Is Peter Thiel for real?

Take free speech and political correctness. In 2019, Thiel called political correctness “the greatest problem in our society” because, while politics is not necessarily paramount, “if you can’t even have debates about politics, then you’re not allowed to think about anything at all.” So far, so good. But Thiel seems to think of speech primarily as a means of expanding the range of acceptable discourse. This seems dubious as a sole criterion, rendering one susceptible to strange or even bad ideas that appear new or energetic (such as, perhaps, the alt-right). Thiel’s own remarks reveal the superficiality of this, when he says that insufficient free speech means we can’t say we like “the man with the strange hairdo” or “the mean grandmother.” Bold stuff. Meanwhile, Thiel’s statements don’t evince much care for, say, beleaguered Christian baker Jack Phillips, the target of repressive legal and political actions against his right to operate a business by his conscience. Free speech, as with so many other ideas, seems to Thiel merely a weapon.

So even though Peter Thiel has decided to align more with the Right than with the Left, the Right should not forsake all wariness of him. “Deconstructing the corrupt institutions that have falsely claimed to pursue” what our civilization needs may sound good, and it may even be necessary, to an extent. But when Thiel says this, it’s worth wondering for whom the deconstructing would be done. “I’ll pick on Google a little bit here, for reasons you might understand,” Thiel said, to audience laughter, at the 2019 National Conservatism conference, referring to what is now a business rival of his when calling for a federal investigation of possible Big Tech collusion with China. He made similar calls as recently as this past April. Whatever the merits of such a step (and they may be considerable), it is worth noting that, in 2019, Palantir, a software company that he co-founded and for which he currently serves as chairman, was flush with government contracts. It would become more so.

When Thiel and Thielists complain, on platforms built from Silicon Valley wealth, about elite depredation, one sees nothing so much as the familiar abuse of “populism” by status- and power-seeking would-be avatars of popular discontent, who would turn the purported vox populi into a license to aggrandize themselves and to do what they wanted to in the first place, conveniently — and, if they had their druthers, irrefutably — calling it all the people’s will.