By Jacob Weisberg
Updated Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010, at 7:49 AM E
If you’ve seen The Social Network, you may have caught a passing glimpse of Peter Thiel. Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook, putting up $500,000 to finance the site’s original expansion in 2004. In the film’s version of events, he connives with Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, to deprive Mark Zuckerberg’s friend Eduardo Saverin of his 30 percent stake in the company. Though the character based on Thiel appears on-screen only briefly, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay demolishes the German-born venture-capitalist in a single line: “We’re in the offices of a guy whose hero is Gordon Gekko.”
While he clearly enjoys playing Richie Rich—various profiles have commented on his Ferrari Spyder, his $500,000 McLaren Supercar, an apartment in the San Francisco Four Seasons, and a white-jacketed butler—Thiel fancies himself more than another self-indulgent tech billionaire. He has a big vision and has lately been spending some of the millions he has made on PayPal, Facebook, and a hedge fund called Clarium trying to advance it. Thiel’s philosophy demands attention not because it is original or interesting in any way—it’s puerile libertarianism, infused with futurist fantasy—but because it epitomizes an ugly side of Silicon Valley’s politics.
To describe Peter Thiel as simply a libertarian wildly understates the case. His belief system is based on unapologetic selfishness and economic Darwinism. His most famous quote—borrowed from Vince Lombardi—is, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” In a personal statementproduced last year for the CATO Foundation, Thiel announced: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” The public, he says, doesn’t support unregulated, winner-take-all capitalism and so he doesn’t support the public making decisions. This anti-democratic proclamation comes with some curious historical analysis. Thiel says that the Roaring 20s were the last period when it was possible for supporters of freedom like him to be optimistic about politics. “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,” he writes