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Peter Thiel Has No Clue What Makes America Great

The tech billionaire and his GOP minions J.D. Vance and Blake Masters have America to thank for their riches. So why do they portray it as a stagnant, doomed hellhole?

Peter Thiel waves $100 bills
Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Peter Thiel waves $100 bills at a Bitcoin conference in Miami on April 7.

Last month, it was revealed that the billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel is seeking Maltese citizenship—what would be his third passport, at least—even while he is “spending more than $30 million on more than a dozen right-wing congressional candidates who have decried globalization and pledged to put America first,” according to The New York Times. Thiel and his favored candidates share a dark view of what he calls America’s “deranged society,” which was created by a “completely deranged government” run by “zombie retreads just busy rearranging the deck chairs.” So he is making escape plans in the event his efforts to save America don’t pan out.

If indeed Thiel flees our shores, he will find his relocation costs eased considerably by a strong U.S. dollar. That’s because investors around the world, contrary to his assessment, see America as a model of stability and prosperity and thus are eager to take refuge in our currency. Impoverished and oppressed people around the world see us similarly, and want to take physical refuge here. We’re a safe bet.

Thiel knows this all too well. He has our “deranged” country—including its government—to thank for the billions he’s earned. So why is he spending tens of millions on tearing it down?

Thiel’s outlook would be alarming enough if it were merely shared by a bunch of tech-bro libertarians who never outgrew Ayn Rand. But it’s ascendant in the Republican Party, as seen in Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio—whose campaigns are generously funded by Thiel and who made millions working in his investment firms. Masters has said that America is a “dystopian hell-world,” and ending the country’s “stagnation” may require a historic crisis. “I’ll have the proverbial machete,” he quipped. Vance thinks the current order is doomed to “inevitable collapse.” Convinced that “we are in a late republican period,” he has suggested facilitating the destruction of this government bloated with bureaucracy. “If we’re going to push back against [the current order],” he said, “we’re going to have to get pretty wild, and pretty far out there.” By the logic of Vance’s analogy, the United States today is like the end of the Roman Republic, when government crisis ushered in dictatorship. It seems Vance is prepared to welcome a Caesar who can set things straight—because things are so very bad.

Masters, Vance, and Thiel are aligned with what some have dubbed the New Right, an increasingly influential collection of tech entrepreneurs and countercultural luminaries who are—perhaps surprisingly—pessimistic about the influence of digital technology on our society. These figures of the New Right, James Pogue explains in Vanity Fair, share dreams of a simpler time when we were not corrupted by the consumerism of the digital economy, and thrived in communities and family units that provided organic moral guidance. They reserve special scorn for the bureaucracy that upholds and entrenches this supposed cultural nightmare. Curtis Yarvin, who some consider the guru of the New Right, has issued a nifty—and angry—acronym to sum up his agenda: “Retire All Government Employees,” or RAGE. Our system is so corrupt and stagnant it must be replaced with a “monarchical regime run like a startup,” according to Yarvin. The bureaucracy must give way to a “national CEO,” he explains, “what’s called a dictator.”

The Claremont Institute, an increasingly influential think tank that has been called the “nerve center” of the New Right, shares this dire view of America. Its mission is “to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life,” which sounds innocuous enough—until you realize what such restoration would require. Some Claremonters believe the administrative state is so deeply and expansively entrenched, and we are so reliant on it, that only a cataclysm can save the country. The most explicit articulation of this vision appeared in Claremont fellow Michael Anton’s popular 2016 essay “The Flight 93 Election” in 2016, which argued for electing Donald Trump—even though he was a brute who cared little for our freedoms and founding principles—because he would shatter the system. Like Flight 93, where passengers on 9/11 rushed the cockpit and crashed the plane, denying terrorists their ultimate target, so the Claremonters would destroy the government—to save us all. Naturally, Trump’s reign was a boon to the organization. Anton became a deputy national security adviser in the White House, and legal scholar John Eastman played an instrumental role on January 6, 2021, urging Trump to halt congressional certification of the election.

The Claremont Institute and the New Right look at the world’s oldest democracy, which is the envy and aspiration of many around the world, and see a smoldering trash heap. How could such supposedly smart people—intellectuals, savvy businessmen, tech luminaries alike—become so disconnected from reality?

America’s government is remarkably stable and efficient. Inside our borders, it’s easy to forget this, perhaps because our government works so well—and because we are treated to nonstop news of congressional dysfunction and greedy lobbies who have captured our representatives. Seen from outside, however, it’s a different story. While Masters and Vance wail about America and aim to gut our system of government, the U.S. dollar surges in global markets and investors are lapping up our Treasury bills, as they always do in times of economic uncertainty.

This is an overwhelming vote of confidence in the U.S. government and the economy it sustains—still the most dynamic on earth. Investors don’t sink their money into regimes that are short-lived, corrupt, or defective. Thanks to its reputation for stability and efficiency, our government secures global investment, enabling the vast ecosystem of corporate and consumer borrowing that underwrites the American way of life, the unparalleled comforts and conveniences that people all over the world covet. Who in their right mind thinks America is a “dystopian hell-world” deserving of revolution? Revolution, I might add, will definitely sink our reputation for stability, send investors scurrying, and impoverish the nation.

America’s stability is due in no small part to our democratic system of government, which many Republican candidates have cast doubt upon and are prepared to undermine. Democracy ensures peaceful transitions of power. Chinese officials argue that autocracy is the key to their prosperity; they insist electoral democracy only mucks things up. But how do financiers feel about Chinese investments after their government decided to shake down its tech sector last year, for fear it was growing too powerful and independent? Through a mixture of stifling regulations and outright coercion, Beijing wiped out billions of dollars of equity in the blink of an eye. Consider too how China has tried—in vain—to make the yuan the global currency, supplanting the dollar. Investors aren’t biting.

Alongside investors, we should consider the flood of immigrants desperate to reach these shores. Thanks again to our esteemed prosperity, and despite our tattered social safety net, abundant gun violence, and lack of national health insurance, the U.S. remains a tantalizing destination for millions around the world.

The U.S. has attracted Venezuelans fleeing a country crushed under tyranny, where government confiscates property; Central Americans have arrived escaping gruesome gang violence. People from the Pacific Rim and South Asia have flocked here in search of economic opportunity and social freedom. Refugees from the Middle East, all too familiar with the miseries of corruption and failed government, welcome our rule of law and commitment to fairness. For them, America remains the promised land.

Figures among the New Right and the Claremont Institute complain that our government is bloated. It has quashed our freedoms and hardly operates at all. It’s a grotesque monstrosity that should be put out of its misery. Anyone who has traveled the world knows that’s ludicrous. We should be in awe of our bureaucracy, all things considered. It makes our lives better in countless—and basic—ways that we hardly notice, and is a model of efficiency.

My wife tells an illuminating story about her uncle from Syria who came to the U.S. for a short time to take care of some bureaucratic business. Being a dual citizen, he had to get a driver’s license and apply for social security benefits, both of which are reputed nightmares on these shores. My wife’s uncle, however, was amazed that he could take care of both chores in a single day—within a few hours, no less. In Syria, this would have taken days if not weeks, and would have required considerable baksheesh (bribes), which necessarily accompanies every government task big and small. This is true not only in global south nations but in countries like Italy too.

In America, we can count on our government to monitor our foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products and rest assured that we won’t get sick at their hands. Our roads are paved, people generally obey traffic laws, and big-box stores are stuffed with cheap clothes and electronics. The legal, economic, and physical infrastructure of this nation, which we have painstakingly shaped over two centuries, is easy to overlook, but it sustains our prosperity, comfort, and security—and allows America to do great things. Like tame a global pandemic in a year.

During Covid-19, our government proved it is remarkable indeed, rolling out the biggest and quickest vaccine in human history. We suffer inflation in part because our economy has roared back so ferociously—too ferociously—and because our government could afford to be generous to its struggling citizens. Americans received their first stimulus checks within a month of the pandemic lockdown in 2020.

Thiel and his allies fail to see it this way. He believes that “the broader education of the body politic has become a fool’s errand,” and he “no longer believe[s] that freedom and democracy are compatible.” So he dreams of a libertarian utopia, where government recedes into the background, the animal spirits of capitalism are let loose, and people are liberated to soar—or crash, but there will be no oppressive bureaucratic safety net to save them. It’s a suicidal vision.

Well, perhaps not for Peter Thiel. Thanks to his Maltese passport, and the luxury bunker he is constructing in New Zealand, he has options. He can simply sail away. We will be left to pick up the pieces, if any remain.