Peter Thiel, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, was born in Germany in 1967. He cofounded PayPal (which was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion only one year after PayPal went public), he was an angel investor in Facebook, and he now sits on that extremely successful company’s board of directors. These are only a few of his spectacular achievements.
In a 2009 piece for Cato Unbound, Thiel writes,
I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. […] Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.
Yes, my friends, Peter Thiel is the new libertarian elite.
A member of the libertarian elite — unlike any of the fake elites granted illegitimate power through the state — is an individual who is naturally accepted by communities as a role model. These libertarian elites aren’t given the authority to aggress against innocent people; they’re valued symbols of a greater human expectation, to whom the world looks for advice, management, and anything else. Cautious not to trip into the standard stereotype, we can easily say that libertarian elites are the Howard Roarks of our real world.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe expanded on the concept of natural elites and what these people mean to the future of the liberty movement:
True intellectuals, like Mises and Rothbard, can not do what they need to do without the natural elites. Despite all obstacles, it was possible for Mises and Rothbard to make themselves heard. They were not condemned to silence. They still taught and published. They still addressed audiences and inspired people with their insights and ideas. This would not have been possible without the support of others. Mises had Lawrence Fertig and the William Volker Fund, which paid his salary at NYU, and Rothbard had The Ludwig von Mises Institute, which supported him, helped publish and promote his books, and provided the institutional framework that allowed him to say and write what needed to be said and written, and that can no longer be said and written inside academia and the official, statist establishment media.…
The more successful [the natural elite] are as businessmen and professionals, and the more others recognize them as successful, the more important it is that they set an example: that they strive to live up to the highest standards of ethical conduct. This means accepting as their duty, indeed as their noble duty, to support openly, proudly, and as generously as they possibly can the values that they have recognized as right and true.
They receive in return intellectual inspiration, nourishment, and strength, as well as the knowledge that their name will live forever as outstanding individuals who rose above the masses and made a lasting contribution to mankind.
Thiel’s support of libertarianism has been truly consistent since the very beginning, and it’s getting more potent each year. His entrepreneurial ventures are wonderfully sprinkled with tones of anarchist thinking. The idea of PayPal was first conceived over a friendly meal at a Hobee’s Restaurant in Silicon Valley. In the words of Fortune senior editor Jeffrey O’Brien,
Thiel figured a web-based currency would undermine government tax structures.… The PayPal-ers who didn’t possess Thiel’s anti-establishment streak as new hires had it by the time they left. The PayPal culture wasn’t just anti-government. It was anti-mainstream thought.
Underground, taxation-proof currency is certainly an interesting idea, highly reminiscent of the ideas of individuals in the 19th century who created new forms of currency to compete against central banking.
Thiel’s recent business initiatives have not received the attention they deserve. Little noise was made about his $500,000 pledge to the Seasteading Institute in 2008. Approximately two years later, Thiel offered another $100,000 in matching donations and $250,000 as a grant, and still not too much was said about his generous investments.
Artist’s rendition of an autonomous seasteading community
Two months ago, Thiel gave another huge investment, $1.25 million, to the Seasteading Institute for their new operations. By using the complex set of engineering techniques developed for modern oil-rig structures, the Seasteading Institute, under the direction of Patri Friedman, hopes to create ocean platforms on which human beings can one day live. The individuals on these “mini-islands” can live free of the economic and social constraints of government, offering a unique, unprecedented alternative to the current state of affairs.
Amazing grassroots organizations have sprung up around the country to answer specific libertarian conflicts with the state (CopBlock) and unite voluntaryists in a positive, free-market environment (PorcFest). Seasteading goes beyond all these toward total secession.
Thiel’s approach to philanthropy is trusting, hands-off, and emphasizes the intuition of individuals. In early May 2011, Thiel announced the 24 teenaged winners of his new Under 20 Thiel Fellowship. This program doesn’t encourage them to attend top-ranking universities or excel in the classroom. It encourages them to do exactly the opposite.
The winners will skip the regular university pattern in order to open their own companies, whose business plans include innovations in liquid-chromatography machinery, inexpensive solar energy, and even extraterrestrial resource extraction. The libertarian opposition to public education — especially compulsory schooling — is nearly unanimous: Walter Block and John Taylor Gatto have made strong theoretical cases in promotion of homeschooling, private universities, and hands-on experience, so Thiel’s new scholarship should really come as no surprise. It will turn this theory into practice for students who haven’t yet acquired the capital necessary to take the risk of starting a new business.
It is my extraordinary hope that Peter Thiel’s newest ventures will create a fresh generation of libertarian businessmen keen on changing the world for the better through sensible and voluntary investments in the free economy.