The political spectrum of Silicon Valley is long and weird.
On one end, you have the Hillary Clinton-loving, do-gooder capitalist enthusiasts like Sheryl Sandberg and Marc Benioff. On the other, you have Peter Thiel, who once wrote that democracy and capitalism are not “compatible.”
Thiel is an openly gay evangelical Christian who has expressed affinity for hardcore libertarianism, as well as anti-democratic capitalism. He is also a delegate for Donald Trump (to the horror of much of Trump-hating Silicon Valley), and tonight he has a primetime speaking slot during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Thiel probably won’t talk about his ongoing efforts to sue Gawker Media into oblivion, or whether he thinks we should join the Thiel-funded seasteading movement to establish a floating capitalist utopia in the ocean.
The point is, Thiel believes in a lot of really weird things, though he almost surely won’t talk about them onstage tonight. But as a multibillionaire with a willingness to put his money where his right-wing ideology lies, he’s one of Silicon Valley’s most influential figures — even if Facebook, whose board he sits on, wants to pretend he isn’t.
For a more detailed look at Thiel, Recode Executive Editor Kara Swisher today published a story on how his politics depart from the Silicon Valley norm. Also, this 2011 New Yorker profile of him by George Packer and this new Bloomberg Businessweek piece are both pretty great.
Here’s a more straightforward rundown of a bunch of the kookier stuff Thiel is into:
- After graduating from Stanford, Thiel and a friend co-authored a book called “The Diversity Myth,” which was a right-wing look at the ways that perceived multicultural bias was “dumbing down” American institutions. In his New Yorker profile, George Packer wrote that the book now causes Thiel “mild embarrassment.” That’s probably because in the book, Thiel defended his friend and fellow PayPal co-founder Keith Rabois for yelling “Faggot!” at other Stanford students. (Like Thiel, Rabois later came out as gay.)
- Thiel gave $500,000 in 2008 to the Seasteading Institute, an organization that aims to set up libertarian capitalist utopias on free-standing ocean platforms. He has since kind of backed away from this idea, but not before freaking out Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at a private dinner.
- In 2009, Thiel published a now infamous essay on a website of the Cato Institute, in which he said “I no longer believe that [economic] freedom and democracy are compatible.” In the essay, Thiel presents three technological opportunities to “escape” civil society: Seasteading, outer space exploration and “cyberspace.”
- Also in 2009, Thiel wrote that giving women the right to vote had grave consequences for capitalist democracy: “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.”
- Unlike many other far-right libertarians, Thiel has a quirky take on competition and economic value. He wrote a 2014 essay for the Wall Street Journal called “Competition Is for Losers.” His argument? “Actually, capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition, all profits get competed away.”
- Peter Thiel wants to live forever, and he is obsessed with life extension technology. From an interview last year with the Washington Post: “I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing. ... I prefer to fight it.”
- And, of course, there’s Thiel’s efforts to sue Gawker Media out of existence. Though he says he has great respect for journalism, Thiel has been secretly financing a $10 million effort to destroy the company through litigation — meritless or otherwise. After Forbes revealed Thiel’s stealth campaign, Thiel told the New York Times that the effort is “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done. I think of it in those terms.”
Opinions on Peter Thiel at Code Conference in June
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.