Gregory Bateson’s protégée Stewart Brand became one of the earliest “digerati” of the 1980s, having adopted Norbert Wiener’s idea that machines extended human potential. And it was Brand and his Whole Earth Catalog which managed to recruit the tech savvy among his fellow denizens of the 60s counterculture to interpret the rise of the personal computer and the Internet as tools of personal liberation from tyranny. Although these aspirations sound left-leaning, they were embedded in a libertarian strain that served to align the technology industry with neoliberal principles. Aligned with the pranksterism of Discordianism, and the teachings of Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin, the trend fueled the emerging hacker culture. The result is a disturbing political trend that swept Silicon Valley, which evolved into transhumanism and technolibertarianism.
Technolibertarianism, sometimes referred to as cyberlibertarianism, hailed the new “cybernetic frontier” that could be fortified against government intrusion through robust forms of encryption. The term Technolibertarianism was popularized in critical discourse by technology writer Paulina Borsook, author of Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech. It represents what English media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron as “The Californian Ideology” in a 1995 essay. According to Fred Turner, sociologist Thomas Streeter of the University of Vermont, in From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, notes that the Californian Ideology appeared as part of a pattern of Romantic individualism with Stewart Brand as a key influence. Turner describes their aspirations as follows:
“…they would tear down hierarchies, undermine the sorts of corporations and governments that had spawned them, and, in the hierarchies’ place, create a peer-to-peer, collaborative society, interlinked by invisible currents of energy and information.”
The development of the California Ideology was shaped by the presence of the Koch brothers in California, who had moved the CATO Institute from Wichita to San Francisco, alongside a handful of other Koch-funded libertarian organizations. In Menlo Park was Charles Koch’s flagship libertarian think-tank the Institute for Humane Studies, which he had taken control of in the 1960s. Reason magazine and the Reason Foundation, with David Koch as director, were headquartered in Santa Barbara. In 1979 the Libertarian Party, with funds from the Koch brothers, held its convention in Los Angeles, where the Koch-backed political party chose David Koch as its vice-presidential nominee for the 1980 race. SIL News reported that the earliest group of Libertarian Party activists consisted of 75 percent former Republicans, 36 percent Objectivists and 16 percent who embraced OTO member Robert Heinlein, 23 percent followers of Ludwig von Mises, and 17 percent anarchists.
During the 1990s, members of the entrepreneurial class of Silicon Valley combined the ideas of Marshall McLuhan with elements of radical individualism, libertarianism, and neoliberal economics, and used publications like Wired to promulgate their ideas. This ideology mixed New Left and New Right beliefs together based on their shared interest in anti-statism, the counterculture of the 1960s, and techno-utopianism. Wired was founded by Louis Rossetto, a “radical libertarian” also influenced by Ayn Rand, Marshall McLuhan and Teilhard de Chardin. Rossetto, was inspired the Koch brothers’ Reason magazine when he was a student at Columbia in the early 1970s. Rossetto and Stan Lehr, both young student radicals from Columbia University, associated with the Radical Libertarian Alliance journal the Abolitionist, wrote a cover story in January 1971 on the burgeoning libertarian movement for the New York Times Sunday magazine, with themselves photographed on the cover, called “The New Right Credo: Libertarianism.” “The movement is made!” Rothbard celebrated.
Former IONS director Howard Rheingold recounts stories about the WELL, an early virtual community, in the mid to late 1980s inspired by Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue.
Formerly known as Wired News or HotWired, the strongest influence on the Wired magazine’s editorial outlook came from the techno-utopianism of co-founder Stewart Brand and his long-time associate Kevin Kelly. Stewart Brand had hired Kelly in 1983 to edit later editions of the Whole Earth Catalog, the Whole Earth Review and Signal. With Brand, Kelly helped found the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) in 1985, one of the oldest virtual communities in continuous operation. An early and very active member was Howard Rheingold, a former director of IONS who worked at Xerox PARC, and a founding executive editor of HotWired. Rheingold co-authored Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insight with Willis Harman. According to Rheingold’s book, the WELL’s Usenet feed was for years provided by Apple.
Adam Curtis connects the origins of the Californian Ideology to the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Technolibertarianism is also known as extropianism, which was founded by Max More, who according to R.U. Sirius also coined the term transhumanism. According to Mark Dery in Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Twentieth Century, “As theorized in Extropy, Extropian transhumanism is a marriage of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche—specifically, Rand’s conviction that statism and collectivism are the roots of all evil and Nietzsche’s complementary concepts of the end of morality, the ‘will to power,’ and the Übermensch, or ‘overman’.” More’s libertarianism is founded on his Luciferianism, as articulated in an article he wrote, “In Praise of the Devil”: “Lucifer perseveres in trying to point out to us that we have no reason to accept altruism. It is only freedom from the false-virtue of altruism that we gain freedom from God and ‘the State.’”
Turn On, Boot Up, Jack In
The Californian Ideology, according to Barbrook and Cameron, “is a mix of cybernetics, free market economics, and counter-culture libertarianism and is promulgated by magazines such as Wired and Mondo 2000 and preached in the books of Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly and others.” In the 1980s, Timothy Leary reemerged as a spokesperson of the “cyberdelic” counterculture, whose adherents called themselves “cyberpunks,” whose adherents were pioneers in the IT industry of Silicon Valley and the West Coast of the United States. In the 1980s and 1990s, many young people became interested in Leary’s Eight-Circuit Model of consciousness, because they felt that by reconciling spirituality with science and technology, it helped them to define the new techno-generation they were part of. In contrast to the hippies of the 1960s who were decidedly anti-science and anti-technology, the cyberpunks of the 1980s and 1990s enthusiastically embraced technology and the hacker ethic. As Leary proclaimed, rebranding his popular commandment, “PC is the LSD of the 1990s” and admonished bohemians to “turn on, boot up, jack in.”
In the 1960s, Leary himself had very much been against computers. However, Leary’s attitude towards computers completely changed. As early as 1973, Leary was predicting that some day the world would be linked through an “electronic nervous system” (the Internet) and that computers could be used to empower the individual. In the early 1980s, Leary came to believe that psychedelic drugs and computers actually have very much in common, and “are simply two ways in which individuals have learned to take the power back from the state.” Leary argued that both psychedelics and computers can help us to liberate ourselves from authority and “create our own realities.” In Chaos & Cyberculture, his last published work before his death, Leary also presents a theory on the evolution of countercultures from the 1950s to the 1990s, and defines the new counterculture called the “cyberpunks,” or “new breed.” Leary explained that in order to understand what the word “cyberpunk,” or “cyber-person” really means we have to go back to the Greek roots of the term “cybernetics.” Leary claimed that the parallels between the alchemists of the Middle Ages and the cyberpunk computer adepts are numerous:
Alchemists of the Middle Ages described the construction of magical appliances for viewing future events, or speaking to friends distant or dead. Paracelsus described the construction of a mirror of electrum magicum with such properties […]
Today, modern alchemists have at their command tools of clarity and power unimagined by their predecessors. Computer screens are magical mirrors, presenting alternate realities at varying degrees of abstraction on command (invocation). Nineteenth-century occult legend Aleister Crowley defines magick – with a k [Crowley’s spelling] – as “the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity to our will.” To this end, the computer is the latter-day lever of Archimedes with which we can move the world.
According to Leary, the revolution of individualism and freedom started by the hippies in the 60s was continued in the 80s, by young people using cybernetic technology to undermine authoritarian social structures and create their own digital realities. In Chaos & Cyberculture, Leary predicts that psychedelic drugs and computers will help this movement to create a post-political “cyber-society” that is based on individual freedom and “Ecstasy,” defined by Leary as “the experience of attaining freedom of limitations, self imposed or external.” Electronic technology would enable us to free ourselves from dogmatic social structures and create our own cyber-realities (cyberspace). Speaking of computer technology, in reference to McLuhan’s famous phrase, Leary explains that, “The medium is the message of cultural evolution.” According to Leary, a cyberpunk is “a resourceful, skillful individual who accesses and steers knowledge communication technology toward his/her own private goals, for personal pleasure, profit, principle, or growth” Leary created the cyberpunk code “Think for yourself; question authority.”
Rheingold, along with Timothy Leary, Albert Hoffmann, Terence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson were often featured in the first cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000 which, along with the print version of Boing Boing, with which it shared several writers, including Mark Frauenfelder, Richard Kadrey, Gareth Branwyn, and Jon Lebkowsky, helped develop what was to become the cyberpunk subculture. According to Jon Lebkowsky, a contributing editor of the online magazine Hot Wired, the evolution of the cyberpunk subculture within the vibrant digital culture of today was mediated by two important events: One was the opening of the Internet. The other was the appearance of Mondo 2000, published in California during the 80s and 90s.
Mondo 2000’s editors were R.U. Sirius and Rudy Rucker, the great-great-great-grandson of Hegel, and also a member of the Church of the Subgenus. The author of both fiction and non-fiction, Rucker is best known for the novels in the Ware Tetralogy, the first two of which (Software and Wetware) won Philip K. Dick Awards. R.U. Sirius (born Ken Goffman) became the most prominent promoter of the cyberpunk ideology. R.U. Sirius has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Rolling Stone, Time, Esquire and served as a contributing writer for Artforum International, and has been a regular columnist for Wired.
According to Leary, Mondo 2000, which was subtitled A Space Age Newspaper of Psychedelics, Science, Human Potential, Irreverence and Modern Art, became “a beautiful merger of the psychedelic, the cybernetic, the cultural, the literary and the artistic.” Mondo 2000 was first called High Frontiers, and then evolved into Reality Hackers in 1998, created by Sirius and hacker Jude Milhon, to better reflect its drugs and computers theme. Milhon, who is also known by her pseudonym St. Jude, and coined the term “cyberpunk,” was a member of a “lefto-revolutionist programming commune” in Berkeley that created the legendary Community Memory project, the first public online computer system. Reality Hackers eventually evolved into Mondo 2000, and the focus of the magazine shifted from the coverage of psychedelics to cyberculture.
Leary, one of the contributing editors of the magazine, along with Global village prophet McLuhan and science fiction writer William Gibson, is portrayed as one of the most important pioneers of cyberspace. Many of Leary’s essays about the cyberpunks and the subversive potential of computers (the most important of which can be found in Chaos & Cyberculture) were first published in Mondo 2000. R.U. Sirius has taught an online course in Leary’s philosophy for the Maybe Logic Academy. He co-authored Leary’s last book, Design for Dying (1998), and wrote the introduction for a 1998 edition of Leary’s 1968 book The Politics of Ecstasy. In Design for Dying, Sirius argues that most of Leary’s predictions in his Eight Circuit model about future technological and cultural developments have come true.
As Mark Dery notes in Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century, Mondo 2000 had “one foot in the Aquarian age and the other in a Brave New World.” Featured in the magazine were the recurring themes of transhumanism, such as smart drugs, virtual reality, cyberpunk, interactive media, aphrodisiacs, artificial life, nanotechnology, brain implants, life extension, as well as designer aphrodisiacs, psychedelics, techno-erotic paganism, etc. Mondo 2000 encompassed a considerable range of subcultures, among them computer hackers, ravers, and New Age technophiles, and technopaganism, a subculture that combines neopaganism, including faiths such as Wicca and Neo-druidry with digital technology. In Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge, in an obvious allusion to Freemasonry, Rucker referred to their efforts as “The Great Work,” which in Freemasonry is equated with rebuilding the Temple of Solomon. Rucker goes so far as to compare their work to the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages, who according to Masonic lore were the Templars.
Also contributing to Mondo 2000 was Hakim Bey, founder of the Moorish Orthodox Church of America. Bey, along with Robert Anton Wilson and Rudy Rucker, also edited Semiotext(e) SF, a science fiction anthology released in 1989, which featured the writings of William S. Burroughs, Kerry Thornley, and authors who defined the cyberpunk genre such as William Gibson. Semiotext(e) SF was named as a science fiction version of Semiotext(e), the journal founded by Sylvère Lotringer. Semiotext(e) also published a translation of The Coming Insurrection, a French political tract that hypothesizes the “imminent collapse of capitalist culture.” The Coming Insurrection was mentioned in the New York Times, and also in the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters in relation to the case of the Tarnac 9. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Moore mentioned the book as being the most recent one he had read. Glenn Beck, host of The Glenn Beck Program, has at various times referred to the book as “crazy” and “evil.” Beck has also urged his viewers to order the book online themselves, so as to better understand what he claimed were the thoughts of leftist radicals.
Discordian pranksterism thrived in IRC chat rooms, EFnet, and the 1990s hacker scene. Kembrew McLeod notes that Discordianism’s “irreverence had a certain appeal for the nascent hacker movement of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as other budding copyfighters,” and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! “appealed to those who actively resisted systems—social, technological, legal—that imposed restrictions on the way we can play with, remix, or ‘hack’, computer code, culture, and even so-called reality.” Wilson, Illuminatus!, Eris and Discordianism all receive prominent entries in the New Hacker’s Dictionary, originally an online glossary of hacker’s slang, and Wilson was regarded as somewhat of a “hero” to hackers. Often used in computer subcultures is the word “Fnord,” which was coined in 1965 by Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill in the Principia Discordia and popularized following its use in The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It is used in newsgroup and hacker culture to indicate that someone is being ironic, humorous or surreal.
R.U. Sirius was chairman and candidate in the 2000 US presidential election for the Revolution Party, whose 20-point platform was a hybrid of libertarianism and liberalism. Leary was also a libertarian and supported the candidacy of Ron Paul for president in 1988 as leader of the Libertarian Party. A floppy disk was sent out as an invitation to a Ron Paul fundraiser hosted by Timothy Leary which contained software credited by the Libertech Project for those who “like the idea of techno-thwarting government abuse” and was “distributed free to Libertarians, Objectivists, Discordians, Cyberpunks, Survivalists, Soldiers of Fortune, Hackers, Entropists, Deltaphiles and similar types…” The disk contained DOS programs generating fractal graphics and a copy of the paper, “From Crossbows to Cryptography: Thwarting the State via Technology” by Discordian and libertarian activist Chuck Hammill, given at the Future of Freedom Conference in November 1987, who concluded, “Consider that, for a fraction of the investment in time, money and effort I might expend in trying to convince the state to abolish wiretapping and all forms of censorship — I can teach every libertarian who’s interested how to use cryptography to abolish them unilaterally.”
Hammill’s article was the first post on a mailing list started in 1992 by Tm May, John Gilmore and Eric Hugues, list for radical libertarians who called themselves cypherpunks. Gilmore was a member of the WELL, and one of the founders of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As the fifth employee of Sun Microsystems and founder of Cygnus Support, Gilmore became wealthy enough to retire early and pursue other interests. Tim May argued that, “Politics has never given anyone lasting freedom, and it never will,” and proposed that new software was needed that could help people evade government surveillance. The cyberpunks hoped and believed their endeavors would eventually bring about an economic, political and social revolution. The first mass media discussion of cypherpunks was in “Crypto Rebels” by Steven Levy, in a 1993 issue of Wired, which featured May, Hughes and Gilmore masked on the cover.
In 1994, May published Cyphernomicon, intended to be similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, his manifesto of the cypherpunk world view, on the list. In it, May explained that “many of use are explicitly antidemocratic and hope to use encryption to undermine the co-called democratic governments of the world.” The document outlined some ideas behind, and the effects of, crypto-anarchism, and advocated anonymous digital currency and electronic privacy, and touching on more esoteric topics, such as assassination markets.
The cypherpunks on the list were advised to read cult science-fiction novels like The Shockwave Rider and Vernor Vinge’s transhumanist True Names Names, which is widely considered to be the visionary work behind the internet revolution, David Chaum’s paper “Security without identification: Transaction Systems to Make Big Brother Obsolete” and Atlas Shrugged. The list also included Julian Assange, who would later found WikiLeaks, who shared the list’s libertarian principles. In the introduction to Cypherpunks, Assange remarked: “the Internet, our greatest tool for emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen.” Assange launched WikiLeaks in 2006, to put his libertarian ideas into practice.
When he was a child, Assange’s mother was briefly married to a man who belonged to a powerful Australian New Age cult called the Family, influenced by H.P Blavatsky. The group, which was also known as the Great White Brotherhood, was formed in the mid-1960s under the leadership of yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne. Among her followers was Dr. Raynor Johnson, who was Master of Queen’s College at Melbourne University, and connected with the Society for Psychical Research in London. They revered her as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and a living god. Under the influence of LSD, Hamilton-Byrne claimed she had a vision to collect children and raise them as her family to protect them from the coming global apocalypse. The family, who represented a “master race” would then educate the world after Armageddon.
A number of members were doctors who persuaded mothers to give up their newborn children to her. It emerged that over the years Hamilton-Byrne had collected 28 children. The children’s identities were changed using false birth certificates, all given the surname “Hamilton-Byrne” and dressed alike even to the extent of their hair being dyed uniformly blonde. The children were dosed with LSD and subjected to cruel punishments and food deprivation. Assange’s step-father had been “a sinister presence” who sought to have “a certain psychological power” over his family, Assange said. When the man became abusive, Julian and his mother escaped. Though Assange suspected the cult had moles in the government who provided the ex-husband leads on their whereabouts.
All former participants of the WELL, John Gilmore, Mitch Kapor and John Perry Barlow, a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead, founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international non-profit digital rights group in 1990. Kapor, who studied cybernetics at Yale, is widely known as founder of Lotus Development Corporation and the designer of Lotus 1-2-3, the “killer application” which made the personal computer ubiquitous in the business world in the 1980s. EFF was originally founded over their concerns about FBI suspicion of hacker activity, which they feared represented breaches of the Constitution. Barlow’s involvement in the EFF was shaped by his libertarian ideas, which were referenced in Cato Institute publications. Nevertheless, despite their purported advocacy for limitations to government intrusion, both Barlow and Kapor did work for the CIA. Using covert Masonic terminology, Barlow wrote of their activities, “Sometimes it seems as if all of humanity is engaged in a Great Work… which I imagine to be the hard-wiring of human consciousness.”
Mitch Kapor was involved with the Shuttleworth Foundation, which along with the Open Society Institute, was involved in the promotion of the Open Source Movement. Open Society Foundations (OSF), formerly the Open Society Institute, was founded in 1993 by business magnate George Soros, to financially support civil society groups around the world, with a stated aim of advancing justice, education, public health and independent media. Soros attended the London School of Economics, where his mentor became Karl Popper, a friend of Friedrich Hayek. Popper wrote The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), developing on the “open society” concept first conceived by Henri Bergson. As described by Nicolas Guilhot, a senior research associate of CNRS, “This ‘Austrian legacy’ is arguably a fundamental aspect of Soros’ intellectual formation and of the philanthropic ideology that he would later develop.
In 1984, Soros had signed a contract between the Soros Foundation (New York) and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the founding document of the Soros Foundation Budapest. In 1991 the foundation merged with the Fondation pour une Entraide Intellectuelle Européenne (FEIE), created in 1966 to cultivate “non-conformist” Eastern European scientists with anti-totalitarian and capitalist leanings. The FEIE was an affiliate of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), which as Francis Stonor Saunders has demonstrated in Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, was a CIA front funded through the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations serving as conduits, to promote left-wing intellectuals to counter Soviet influence in Europe.
It was renowned hacker and anarchist Richard Stallman who clarified the meaning of “free” software in the sense not of “free beer” but free as in “free speech” (Stallman, n.d.). Stallman is credited with founding the free software movement, drawing on anti-establishment traditions of the 1970s hacker culture and academia, which inspired the rise of technolibertarianism (Rand, n.d.). In 1983, Stallman launched the GNU Project, a free-software, mass-collaboration project. Stallman later established the Free Software Foundation in 1985 to support the movement. In 1991, Linus Torvalds used the GNU’s development tools to produce the free monolithic Linux kernel.
In 1997, Eric S. Raymond published the influential The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which analyzed the hacker community and the principles of free software. Raymond and others looked for a way to rebrand the free software movement to emphasize the business potential of sharing and collaborating on software source code. The new term they chose was “open source”, which was soon adopted by Bruce Perens, publisher Tim O’Reilly, Linus Torvalds, and others. In 1996 and 1997, while still working at Pixar, Perens served as Debian Project Leader, coordinating development of the Debian open source operating system. He replaced Debian’s creator Ian Murdock. As one of the earliest operating systems based on the Linux kernel, it was decided that Debian was to be developed openly and freely distributed in the spirit of the GNU Project.
In 1998, Perens and Raymond established the Open Source Initiative, and published the Open Source Definition to encourage use of the new term and evangelize open source principles (Fogel, 2016, p. 233). Perens modified the Debian Free Software Guidelines into the Open Source Definition by removing Debian references and replacing them with “Open Source”. The definition is recognized by governments internationally, and by many of the world’s largest open source software projects, including Drupal, Linux, Mozilla, Wikimedia, WordPress.
The open educational resources (OER) movement originated from developments in open and distance learning (ODL) and in the wider context of a culture of open knowledge, open source, free sharing and peer collaboration. A connection was first established in 1998 by David Wiley, who coined the term open content and introduced the concept by analogy with open source.
However, as remarked in 2007 by Guilhot, despite their reputations as supporters of liberal causes, the Open Society Foundations serve to perpetuate institutions that reinforce the existing social order, as the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation have done before them, reinforcing the cause of capitalism and global institutions. A seminal event in the history of open education was a meeting convened in Cape Town on September 2007, by the Open Society Institute and the Shuttleworth Foundation. The event produced a manifesto titled The Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which urged governments, educators and publishers to “commit to the pursuit and promotion of open education.”
The Shuttleworth Foundation, the other supporter of the Cape Town conference, was established in January 2001 by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth as an experiment with the purpose of providing funding for people engaged in social change. Shuttleworth is the founder and CEO of Canonical Ltd., the company behind the development of the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system. Notable past and present fellows include Marcin Jakubowski (who develops the Open Source Ecology project), Rufus Pollock (co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation) and Mark Surman (now Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation). Mitch Kapor was the president and chair of the Open Source Applications Foundation, and in 2003, he had become the founding chair of the Mozilla Foundation, creator of the open source web browser Firefox. In 2005, Rufus Pollock, by referring to the Open Source Definition, created the Open Definition, a document published by the Open Knowledge Foundation (now Open Knowledge International (OKI)), which provided the first formal definition of open content and open data, and which has remained the standard reference definition.
A notorious exponent of technolibertarianism is Trump backer Peter Thiel, who together with Elon Musk is the most influential member of the “PayPal mafia,” as well as founder of the CIA-backed Palantir, the first investor of Facebook, and who is listed as a Steering Committee member of the infamous Bilderberg Group. Revealing the source of his grandiose ambition, Peter Thiel admitted, “The fate of our world may depend on the effort a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.” As Youssef El-Gingihy remarked in “How Silicon Valley, spooks and the super rich took control of the 21st century” in the Independent, “It appears that Thiel conceives of himself as this John Galt-type heroic figure lifted straight out of the pages of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.”
While in university, Thiel co-founded The Stanford Review, a conservative and libertarian newspaper, in 1987 with funding from the father of the neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol, who had operated Commentary magazine as a CIA front. After graduating from Stanford Law School, Thiel clerked for Judge James Larry Edmondson of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. He then worked as a securities lawyer in New York for Sullivan & Cromwell, whose origins is linked to the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem (SOSJ), and was where Allen Dulles began his career. In 1993, he then took a job as a derivatives trader in currency options at Credit Suisse, while also working as a speechwriter for former United States Secretary of Education William Bennett. In 1981, President Reagan nominated Mel Bradford to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), but due to Bradford’s pro-Confederate views, Bennett was appointed in his place, leading to the divide between the paleoconservatives, who backed Bradford, and neoconservatives, led by Irving Kristol, who supported Bennett.
While at Stanford, Thiel met René Girard (1923 – 2015), a French philosopher and member of the Académie française, whose mimetic theory influenced him. Girard is a professed Roman Catholic, but Nietzsche is one of his main influences, and his theology is highly unorthodox. According to Girard mimetic theory, we borrow our desires from others. All conflict therefore originates in mimetic desire, which eventually reaches destructive stages when social groups tend to blame someone or something in order to defuse conflict through the scapegoat mechanism, and idea he borrowed from James Frazer’s concept of the killing of the sacred king. For Girard, religion and mythology were therefore necessary steps in human evolution to control the violence that arises from mimetic rivalry, by redirecting the scapegoat tendency on imaginary concepts, such as Satan or demons. Thiel claimed Girard’s explanation of the role of sacrifice and the scapegoat mechanism in resolving social conflict, which appealed to him as it offered a basis for his Christian faith without the fundamentalism of his parents.
Thiel returned to the Bay Area in the midst of the dot-com boom, and established of Thiel Capital Management to embark on his venture capital career. He co-founded PayPal in 1998, serving as CEO until its sale to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. After PayPal, he founded Clarium Capital, a hedge fund based in San Francisco. In 2004, he launched the CIA-backed Palantir Technologies, which is often cited as the source of the intel that allowed the Americans to capture Osama bin Laden. Thiel played Dungeons & Dragons, was an avid reader of science fiction, with Isaac Asimov and OTO member Robert A. Heinlein among his favorite authors, and a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, having read The Lord of the Rings over ten times. Six firms that he founded, including Palantir Technologies, Valar Ventures, Mithril Capital, Lembas LLC, Rivendell LLC and Arda Capital, adopted names originating from Tolkien. Thiel named Palantir after the crystal ball used by evil lord Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.
Thiel founded Palantir with Alex Karp, who has a doctorate in neoclassical social theory from Frankfurt University, where his advisor was Jürgen Habermas, a leading thinker of the Frankfurt School. Moira Weigel’s recent article “Palantir Goes to the Frankfurt School” sheds light on the right-wing ideology behind Karp’s dissertation, “Aggression in the Life-World,” which he submitted to the faculty of social sciences at J.W. Goethe University of Frankfurt in 2002. Karp identifies himself as a “neo-Marxist” and even a socialist. Karp’s primary advisor was Karola Brede, published a critique of GRECE member Konrad Lorenz’s bestselling work, On Aggression. Karp’s dissertation, explains Weigel, offers a “systematic” reinterpretation of Theodor Adorno’s Jargon of Authenticity—a critique of the language used by German existentialists like Martin Heidegger in particular—and “aims to describe the role that aggression plays in social integration, or the set of processes that lead individuals in a given society to feel bound to one another.” Looking for what Thiel and Karp would have in common, Wiegel points out that Aggression in the Life World demonstrates that both of them “regard the desire to commit violence as a constant, founding fact of human life.”
According to Geoff Shullenberger, the philosophical basis for Thiel’s founding of Palantir is found in an essay titled “The Straussian Moment,” published in 2007 in the volume Politics and Apocalypse, to explore the relationship of the ideas of Leo Strauss and his friend Carl Schmitt, the former “Crown Jurist” of the Third Reich, and key figure of the German Conservative Revolution, and their relationship to the mimetic theory of Girard. According to Thiel, adopting Schmitt’s rejection of the Enlightenment, 9/11 “called into question… the entire political and military framework of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and indeed of the modern age.” Effectively, Thiel believes that the West has become squeamish about violence, as a legacy of the Enlightenment and its search for rational alternatives. Instead, Thiel proposes, Schmitt’s the Concept of the Political, helps us to realize that the dichotomy of us versus an enemy is inevitable. Thiel quotes Strauss as saying that “[i]nstead of the United Nations, filled with interminable and inconclusive parliamentary debates… we should consider Echelon, the secret coordination of the world’s intelligence services, as the decisive path to a truly global pax Americana.” Thiel saw Palantir as a “mission-oriented company” which could apply software similar to PayPal’s fraud recognition systems to “reduce terrorism while preserving civil liberties.”
Thiel is also an exponent of a right-wing philosophy known as neoreaction. The network of political philosophers who have shaped Bannon’s thinking and who subsequently exercised influence in the White House, included Curtis Yarvin, the exponent of the philosophy of neoreaction adopted by Thiel, as well was Lebanese-American author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and conservative intellectual Michael Anton. According to Yarvin, “Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army.”
Many political onlookers described Trump’s election as a “black swan” event, in reference to Taleb’s book by the same name. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable focuses on the extreme impact of certain kinds of rare and unpredictable events (outliers) and people’s tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively. The term was popularized by Taleb, the best-selling 2014 book Antifragile, which has been read and circulated by Bannon and his aides. “Antifragility,” explains Taleb, is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” “They look like the incarnation of ‘antifragile’ people,” Taleb said of the new administration.
“The label blends together straight-up white supremacists, nationalists who think conservatives have sold out to globalization, and nativists who fear immigration will spur civil disarray. But at its core,” says Dylan Matthews of Vox of the alt-right, “are the ideas of a movement known as neoreaction, and neoreaction (NRx for short) is a rejection of democracy.” NRx, or the Dark Enlightenment as it is also called, is an anti-democratic and reactionary movement that broadly rejects egalitarianism and also draws influence from philosophers such as Thomas Carlyle and Julius Evola. The movement favors a return to older societal constructs and forms of government, including support for monarchism and traditional gender roles, coupled with a libertarian or otherwise conservative approach to economics. The general goal of the neoreactionaries is the restoration of all culturally European countries to their pre-liberal, pre-democratic, pre-feminist, pre-multicultural state, effectively, to the state of Europe prior to the enlightenment.
The NRx subculture started amongst the Bay Area technolibertarians, particularly including the transhumanists. In 2007 and 2008, American computer scientist Curtis Yarvin, creator of the Urbit computing platform writing under the nom de plume Mencius Moldbug, articulated what would develop into Dark Enlightenment thinking. Yarvin’s theories were later the subject of English author and philosopher Nick Land, who first coined the term “Dark Enlightenment” in his essay of the same name. According to Land:
NRx doesn’t think the Alt-Right (in America) is very serious. It’s an essentially Anti-Anglo-American philosophy, in its (Duginist) core, which puts a firm ceiling on its potential,” Land said. “But then, the NRx analysis is that the age of the masses is virtually over. Riled-up populist movements are part of what is passing, rather than of what is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.
Land was a lecturer in Continental Philosophy at the University of Warwick from 1987 until his resignation in 1998. At Warwick, he and Sadie Plant co-founded the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit. Plant is a British philosopher whose original research was related to the Situationist International before turning to cyber-technology. She published The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age in 1992. Her writing in the 1990s would prove profound in the development of cyberfeminism. Land is the author of The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, published in 1992.
Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider, says he’s been influenced by neoreactionary thought, and PayPal founder Peter Thiel has voiced similar ideas. Thiel, who is openly gay, is a friend of Ann Coulter, who dedicated her new book, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America, to him. Thiel was a major backer of Ron Paul in 2012. In a 2009 article for the Cato Institute, Thiel wrote of his commitment 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.”
Rod Martin, a member of the Board of Governors of the CNP, is part of what insiders term “the Peter Thiel keiretsu.” Martin served as Thiel’s Special Counsel during Paypal’s startup, IPO and merger with eBay, and later at Thiel’s Clarium Capital. Martin is the founder and Chairman of radical conservative group TheVanguard.Org, founded in 2006 as a conservative response to the success of MoveOn.org. In addition to Thiel, its board includes Gil Amelio, best remembered as a CEO of National Semiconductor and Apple, Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist, as well as Club for Growth founder and current Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore, famed actress Jane Russell, and Reagan Doctrine-architect Jack Wheeler.
Neoreactionaries want to see a captain of industry installed as a de facto king of America, often identifying Thiel or Elon Musk as that most appropriate person. Recently they have also taken to voicing support for Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Yarvin has reportedly opened up a line to the White House, communicating with Bannon and his aides through an intermediary, Politico reported. In 2016, Thiel became one of the pledged California delegates for Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention, and in November, Thiel was named to the executive committee of Trump’s transition team. As MrAnon for The Daily Kos explained: “A lone billionaire seizing the power of the executive branch for himself, and proceeding to run the government like they would a private corporation is the embodiment of their goal.”
Thanks to a reference from Thiel, Anton now has a place on the National Security Council staff. In his popular article “The Flight 93 Election,” published in September 2016 under a pseudonym, “America and the West are on a trajectory toward something very bad,” he wrote. “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die,” he explained. “You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.” While noting that noting that he’s not sure Trumpism will work, he argues that it’s worth trying, given the alternative: “[T]he ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.” Anton’s article was published by the Claremont Institute, whose president at the time was Michael Pack, a documentarian who served on the National Council of the National Endowment for Humanities and as senior vice president of Television Programming at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and who collaborated with Steve Bannon on two films.
From the book, Ordo ab Chao, by David Livingstone