Thiel's Apocalyptic Death Cult

What I assume the cover of The Sovereign Individual looks like.
Or maybe this.
"Less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future":

Thiel is in one sense a caricature of outsized villainy: he was the only major Silicon Valley figure to put his weight behind the Trump presidential campaign; he vengefully bankrupted a website because he didn't like how they wrote about him; he is known for his public musings about the incompatibility of freedom and democracy, and for expressing interest -- as though enthusiastically pursuing the clunkiest possible metaphor for capitalism at its most vampiric -- in a therapy involving transfusions of blood from young people as a potential means of reversing the ageing process. But in another, deeper sense, he is pure symbol: less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future, a human emblem of the moral vortex at the centre of the market. [...]

If I wanted to understand the extreme ideology that underpinned Thiel's attraction to New Zealand, he insisted, I needed to understand an obscure libertarian manifesto called The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State. It was published in 1997, and in recent years something of a minor cult has grown up around it in the tech world, largely as a result of Thiel's citing it as the book he is most influenced by. (Other prominent boosters include Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Balaji Srinivasan, the entrepreneur best known for advocating Silicon Valley's complete secession from the US to form its own corporate city-state.) [...]

Reluctant to enrich Davidson or the Rees-Mogg estate any further, I bought a used edition online, the musty pages of which were here and there smeared with the desiccated snot of whatever nose-picking libertarian preceded me. [...]

The book's 400-odd pages of near-hysterical orotundity can roughly be broken down into the following sequence of propositions:

1) The democratic nation-state basically operates like a criminal cartel, forcing honest citizens to surrender large portions of their wealth to pay for stuff like roads and hospitals and schools.

2) The rise of the internet, and the advent of cryptocurrencies, will make it impossible for governments to intervene in private transactions and to tax incomes, thereby liberating individuals from the political protection racket of democracy.

3) The state will consequently become obsolete as a political entity.

4) Out of this wreckage will emerge a new global dispensation, in which a "cognitive elite" will rise to power and influence, as a class of sovereign individuals "commanding vastly greater resources" who will no longer be subject to the power of nation-states and will redesign governments to suit their ends.

The Sovereign Individual is, in the most literal of senses, an apocalyptic text. Davidson and Rees-Mogg present an explicitly millenarian vision of the near future: the collapse of old orders, the rising of a new world. Liberal democracies will die out, and be replaced by loose confederations of corporate city-states. Western civilisation in its current form, they insist, will end with the millennium. "The new Sovereign Individual," they write, "will operate like the gods of myth in the same physical environment as the ordinary, subject citizen, but in a separate realm politically." It's impossible to overstate the darkness and extremity of the book's predictions of capitalism's future; to read it is to be continually reminded that the dystopia of your darkest insomniac imaginings is almost always someone else's dream of a new utopian dawn.

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18 Responses:

  1. Other Jamie says:

    I just wish dude would go buy a volcanic lair and go Galt already.

    Please, deprive us of your amazing capitalist skillz. We’ll to tell you when we’ve had enough. Promise.

  2. Rich says:

    "The new Sovereign Individual" and "will" – almost as if the writer hadn't heard of the Olympic Family; in effect, a stateless Monarchy.

  3. NT says:

    Shit-stirring digital rag Gawker outed Thiel as gay, and this opinion writer summarizes it as "he vengefully bankrupted a website because he didn't like how they wrote about him". I doubt the book summary is any more accurate than that. It has been apparent for a while that the billionaires are kind of surprised by the docility of the american public and are not going to count on it continuing. Around the time of Occupy, then-mayor Bloomberg was saying that riots were just around the corner if economic conditions didn't improve (they did).

    But no, the modern progressive is more interested in snark than in trying to figure out what the valley's apex predators might be planning for. Ha ha stupid billionaires we are so superior to them!

    But I digress! We are here to make fun of the evillest celebrity billionaire of them all. If you want to watch some quality Thiel-baiting from the old days, there's a debate between him and Eric Schmidt on youtube that is hilarious. Schmidt seemed to start with good intentions but eventually he's just needling Thiel and he's this kind of roly-poly rumpled pedantic nerd and Thiel is exuding frustrated strength like a caged tiger being taunted by kids at the zoo. You can see him thinking that he could be across the stage in a fraction of a second and Schmidt's flabby neck would be dangling at an odd angle before anyone could intervene. And Schmidt just relaxes further into his chair and folds his hands over his belly and kind of giggles. Thiel's forehead looking like something out of Scanners.

    • Web Guy says:

      Two guys talking over each other to strongly disagree on whether technology, globalization, and deregulation are the answers to all of our problems, or just some of them. Sounded more like a circle-jerk with dirty-talk than a debate:

      For the shit-stirring, is there anyone here who's had enough in-person interaction with Thiel to vouch for the scandal points guardian/vanityfair/gawker/etc. put out there (needless transfusions, cognitive elite apocalypse manuals, etc)? Have to wonder just how much of this is legit, and how much is vengeance for toppling gawker...

      • MattyJ says:

        Not too many people are lamenting the loss of Gawker. However, taking the broad view, this was in independent media outlet that was closed down by a petulant billionaire because, well, that's just what he wanted to do. I would never agree that this was a good precedent, regardless of what I thought of Gawker or currently think of Thiel.

        • NT says:

          That would indeed be a bad precedent. But taking the broad view omits a bunch of inconvenient facts that you can find in the Wikipedia article on Gawker. Seriously, read it. They destroyed themselves. Would you have preferred a precedent in which publishing private sex tapes was protected because "the accompanying commentary had news value"?
          Compare the Wikipedia section to this opinion piece's "he vengefully bankrupted a website because he didn't like how they wrote about him". But they're just getting warmed up...

          In another, deeper sense, he is pure symbol: less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future, a human emblem of the moral vortex at the centre of the market.

          Cmon, he's a human being, not a Game of Thrones character. He's very smart very successful absurdly rich and (one presumes) more than a little fucked up. He's one of the more indiscreet tech billionaires, which I think makes him worth watching.
          He is not a "pure symbol" or a free-form mixed metaphor of progressive rage-click stimuli. He is a potential ally on some issues, just as he is going to be an eternal foe on others. What exactly is gained by painting him as the prince of darkness? Does reading this kind of stuff make you smarter or dumber? Does it feel good when you click it?

          Venting has its place but It's really hard for me to believe that this kind of corrosive drivel can lead to anything good.

          • MattyJ says:

            A cartoony nut certainly deserves a fun op-ed. I have no problem likening Triel to other, similar fictional characters.

            Add opportunist to his list of traits as he piggybacked, secretly, on the Hulk Hogan issue to impress his will on Gawker. What Gawker did was illegal and well past a line of common morality and sense, but let’s not keep pretending that what Thiel did wasn’t dangerous.

            Imagine if someone like him befriended Nixon. It’s not like there are any parallels in current times to draw here, right?

            The double-big picture is that we have an angry billionaire imposing himself into what should be a government function, with thoughts of spawning his own exclusive, rich guy utopia of free market economics, or at least his vision of that. If this isn’t Dark Lord stuff I don’t know what is.

      • Random Nihilist says:

        They missed out that he thinks monopolies are a great idea.

    • Margaret says:

      Maybe in the top twenty evil domestic billionaires but certainly not number one.

  4. MattyJ says:

    The big unanswered question is whether or not the new nation-state's flag will have gold fringe on it.

  5. Penguin Pete says:

    An even bigger unanswered question is how a book published in 1997 knew about cryptocurrency.

    • k3ninho says:

      The thing ghostwritten for Bill Gates, called The Road Ahead, had micropayments in encrypted transactions and talked of decentralised (i.e. non-government-bank) payment organisations. In 1995.

      It's not the 'how' of a distributed transaction database, but it is the 'what' of moving value transactions out of the scope of a government, to a different organisation you'd trust keep the transactions safe and the value tokens reusable, and to whom you'd pay a fee for those features.


    • David Chaum's paper is from 1982, company founded in 1989.

  6. ennui says:

    Surrounded by the dried-out husks of his blood-boys, Thiel croaks his last words, which no one can understand: "Rees Mogg".

  7. Ronald Pottol says:

    I read that when it came out (I'm better now), and even then, I wouldn't have said it was a great book. Interesting, sure. Just how much cocaine (meth?) was he doing then?

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