate as a proxy, as if the answer to one depended on the answer to the other. (A particularly cynical reader might mutter that neither side, in the last analysis, really cares about the answer to the technical question for its own sake at all.) While it’s too much to get into the details of what might actually be true under all the Marxology, here are some facts that might encourage caution and skepticism in a reader towards the TRPF: (1.) the greatest philologist of Marx’s manuscripts concluded that Marx wanted a theory of the inevitable crisis long before he had one, hopping between various distinct attempts at a theory within his lifetime, with the TRPF theory not even being his last (see Michael Heinrich, “Crisis Theory, the Law of the Tendency of the Profit Rate to Fall, and Marx’s Studies in the 1870s” in Monthly Review [1 April 2013]); (2.) the overwhelming interpretation of the Marxist crisis theory by social-democratic and Leninist parties in the twentieth century was the proto-Keynesian “underconsumptionist” theory that workers are paid too little in wages to buy back the goods capitalists sell (a theory which, in characteristically incoherent fashion, Marx upholds in Volume III but denounces in Volume II), not the TRPF, which was only really discussed in detail before the 1960s by Henryk Grossman and Paul Mattick, Sr.; and (3.) therefore, beyond a vague and handwavey affirmation of the idea that the final crisis of capitalism was near at hand (for reasons that almost never tied back to the TRPF theory), no leading Marxist political actor or party of the twentieth century ever used the TRPF to decide whether to pursue reform, revolution, or any other political programme. At the very least this suggests that a political line need not follow from the truth or falsity of this arcane economic theory; though it may, depending on your intuitions, suggest something about the theory itself. –Eds. In particular, he suggested that capitalism’s idealized subject, the consumer-producer, cannot form a family unit to reproduce the labor force:

In the long run, capitalism needs babies to grow, stable families are required to raise the next generation of workers. Well, this is a contradiction. It is plain as day, and it is reflecting in the cratering birth rates that we see in all the advanced capitalist economies. Capitalism cannot solve this contradiction because capitalism is not self-aware. It is just a game played by decentralized individuals in search of profit. There is simply no incentive for capitalists to think in the long term about fertility rates. And so they will not. Without some sort of intervention to ensure stable family formation and the reproduction of the species, frankly, capitalism will eat itself because it won’t have any workers.

The message from Pilkington and many others was that the state is the only actor capable of intervening in, and correcting, this social reality. From writer Tim Stanley to Hazony and MPs Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, supporting family formation was the most important game in town. Thus – and unlike their twentieth-century conservative predecessors, who at least theoretically eschewed intervention in the private sphere – several speakers at NatCon London championed policies that would be shot down by the Democratic National Committee as socialist: renewed industrial policy, extended parental leave, and support for social housing. I asked Tim Stanley which of the Left’s traditional policy goals he thought national conservatives should embrace, and he responded “public childcare” without missing a beat. But perhaps tellingly, my query to event organizers about whether childcare was provided for speakers or other participants went unanswered.

“Thiel’s support for the movement is seemingly hard to square with that which he provides to another part of the Rebel Alliance, one that rejects the Judeo-Christian worldview in favor of something a little more pagan: the resuscitation of a world in which virtue means strength rather than goodness, and where equality is feared above all else.”

Increased state support for the working class is undoubtedly the NatCon agenda item with the greatest possible mainstream appeal – yet it is also where their sincerity is most in doubt. Can they really mean it? This is the question that critics direct toward the movement’s ideologues as they signal a rupture with conservative economic orthodoxy; it is, notably, a question that never feels necessary when addressing other pillars of the NatCon platform, like attacking immigrants or the rights of trans people (there, they really mean it). 

Effecting the New Right’s economic agenda, on the other hand, would be expensive and require breaking with the wealthy donor class that controls access to public office. As American Enterprise Institute’s Scott Winship recounted recently, “I have occasionally thought, thank God that this culture war is happening, because otherwise there would be this alliance on economics between the national conservatives and progressives and that would result in, from my perspective, a lot of bad policy passing.”4 As cited in a recent piece by Michael Shaeffer, “Conservatives Are Having an Epic Argument About Capitalism. Too Bad the Campaigns Are Ignoring It.” Politico (July 28, 2023).

Much revolves around whether New Right politicians are willing to move from a working class affect to actual policy (the preliminary data suggests not). But there are emerging attempts to embed the New Right’s critique of neoliberalism within a real institutional framework. In June, the think tank American Compass released a policy guidebook entitled Rebuilding American Capitalism: A Handbook for Conservative Policymakers. Endorsed by Senators J.D. Vance, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Todd Young, the guide was among the first concrete proposals put forward by the NatCon arm of the GOP. American Compass was founded by Oren Cass, former economic advisor for Mitt Romney, who created the think tank in December 2019 to forge a new synthesis between social conservatism and the labor movement. Cass did not begin his journey as an economic populist, but he has gradually come to hold that (as Eric Levitz wrote in a profile) “globalization broke the mutual dependence of America’s capitalists and laborers, allowing the former’s fortunes to swell while the latter’s wages stagnated.”5 Eric Levitz, “The Nerd Trying to Turn the GOP Populist: Oren Cass’s quest to make Republicans heed the interests of their working-class base.” New York (Sept. 18, 2023).

Cass’s inaugural letter noted “the expiration of the neoliberal political consensus and policy agenda that has characterized recent decades, with its globalization, deregulation, and financialization of the economy; atomization of the society; and reliance on redistribution to those left behind.”6 Oren Cass, “Founder’s Letter: Neoliberalism Falls Apart.” Introduction to the 2020 Annual Report, available at https://americancompass.org/annual-report-2020/  The result of such policies, he contends, are readily apparent in “the concentration of wealth in fewer hands…rising ‘deaths of despair’ and political dysfunction, declines in family and community well-being, and a stalling out of the investment and innovation that generate productivity growth and rising wages.” In order to right this ship, American Compass’s handbook proposes everything from direct monthly payments to families of $250-350 per child to sector-wide bargaining and bankruptcy relief for student debtors.

The proximity of such proposals to a progressive agenda has generated predictable outrage among mainstream conservatives. Since 2020 National Review has published (by my latest count) no fewer than seventeen articles lambasting American Compass and Oren Cass for trying to rebrand “Old-Left Wing Ideas” as “New Right-Wing” ones. Writers have drawn attention to the organization’s funding sources – which include the liberal-leaning William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Omidyar Network – calls for 21st century industrial policy, and embrace of “technocratic machinations” – not to mention “bedfellows that fit more comfortably at a Democratic Socialists of America meeting than the Knights of Columbus or Elks Lodge.”7Michael Watson, “Does American Compass Point Left?” – National Review Aug. 16, 2021. https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/08/does-american-compass-point-left/ Further attacks of American Compass’s market skepticism have arrived from the Cato Institute, the National Taxpayers Union, and the Washington Examiner.

One metric of the internal strife is the statement of principles released by the “Freedom Conservatives” last July and signed by some of American conservatism’s leading lights circa 2008: Jeb Bush, Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, and George Will alongside dozens of signatories from policy centers and publications (including National Review, Manhattan Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute). If many of these names seem like old news, that is precisely the reason they’ve decided to unite. As Avik Roy, one of the organizers of the statement, described the situation to Politico’s Michael Schaffer, “he and his fellow signatories felt like they’d been out-organized by a rising cohort of activists promoting heretical views against free trade or for government involvement in the economy, among other things.” The signatories take explicit aim at the attack on individual liberties that underlies the national conservative agenda, arguing that “individual liberty is essential to the moral and physical strength of the nation.” If you find an aging coalition of establishment figures attempting to make Reaganomics great again underwhelming, you’re not the only one. “I would feel a lot more confident about the project if there were more millennials and zoomers involved,” was how AEI fellow Matthew Continetti summed up their chances of success to Schaffer.8 See the extended discussion in Michael Shaeffer, “Conservatives Are Having an Epic Argument About Capitalism. Too Bad the Campaigns Are Ignoring It.

Economic faith in the free market always had a religious aspect to it, so contrary were its creeds to the material reality of those who did not prosper under its wings. National conservatives have traded this faith in the market for faith in the nation, the language of mystification and sanctity migrating to a new domain: “We see the tradition of independent, self-governed nations as the foundation for restoring a proper public orientation toward patriotism and courage, honor and loyalty, religion and wisdom, congregation and family, man and woman, the sabbath and the sacred, and reason and justice,” reads the movement’s statement of principles.9 National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles. Available at: https://nationalconservatism.org/national-conservatism-a-statement-of-principles/  National conservatives still wave the flag of free enterprise, but not without significant caveats: “The free market cannot be absolute. Economic policy must serve the general welfare of the nation.” Most interestingly, the statement of principles indicates how years of culture wars and screeds against ‘woke capitalism’ have primed the pump for a renewed critique of corporate power, taking aim at “trans-national corporations” that exhibit “little loyalty to any nation” and that “damage public life by censoring political speech, flooding the country with dangerous and addictive substances and pornography, and promoting obsessive, destructive personal habits.”

Beneath all the posturing, national conservatism is built upon a real theoretical break with the principles of market liberalism. This is best exemplified in Hazony’s work, which contests the idea that the principles that are advantageous to a business environment should also prevail in the public sphere. In The Virtue of Nationalism, he takes aim at liberalism’s imaginary social contract and the idea that some sort of voluntary, transactional relationship sits at the origin of the political community. Rather, he argues that the polity is an extension of the family and tribe, and as such, needs to nurture a different set of values than those that order the marketplace. While rational deliberation, consent, and contractual relations are well suited to operating a business, such practices are wholly out of place in the realm of government. Like families, nations are bound together by involuntary constraint, bonds of mutual loyalty, and un-chosen duties.

For Hazony it’s precisely liberalism, with its idealized volunteerism and emphasis on individual freedom, that got us into this mess – beset by libertine, unencumbered individuals pursuing careers and unorthodox sexual pleasures instead of marrying young, having many children, and passing the national heritage down the line. As the movement’s statement of principles puts it, “The disintegration of the family, including a marked decline in marriage and childbirth, gravely threatens the wellbeing and sustainability of democratic nations. Among the causes are an unconstrained individualism that regards children as a burden, while encouraging ever more radical forms of sexual license and experimentation as an alternative to the responsibilities of family and congregational life. Economic and cultural conditions that foster stable family and congregational life and child-raising are priorities of the highest order.”

The rejection of individualism as the basis of the political order links Hazony to Catholic integralists like Patrick Deneen and Sohrab Ahmari who invoke the idea of the ‘commonweal’ to express a concern for collective well-being understood beyond economic productivity. Even the Heritage Foundation, following many years of turmoil over its policy direction, has recently hopped aboard with a report on “Free Enterprise and the Common Good.” The goal, in Deneen’s telling, is reinvigorating public virtue and thereby cultivating the “kinds of communities where our children can – and will – roam the fields again.”10 Patrick Deneen, “Moral Minority.” First Things (April 2017).

That this vision of harmony between the workplace and home, between public virtue and family values, has been most forcefully articulated by Catholic writers and an Orthodox Jew is not at all surprising. The national conservative wing of the New Right is more clearly a theological movement than a conservative one, at least insofar as the latter term is usually understood. In his recently published Conservatism: A Rediscovery, Hazony defines a conservative as “a traditionalist, a person who works to recover, restore, and build up the traditions of his forefathers and to pass them on to future generations.”11 Yoram Hazony, Conservatism: A Rediscovery. Regnery Gateway: 2022. The quotation and discussion are taken from the first part of Chapter 1.  His choice of verbs underscores that a conservative is not one who merely preserves what exists and passes it down the generational line. Today’s conservatives must rather reanimate those sleeping spirits of the past. Recover, restore, repair, rediscover – all gesture at a process of active cultivation. Per Deneen, “the moral minority must become a majority again.”

National conservatism might seem like an awkward grantee of the gay and childless billionaire Peter Thiel, whose own lifestyle exemplifies the sort of libertine liberalism that national conservatives claim runs counter to family formation. Yet he is reported to be among the movement’s major donors and has most recently bankrolled the campaigns of NatCon darlings J.D. Vance and Blake Masters. Hazony is sure to thank him in the acknowledgments of his books, and Thiel even offered a blurb for Conservatism, praising Hazony for his “lucid exposition of a tradition of conservative nationalism that begins in the Old Testament and passes through George Washington and Alexander Hamilton to our own moment.” Thiel’s support for the movement is seemingly hard to square with that which he provides to another part of the Rebel Alliance, one that rejects the Judeo-Christian worldview in favor of something a little more pagan: the resuscitation of a world in which virtue means strength rather than goodness, and where equality is feared above all else. This should be particularly worrisome because, as any student of history knows, Jerusalem’s position at the crossroads between East and West has often left it vulnerable to conquest.

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The world would be better off had Curtis Yarvin stayed in his mother’s basement and written science fiction. Let us begin with that simple acknowledgement. Unfortunately, the frog man crawled out of the cave, not to enlighten the masses, but to assure them that the streaming shadows on the wall are real. The aristocracy will be redpilled, of course, but the demos must stay underground with their Netflix subscriptions. 

For the uninitiated, Curtis Yarvin is a fifty-year old former computer programmer turned blogger and propagator of the very online movement known as the Dark Enlightenment, neoreactionarism (NRx), or the deep right – the latter being Yarvin’s preferred term. He graduated from Brown University in 1992 and began a PhD program at UC Berkeley, but soon dropped out to work in the booming tech industry. By all accounts, he began his political journey entranced by Silicon Valley’s signature form of techno-libertarianism, but he later took a sharp turn away from the democratic principles that, at least theoretically, were supposed to march hand-in-hand with the free market. In 2007, Yarvin began blogging under the pseudonymous name Mencius Moldbug, taking aim not just at various progressive pieties, but at the most sacred cows of them all: freedom, independence, democracy itself. Why, he asks, have we been conditioned to think these things are actually good?

“But nowhere is the overlap as obvious as in their enmity toward democracy and desire to either replace the existing government with some sort of CEO-monarch or, better yet, escape the nation-state altogether via the formation of new forms of corporate sovereignty.”

Yarvin’s writing offers a mixed bag of historical anecdotes, dubious claims presented as facts, imagined dystopian technologies, and nostalgia for the days of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I. He exhibits both a deep yearning for the aesthetics and grandeur of the classical Greco-Roman era (“We are switching to Roman numerals,” he explained in a blog post in 2008, because “they are just classier”) and contempt for the elite educational institutions where one might spend serious time reading Homer, Cicero, Plato, or Virgil. His special blend of irreverence and irony both appeals to his fans and disarms his critics, who can always be accused of not being in on the joke. One sometimes gets the sense that he is aspiring to Nietzschean levels of shock while feigning ignorance about the genocidal uses that Nietzsche’s work was put to a few generations hence.12 Although it must be said that, however much the Nazis used a particular reading of Nietzsche to enact their genocidal ambitions against Jews and other groups, the man himself was a vehement anti-antisemite. This was, in fact, one of the big reasons for his break with the composer Richard Wagner, whom he’d previously admired; and in his madness letters, written in the delirium that consumed his last decade, he addressed various German notables as well as the Pope with such lines as, “I am just having all anti-Semites shot.” See “Letters of Insanity 1889” on The Nietzsche Channel (http://www.thenietzschechannel.com/correspondence/eng/nlett-1889.htm). –Eds. As he writes in one post, “The West has just taken longer to corrode – always rusting, never burning. To rise among this tremendous trend, this multi-century disaster, will take an anti-hero of no less stature – a kind of man that appears only once in centuries, a man out of time, who nonetheless appears perfectly suited to his time – I refer, of course, to Trump.” We might as well compare it to the original:

It is true that in the midst of all this [the French Revolution] the most enormous, most unexpected thing occurred: the classical ideal itself stepped bodily and with unheard of splendor before the eyes and conscience of humanity – and once again, more strongly, more simply, more penetratingly than ever, the terrible and thrilling counter-slogan “the privilege of the few” resounded in the face of the old lie-slogan of ressentiment, “the privilege of the majority,” in the face of the will to lowering, to debasement, to leveling, to the downward and evening-ward of man! Like a last sign pointing to the other path, Napoleon appeared, that most individual and late-born human being there ever was, and in him the incarnate problem of the noble ideal in itself – consider well, what kind of problem it is: Napoleon, this synthesis of an inhuman and a superhuman13Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, First Treatise, section 16. Taken from the translation by Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen. Hackett (1998), pp. 32.

Though less associated with the sort of vitalism celebrated by Bronze Age Pervert – a writer of self-published pseudo-philosophical tracts who teaches incels about the need to slough off the crippling Judeo-Christian moral synthesis in favor of a renewed homoerotic celebration of strength, beauty, and power – Yarvin absolutely embraces the anti-democratic, aristocratic elements that course through Nietzsche’s work: a concern for a world in which people grow mediocre because they have become more equal, such that exceptional humans of Napoleon’s sort can barely break through. Bad air! Yarvin’s work, in this way, is decidedly anti-populist – the people are idiots who need to be led, rather than fonts of untapped wisdom. And simultaneously, though he despises the progressive orthodoxies which serve as dogma for the liberal elite, his imagined future preserves and protects such hierarchies, which at any rate he regards as natural. (If the few people with the right biology to rule aren’t in charge, neoreactionaries believe, political social structures will inevitably degenerate.) As he writes in a post about how the monarch should handle competing factions, “A king also has a motivation to protect the aristocracy, who are in general his most delicate, refined, talented and fragile citizens. Nothing is so sad as a nation with a starving or oppressed aristocracy. The nobles are the flower of any country, and this flower must bloom forever. It needs absolutely no involvement with peasant children. A late-empire aristocracy should govern itself absolutely – and absolutely no one else.”

Yarvin’s career in the tech industry brought him into contact with Peter Thiel, whose Founders Fund invested in a company he co-founded in 2013. In his biography of Thiel, Max Chafkin characterized Yarvin as the “house political philosopher” for the billionaire’s network of admirers, and reporting for Vanity Fair, James Pogue has traced how Yarvin’s ideas – such as RAGE, retire all government employees – have entered the mainstream via Thiel-backed candidates like Vance and Masters.14 James Pogue, “Inside the New Right, Where Peter Thiel Is Placing His Biggest Bets.” Vanity Fair (May 2022). The pledge to fire civil servants en masse has notably emerged as one of Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign promises. But Thiel himself has also become a vehicle for bringing Yarvin’s ideas to a broader audience, and indeed it is striking to note just how much they sound like one another. The same cannot be said for Thiel and Hazony. Sometimes, particular obsessions and a shared vocabulary come to the fore in their public appearances that suggest a long Signal thread in the background (as when Yarvin and Thiel both began talking about “gain-of-function research” in a certain Wuhan lab). But nowhere is the overlap as obvious as in their enmity toward democracy and desire to either replace the existing government with some sort of CEO-monarch or, better yet, escape the nation-state altogether via the formation of new forms of corporate sovereignty.

Already in 2009, Thiel signaled his break with the politics of mainstream GOP libertarianism in ways that are quite significant for charting his intellectual movement toward Yarvin. In a Cato Institute publication, Thiel stated that while he remained committed to “authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good,” he had recently suffered a crisis of faith. In particular, he wrote, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”15 Peter Thiel, “The Education of a Libertarian.” Cato Unbound (April 2009). Available at: https://www.cato-unbound.org/2009/04/13/peter-thiel/education-libertarian/ As he continued, “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians – have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” In short, Thiel was awakening to an insight not only accepted by Milton Friedman decades ago (“political democracy has elements which tend to destroy economic freedom”), but by scores of leftists as well. Historian Quinn Slobodian has recently chronicled this history in Crack-Up Capitalism, which charts the growing realization that the imperatives of maximizing profit run counter to those of democratic flourishing.

“In short, the new crop of ideologues have a vision that is not just anti-democratic but strikingly neo-feudal: a world beyond the nation-state, of new sovereign entities and colonies (either Martian, or, as Milton Friedman’s grandson proposes, at sea) optimized for profit maximization and managed by an authoritarian leader, with civic equality replaced by permanent hierarchies.”

Perhaps the real power of the Thatcher-Reagan era was to moderate Friedman’s diagnosis among conservative politicians and intellectuals who, in an intensified Cold War context, argued that free markets and democracy went together like peanut butter and jelly. Any vision of fundamental conflict between these two forces could be shunted aside amid End-of-History celebrations and Bill Clinton’s rising tide. But, after the 2008 financial crisis, the oppositional logic of capitalism and democracy has become harder to deny; and Thiel, for his part, has stopped trying to reconcile them. He has sided definitively with a vision of explicitly authoritarian, anti-democratic capitalism.

Thiel’s idealized past is therefore not the same one invoked by the national conservatives – who look at the post-WWII era of relatively high wages, near full employment, and male bread-winner domesticity as the Golden Age. Golden Ages for the masses cost money, and robber barons would much rather not part with it. For Thiel, rather, “the 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics” – before redistributional pressures and New Deal-era social programs taught the vast unwashed that they could make demands on the state.

Not content to behave like a normal billionaire and stockpile his money in offshore accounts, Thiel instead turned against democracy in the name of ‘freedom’ (his). It is here where his path intersects with Yarvin’s neo-monarchism. Drawing on a corporate and specifically start-up idiom, Yarvin asserts that the United States – and Western democracies more broadly – have lost the ability to govern effectively. They have come to resemble Rome at the end of its republican period, plagued by civil wars and class conflict, and nothing short of a new Caesar with absolute power can right the ship. Importantly, Yarvin envisions this new all-powerful ruler as a CEO and the state he governs as a start-up. As he claims, “The entire regime must function like one big startup, which means it needs one CEO. This CEO can be accountable to some kind of board – possibly consisting of all voters, but ideally no more than nine people – but must not be micromanaged.”16 Curtis Yarvin, “Is effective altruism effective?” Grey Mirror (Aug. 31, 2022). Available at https://graymirror.substack.com/p/is-effective-altruism-effective In terms of our evolving political theology, we have reached the age where it is the chief executive who has the true power to decide and thus mirrors God’s sovereignty on earth. Indeed, Carl Schmitt is central to Yarvin, both in his longing for a literal king-as-god figure who resides above the law, and in his view of politics as essentially war against one’s enemies. That is, contrary to the liberal notion of politics as a marketplace where buyers and sellers of different ideas mingle to work out a price, politics for Yarvin means “limited war” aimed at achieving “total victory” over your enemies both within and without.17 Curtis Yarvin, “The Parent Coup.” Grey Mirror (March 13, 2022). Available at https://graymirror.substack.com/p/the-parent-coup “Most Americans do not yet see their political system in these terms, though more and more are getting there.”

In contrast to Hazony, with his explicit rejection of market principles as the basis of government, Yarvin’s authoritarianism is laced with the libertarian view that the private sector is inherently more functional than the public one, and that the latter should be rebuilt in the former’s image. “Thousands of years of human history have proven at every scale that the pyramid-shaped hierarchy is the best way for people working together to get things done,” he claims.18 Curtis Yarvin, “Optimal autonomous organizations.” Grey Mirror (March 26, 2022). Available at:https://graymirror.substack.com/p/optimal-autonomous-organizations According to Yarvin, it is the authoritarian aspect of corporations that generates such efficiencies. “A government can only efficiently represent the interests of its own people if its operations are efficient. All large efficient organizations are absolute monarchies.” It’s useful to compare this language to that purportedly used by Thiel at a 2012 guest lecture at Stanford Law School (as admiringly recorded here by Thiel’s disciple Blake Masters): “A startup is basically structured as a monarchy. We don’t call it that, of course. That would seem weirdly outdated, and anything that’s not democracy makes people uncomfortable. But look at the org chart.”19 Blake Masters, “CS183: Startup – Peter Thiel Class Notes.” Available at: https://blakemasters.tumblr.com/post/24578683805/peter-thiels-cs183-startup-class-18-notes

“…the corporation is not egalitarian and consensual but authoritarian and monarchical. Yes, the joint-stock company-turned-polity does include some element of accountability – just not to the people governed but to the board of trustees.”

In short, the new crop of ideologues have a vision that is not just anti-democratic but strikingly neo-feudal: a world beyond the nation-state, of new sovereign entities and colonies (either Martian, or, as Milton Friedman’s grandson proposes, at sea) optimized for profit maximization and managed by an authoritarian leader, with civic equality replaced by permanent hierarchies. Like Singapore or Dubai, it will be very clean and efficient – so long as you don’t pay too much attention to the abysmal conditions of the migrant workforce or the lack of individual freedoms. The goal, Yarvin notes, is to actively reduce the horizons of political agency and nurture an apathetic populace, one that does not meddle in the business of running the corporation. If the lights come on and the shows are streaming, why bother with politics at all? The visionaries pushing this anti-democratic agenda are willing to bet that, given a choice between dysfunctional democracies and authoritarian capitalism, enough people – if not truly most – will side with the latter.

It is telling that Yarvin reaches for a colonial model in sketching the virtues of the startup state and suggests that such “sovereign reboots” might first be tried in the Global South – El Salvador, for instance. A new single executive with total authority would dissolve the former organs of government, along with old laws and obligations, and rule over the state from afar. As Yarvin describes it, the new government would be staffed by “international ‘thugs’ (as Balaji Srinivasan likes to say) with world-class executive talent. These killers, who would mostly work remotely (Salvador [sic] is blessed by an American timezone), would be the best of North American YC [Y Combinator] founders, McKinsey veterans, Google engineers, SpaceX rocket scientists, hedge-fund masters, etc.”20 Curtis Yarvin, “Salvador as a startup state.” Grey Mirror (Sept. 2, 2023). Available at: https://graymirror.substack.com/p/salvador-as-a-startup-state Once these neo-colonial overlords have reengineered the state to maximize efficiency, El Salvador would be entirely transformed – “the only 20th-century comparables would be Singapore or the Gulf States.” This utopia – a state run by McKinsey wonks and Y Combinator grads (who are presumably part of the work elite he otherwise despises?), with SpaceX rocket launch pads nestled in “the eternal spring of the Salvadoran volcanic mountains,” and remote working pods near the surf shuttle filled to the brim with disruptors and iterators of all sorts – is (A.) most of humanity’s literal hellscape, and (B.) painfully close to the system we presently have. Indeed, it takes a special kind of delusion to look at the present political and economic order and say, “Well, it could be great if only the tech bros, financiers, and consultants had a bit more power.”

For this scheme to work in practice, the state must seize and control every aspect of the economy, as Yarvin argued in a podcast appearance last July.21 See “The Case Against Democracy” episode of Triggernometry. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-y4P7f0uHI The resulting developmental course would embrace what he calls turbocapitalism: “Under turbocapitalism, the state establishes a new private sector using public-sector energy, by first scaling up a high-efficiency productive sector, then privatizing it.”22 Curtis Yarvin, “Salvador as a startup state.” In El Salvador’s case, for instance, the new king establishes CoffeeCo and TouristCo to develop and maximize the country’s two major industries and offers the new companies the right to expropriate and nationalize land as they see fit. A few decades later, once the companies are on solid footing, the monopolies will be broken up and privatized a la AT&T – or, we might add, the East India Company. Indeed, if this set-up sounds familiar it is because Yarvin is merely describing a 21st-century version of the joint-stock companies that European monarchs established to colonize the globe. With that, he finally gives up the libertarian lie that profits depend on the absence of the state.

Once the proof of concept is established, all one can do is hope for the right conditions to foment regime change closer to home. “The re-emergence of the monarchical form in the First World, after 250 years of experiments in disorder, is the only long-term hope for Europe and the European diaspora.”23 Ibid. The “European diaspora” is but one of many dogwhistles Yarvin employs to obscure the biological racism that sits at the core of his vision. Yarvin’s insight, not fully appreciated by conservative critics of liberalism’s contractual principles, is that the corporation is not egalitarian and consensual but authoritarian and monarchical. Yes, the joint-stock company-turned-polity does include some element of accountability – just not to the people governed but to the board of trustees. Let us return again to Peter Thiel’s characterization of the start-up:

It is certainly not representative governance. People don’t vote on things. Once a startup becomes a mature company, it may gravitate toward being more of a constitutional republic. There is a board that theoretically votes on behalf of all the shareholders. But in practice, even in those cases it ends up somewhere between constitutional republic and monarchy. Early on, it’s straight monarchy. Importantly, it isn’t an absolute dictatorship. No founder or CEO has absolute power. It’s more like the archaic feudal structure.

Whatever one wants to call this deep right project – neoreactionism, neomonarchism, and authoritarian capitalism all get at some aspect of it – it bears only superficial resemblance to the national conservative one helmed by Jewish and Christian thinkers who contend that the traditional family is the core unit of political life. How do we reconcile these two visions for the future of conservative politics, both backed by the same man?

~

One thing that national conservatism and Yarvin’s deep right do have in common is that they keep busy fending off accusations of fascism. At NatCon London, writer Tim Stanley raised the semantic proximity of national conservatism to national socialism only to dismiss it on the grounds that the movement’s founder was an Israeli (oy!). For his part, Yarvin has disputed the comparison not because fascism is inherently bad, but because it is not achievable in the 21st century. Monarchism is the closest approximation, he argues in a post that sketches the difference between the two political forms. “It’s not fascism. But it’s still pretty based.”24 Curtis Yarvin, “Monarchism and fascism today.” Grey Mirror (Dec. 15, 2021). Available at: https://graymirror.substack.com/p/monarchism-and-fascism-today Beyond underscoring his radicalism, Yarvin’s musings on fascism are important because they hint at how the two ends of the New Right fit together.  

Yarvin paints a picture of the monarch as fundamentally disinterested in the petty quarrels that animate his subjects; residing above the law, he is also above the scrum of class war or culture war or any other factional strife. This means that – and again in contrast to the national conservatives – the king does not use state power to enforce religious or other social norms. As he outlines in a post titled “Autocracy and cultural peace,” only a monarch who sits above the law will be able to enforce peace in the realm by giving each faction the power to decide for itself and only itself what type of social norms will prevail among its members. The result would be an Ottoman Empire-style millet system wherein Democrats and Republicans live by different legal codes. Take, for instance, the issue of trans rights:

Suppose, like many of my good friends, you have a red mind. What a blue mind would call “gender affirmation therapy” might, to you, be “child mutilation.” Let’s call the idea that an unemancipated minor can consent to this procedure, without parental consent, X. With your red mind, you abhor X.

Here is a question for red minds. Are you content with keeping X from applying to children of red parents? Or do you also want to impose your values on blue parents, preventing them by government power from “mutilating” their children in this way?

You should know that winning the second victory is much harder than the first. For the first victory, your enemies only need to give up their dominion over you. For the second, you need to take dominion over them.25 Curtis Yarvin, “Autocracy and cultural peace.” Grey Mirror (April 25, 2022). Available at: https://graymirror.substack.com/p/autocracy-and-cultural-peace

Abortion and gay marriage can thus be illegal for Republicans but remain legal for Democrats (government-issued ID cards will list which cultural camp you belong to, a proposal that underscores just how little Yarvin knows about the bloody history and legacy of sectarianism in the Ottoman Empire and its successor states26 On the history of sectarian politics in the region, see: Ussama Makdisi, The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (2000). University of California Press; Antoine Apprioual, “Lebanon’s Political Stalemate: The Failure of the Sectarian Regime,” POMEAS 11 (February 2016); and Suzanne Schneider, Mandatory Separation: Religion, Education, and Mass Politics in Palestine (2018). Stanford Univeristy Press.  ). The economic carrots that national conservatism dangles before the working classes in support of family formation are nowhere to be found in this reconstituted state, nor even the traditionalist legislation that is central to the New Right platform. However far-fetched, this vision helps explain the seemingly incongruous fact of Peter Thiel’s support for the movement of Biblical family values. It might seem like Thiel, ever the speculator, is simply placing his bets on two different horses – but reading Yarvin reveals that he is actually riding one. For Thiel, it seems, national conservatism is the means to an altogether different sort of end – the state investment and gestures towards a welfare state give way, in time, to the permanent dictatorship of a neo-feudal tech CEO elite.

Here it is useful to return to Yarvin’s distinction between monarchism and fascism. “The leader must use the mass movement to win the democracy game, then demand and take absolute power. The mass movement must delegate absolute trust to the leader.”27 Curtis Yarvin, “Monarchism and fascism today.”  In short, the transition to monarchy must have massive democratic support via an initial electoral victory, but that is where democratic participation ends:

Electing an absolute king is the essence of both the fascist and monarchist programs. But fascism conceives that king as a servant of the movement; monarchism conceives the movement as a servant of the king.

And once he is king, and commands the police and the military,28 Yarvin envisions the use of blockchain-enabled permissive action links on all weapons, such that members of the military and police force can only fire their weapons with the CEO-king’s approval. See: “Optimal autonomous organizations,” Grey Mirror (March 26, 2022). Available at: https://graymirror.substack.com/p/optimal-autonomous-organizations. what does he need with a political movement? When politics itself is a thing of the past?

Fascism is in a way easier to get people to sign up for, because supporters of fascism keep their democratic power, or at least feel they have kept it. They are acting collectively through the leader; the leader is their instrument; if he does not perform, they would have to find a new instrument.

Supporters of monarchism use their democratic power only once – to give it away.29 Curtis Yarvin, “Monarchism and fascism today.” 

Here we finally get a glimpse at how the pieces all fall together, how Thiel’s two-pronged assault on American democracy can square the circle of its seeming contradictions. National conservatism may offer ‘populist’ energy, but authoritarian capitalism – and not respect for national traditions, public morality, or religious devotion – remains the ultimate goal. Indeed, in laying out the principles of the “deep right,” Yarvin explicitly acknowledges that his is not a populist movement of any sort, but rather an attempt by a disaffected elite to rule both over and through the unwashed masses:

Not only does the deep right have no position in the red-state/blue-state American culture war, its members are (like me) more likely to have a blue-state background. If we define the indigenous core right as the core right, the deep right has a Coriolanus30 Coriolanus was a Roman general who led an assault against the Volscians and then tried to become consul. Infighting among elites and his disdain for the plebians resulted in him being exiled from Rome and returning to lead the Volscians against the Romans.  vibe. We are (mostly) defecting from our own tribe to defend our hereditary enemies.

But we are not submitting to these Volscians. The purpose of the deep right is not to follow the core right, but to lead it. The pattern of history will not be altered – and in this pattern, the productive classes are always governed by unproductive aristocrats. Every true revolution is the replacement of an old aristocracy by a new one. Since the core right is the party of the productive classes, it is desperately in need of leadership.31 Curtis Yarvin, “Principles of the deep right.” Grey Mirror (April 23, 2022). Available at: https://graymirror.substack.com/p/principles-of-the-deep-right?s=r.

The pattern will not be altered: the masses require not a champion but a leader. What will survive from this clash of New Right forces will undoubtedly be the anti-democratic and authoritarian impulses coming from both parts of the movement. But Thiel’s ultimate destination still lies somewhere beyond Athens and Jerusalem.

In a 2022 interview with the Hoover Institute’s Peter Robinson, Thiel lamented the current state of San Francisco, surprisingly relating the city’s (and entire state of California’s) failed governance to the presence of the tech industry. But his analysis is not that of many leftists, who point to the practices of extraction, state capture, and abandonment to account for the social crises currently gripping many major cities. Thiel, rather, reached for the metaphor of the rentier state and its association with corrupt governance:

Peter Thiel: Well, if we say that tech is the oil of the 21st century, there is this strange juxtaposition where California has been, you know, it has these gusher-like companies that just generate, you know, enormous wealth, enormous profits, you know, a decent number of quite well-paying jobs, and then, they’re combined with this, you know, rather bad form of social political governance where you’d never do anything like this, and it’s that juxtaposition I was trying to make sense of. There’s like a San Francisco version of it where it’s, you know, on a per capita GDP it has to be one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and then, it’s completely–

Peter Robinson: It’s filthy.

Peter Thiel: –misgoverned, and somehow these things are, it’s not a paradox, but these things are actually deeply, deeply connected.32 For the full interview, see:“Peter Thiel: Leader of the Rebel Alliance,” an episode of Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson (Nov. 9, 2022). Available at: https://www.hoover.org/research/peter-thiel-leader-rebel-alliance

Indeed, state capture by the private sector, record low rates of corporate taxation, a deregulated housing market with inadequate supply and little social housing, the steady defunding of public services and continued erosion of the U.S.’s paltry social safety net – these will produce a city in crisis, Peter! If only there was a theoretical framework that could help us connect the dots.

But Thiel gamely refuses any sort of structural analysis, particularly of the sort that leads back to his class of techno-libertarian brethren and their political puppets. “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem it’s me.” The quandary is therefore not that the abundance created by the tech industry has been so unevenly distributed, but that it has been squandered by incompetent and overpaid civil servants worshiping at the altar of Woke. Power, in short, is cultural in Thiel’s world, much as it is in Yarvin’s notion of the cathedral – which is distinguished from the Gramscian idea of hegemony by eschewing any sort of material basis. Instead, ruling class ideas become dominant not because they ultimately serve the ends of capital – and who can doubt that is the case in the days of DEI seminars put on by McKinsey and Co. – but because they serve the ends of government expansion. Per Yarvin, “a dominant idea will be especially popular with your friends and former students in the civil service, because it gives them more work and more power.” The result is a diagnosis of power shorn from class position, one where underpaid teachers and freelance journalists are members of the elite and wealthy suburbanites the downtrodden. Capitalists like Yarvin’s own funders, living off the gains of massive portfolios, barely feature at all.

Ultimately, then, we arrive back at a crisis of governance. For Yarvin, a precipitous decline in government capacity is to be understood as an essential feature of democracy rather than the predictable outcome of undemocratic state capture by private actors. The only answer becomes absolutism of some sort: the CEO as sovereign, and a startup model that fuses state and economic power. More ambitiously, the goal is not to refashion the existing state structure along these lines but to explode it – to create new forms of sovereign entities where the freedom Thiel and his comrades desire might finally be realized. As he wrote in 2009:

I do not despair because I no longer believe that politics encompasses all possible futures of our world. In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms – from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called “social democracy.”

The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom.33 Peter Thiel, “The Education of a Libertarian.” Cato Unbound (2009).

According to Thiel, there were three frontiers where sovereign power might effectively be reconstituted outside the existing political system: cyber space, outer space, and seasteading. All offer the promise of life outside corrupt and atrophying state structures, bastions of hope for the narrow sort of freedom that concerns Thiel. Their enumeration in this context also helps underscore that private space exploration projects like SpaceX (Thiel was an early investor) are far less concerned with scientific discovery than with cultivating the kinds of societies where capital can – and will – roam free again.

In the meantime, Thiel cautions that we are locked in a deadly race between technology and politics. “Unlike the world of politics, in the world of technology the choices of individuals may still be paramount. The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.” Thiel may support the forces of Athens and Jerusalem in their attempt to undermine democracy, but he ultimately venerates the cults of neither – instead preferring capitalism as the manifestation of the divine presence here on earth. We have yet to dwell in a world safe for humans, and if Peter Thiel gets his way, you can be sure we never will. ~

Author

  • Suzanne Schneider

    Suzanne Schneider is a historian at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. Her books include Mandatory Separation: Religion, Education, and Mass Politics in Palestine and The Apocalypse and the End of History: Modern Jihad and the Crisis of Liberalism. She is currently a Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College, Oxford, working on a new book about risk and the taming of uncertainty.

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