My excellent Conversation with Peter Thiel

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, along with almost thirty minutes of audience questions, filmed in Miami.  Here is the episode summary:

Tyler and Peter Thiel dive deep into the complexities of political theology, including why it’s a concept we still need today, why Peter’s against Calvinism (and rationalism), whether the Old Testament should lead us to be woke, why Carl Schmitt is enjoying a resurgence, whether we’re entering a new age of millenarian thought, the one existential risk Peter thinks we’re overlooking, why everyone just muddling through leads to disaster, the role of the katechon, the political vision in Shakespeare, how AI will affect the influence of wordcels, Straussian messages in the Bible, what worries Peter about Miami, and more.

Here is an excerpt:

COWEN: Let’s say you’re trying to track the probability that the Western world and its allies somehow muddle through, and just keep on muddling through. What variable or variables do you look at to try to track or estimate that? What do you watch?

THIEL: Well, I don’t think it’s a really empirical question. If you could convince me that it was empirical, and you’d say, “These are the variables we should pay attention to” — if I agreed with that frame, you’ve already won half the argument. It’d be like variables . . . Well, the sun has risen and set every day, so it’ll probably keep doing that, so we shouldn’t worry. Or the planet has always muddled through, so Greta’s wrong, and we shouldn’t really pay attention to her. I’m sympathetic to not paying attention to her, but I don’t think this is a great argument.

Of course, if we think about the globalization project of the post–Cold War period where, in some sense, globalization just happens, there’s going to be more movement of goods and people and ideas and money, and we’re going to become this more peaceful, better-integrated world. You don’t need to sweat the details. We’re just going to muddle through.

Then, in my telling, there were a lot of things around that story that went very haywire. One simple version is, the US-China thing hasn’t quite worked the way Fukuyama and all these people envisioned it back in 1989. I think one could have figured this out much earlier if we had not been told, “You’re just going to muddle through.” The alarm bells would’ve gone off much sooner.

Maybe globalization is leading towards a neoliberal paradise. Maybe it’s leading to the totalitarian state of the Antichrist. Let’s say it’s not a very empirical argument, but if someone like you didn’t ask questions about muddling through, I’d be so much — like an optimistic boomer libertarian like you stop asking questions about muddling through, I’d be so much more assured, so much more hopeful.

COWEN: Are you saying it’s ultimately a metaphysical question rather than an empirical question?

THIEL: I don’t think it’s metaphysical, but it’s somewhat analytic.

COWEN: And moral, even. You’re laying down some duty by talking about muddling through.

THIEL: Well, it does tie into all these bigger questions. I don’t think that if we had a one-world state, this would automatically be for the best. I’m not sure that if we do a classical liberal or libertarian intuition on this, it would be maybe the absolute power that a one-world state would corrupt absolutely. I don’t think the libertarians were critical enough of it the last 20 or 30 years, so there was some way they didn’t believe their own theories. They didn’t connect things enough. I don’t know if I’d say that’s a moral failure, but there was some failure of the imagination.

COWEN: This multi-pronged skepticism about muddling through — would you say that’s your actual real political theology if we got into the bottom of this now?

THIEL: Whenever people think you can just muddle through, you’re probably set up for some kind of disaster. That’s fair. It’s not as positive as an agenda, but I always think . . .

One of my chapters in the Zero to One book was, “You are not a lottery ticket.” The basic advice is, if you’re an investor and you can just think, “Okay, I’m just muddling through as an investor here. I have no idea what to invest in. There are all these people. I can’t pay attention to any of them. I’m just going to write checks to everyone, make them go away. I’m just going to set up a desk somewhere here on South Beach, and I’m going to give a check to everyone who comes up to the desk, or not everybody. It’s just some writing lottery tickets.”

That’s just a formula for losing all your money. The place where I react so violently to the muddling through — again, we’re just not thinking. It can be Calvinist. It can be rationalist. It’s anti-intellectual. It’s not thinking about things.

Interesting throughout, definitely recommended.  You may recall that the very first CWT episode (2015!) was with Peter, that is here.


Comments for this post are closed