by Park MacDougald
Monday, 12
September 2022
Dispatch
12:30

Peter Thiel: wokeness is like Wahhabism

The billionaire warned that California is starting to seem like Saudi Arabia
by Park MacDougald
Peter Thiel delivered a typically contrarian speech at the NatCon conference

Miami

The third annual National Conservatism conference kicked off Sunday in Miami, Florida, bringing together a who’s who of figures associated with the so-called “New Right.” Topics of discussion included how to combat the rise of China, how to fight back against gender ideology, and, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation’s David Azerrad, how to resist the “blackpill” of living in a country in which “the elite is corrupt and so are the people”.  

But the headliners were names that will be familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with current events — billionaire investor Peter Thiel and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose 2024 presidential ambitions are the worst-kept secret in American politics.

Thiel opened the conference with what, considering the circumstances, amounted to a contrarian speech. The topic of his address was California, which in recent years has become a standard conservative punching bag. But Thiel’s diagnosis of the problem was different. In his view, the main problem with California is that, like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, it is the victim of a “resource curse”. That is, the wealth generated from California’s tech sector is so tremendous that it ends up distorting the state’s entire political economy. “Wokeness”, he posited, plays the same role as Wahabbism in the similarly afflicted Saudi Arabia. There is, of course, a minority — “maybe 20%” of true believers — but mostly it is a sort of lip service that Machiavellian elites pay to a system of values that allows them to keep the whole corrupt machine running. 

The problem with the Democratic Party, Thiel argued, is that it is effectively trapped in the California model — a fabulously wealthy and productive oligarchy on top, public-sector bureacurats in the middle, and a feral underclass dependent on government transfers on the bottom. But that model can’t go national — there isn’t enough money in the tech sector to go around. 

Thiel also issued a word of warning to Republicans. The current GOP, he said, is stuck in a pure “nihilistic negation” of the Democrats’ California model — railing against wokeness, urban crime, and faeces on the streets of San Francisco, without even attempting to offer a positive model to counter it. Even red state success stories like Texas and Florida, he noted, have seen speculative bonanzas in real estate and permanently rising housing prices in cities like Austin and Miami, suggesting that neither Greg Abbott nor Ron DeSantis have figured out a truly sustainable model for middle class prosperity. 

The billionaire’s remarks were a bit cryptic, and hung over the remainder of Day 1, which in other respects felt like a full-on rally for DeSantis’s expected 2024 presidential campaign. Indeed, DeSantis’s speech, which closed proceedings on Sunday evening, brought the house down. 

The governor, looking confident behind the lectern, spent nearly an hour running through his big themes of the last two years — fighting the public health bureaucrats over lockdowns and school shutdowns, passing laws against woke indoctrination in schools and workplaces, and going to war with Disney over what he described as the company’s plans to push gender ideology on Florida’s children. When he reached the climax of his speech — “Disney is no longer going to have its own government — the room erupted in a standing ovation.  

DeSantis, if today is any indication, has won over the nationalist-populist intellectual sorts that have flocked to today’s conference. But if Thiel’s remarks are any indication, America’s most interesting billionaire is after bigger game.

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AC Harper
AC Harper
20 days ago

There is, of course, a minority — “maybe 20%” of true believers — but mostly it is a sort of lip service that Machiavellian elites pay to a system of values that allows them to keep the whole corrupt machine running. 

Perhaps Trump hit a few nerves in trying to ‘drain the swamp’. Perhaps the major proponents of Brexit (Farage, Banks, Johnson) have been denied the rewards of victory by the EU machine?
I think Peter Thiel may be on to something – except it is Neoglobalism that is struggling to keep the whole corrupt machine running. It will almost certainly end in tears.

William Foster
William Foster
20 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Left and right are two arms of the same body. Farage is more interested in the celeb booze marque game. Not capitalising on his greatest success, nor living a quiet life. Johnson (not) delivering Brexit and enabling the asset stripping the public through ‘green’ policy at all costs. The only difference at party and/or individual level is the priority of the same list of goals. You can’t Build Back Better™ what is still standing.

Mary Jo Alton
Mary Jo Alton
20 days ago
Reply to  William Foster

Boris was just another rino republican. All talk and no follow through.

Aaron James
Aaron James
19 days ago
Reply to  Mary Jo Alton

Boris made billions for his handlers, the Military Industrial and Bio/medical/Pharma complexes; he can now go off and find to everyone’s amazement that in 8 years he is worth £50,000,000 from some remarkably well paid speeches and clever investments. I can think of no politician who was worse for UK than Tony Blair – and they are neck-in-neck.

Emre 0
Emre 0
19 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

I think Britain was broken long before Blair – he probably gave Britain the biggest fighting chance the country ever had in living memory. What took Blair – and really US with the rest of the western world – down were Bush and his incompetent neocon buddies.

Last edited 19 days ago by Emre Emre
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
19 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

L’ennui c’est la paranoia des autres.

Sasha Stone
Sasha Stone
19 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

I mistakenly responded to this comment, I meant to respond to a different one.

Last edited 19 days ago by sashastone
Gail Appley
Gail Appley
18 days ago
Reply to  Mary Jo Alton

Boris exposed his globalist true self once elected. He was an epic disappointment.

Gail Appley
Gail Appley
18 days ago
Reply to  Mary Jo Alton

Kissing Biden’s ass was sickening. As the world laughed and gagged.

Gail Appley
Gail Appley
18 days ago
Reply to  William Foster

Raheem Kassam is doing the same. Very disappointing. Particularly as both were so incredibly bright, charming, witty and able to engage people of every facet. They had the “ it” factor so sorely lacking in Bannon.

Aaron James
Aaron James
19 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

”Machiavellian Elites”

‘ who happen to met in Davos

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
19 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

L’ennui c’est la paranoia des autres.

Last edited 19 days ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
18 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

There needs to be political accountability. Right now, politicians like Johnson get elected, then get defeated by the permanent “expert” bureaucracy. This won’t change until a lot of “Experts” get fired for their failures, pour encourager les autres.

Mary Jo Alton
Mary Jo Alton
20 days ago

Republicans have a bad habit of running on incremental changes. This demonstrates their affinity for the uniparty.

Trump was the first politician to make bold promises and follow through. Every speech, every rally was his chance to communicate with our country on progress he made or did not make towards our goals. They were America’s goals , not his.

DeSantis will not come close to Trump’s success if he were to win in 2024 because his hands will be tied by the RNC. No way will he be able to define his success. He will be owned by the Republican establishment.

The best option is to have Trump/DeSantis ticket. Let DeSantis see how the beltway runs and possibly he will be able to raise significant funds for 2026.

Chris Richards
Chris Richards
19 days ago
Reply to  Mary Jo Alton

Disagree. DeSantis is Trump 2.0
Bigger and better. Same b***s, more brains. Trump is a showman with great animal instincts but is absolutely incapable of moderating his style or approach. Many will love him for this and claim “authenticity” but its really a lack of discipline and maturity and it polarizes the middle. The electorate is split into thirds. You cannot win just playingto one side. DeSantis will see the snakes in the field but will be moderated enough to not yell where they are. Its better to silently plot your enemies death than to boldly declare they are the enemy and have no plan.

Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  Chris Richards

Perhaps but if so it is too bad standing up to tyrants is treated as naivete and successfully mocked as such.

Trump is an American badass and I could not be more proud.

He made the rats come out from behind their masks so nothing will be the same any more.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
15 days ago
Reply to  Chris Richards

I agree with this comment. I think De Santis will bring most of the things people liked about Trump – but with more focus and follow through. He also has a bit of Trumps’s showman and playfulnesses about him – without the vulgar parts.

Last edited 15 days ago by Gunner Myrtle
Andrey Osiatynski
Andrey Osiatynski
19 days ago
Reply to  Mary Jo Alton

Reagan’s biggest/most consequential mistake was to keep Bush as VP on the 1984 ticket. Trump/DeSantis ticket 2024 is, by far, most promising – but can Trump raise himself beyond his “I don’t need any partners/successors” limitation?
Peter Thiel is, once more, advancing conversation by comparing CA-wokism to Saudi-Wahhabism AND by questioning FL/Texas “positive models for American growth.” But, Trump’s “back to common-sense” economic model (less regulations; US energy hegemony & fair trade policies) might work again (or even better than 2017-2020) in the likely global stagflation economy of 2025.

Last edited 18 days ago by andrey
Greg Woolhouse
Greg Woolhouse
18 days ago

I must disagree.
Reagan’s biggest mistake was signing Simpson-Mazzoli.

mara palm
mara palm
15 days ago

So what’s the answer peter T?
Only negative nihilism.
Ps, it’s the DemocraT party.
The answer is pull your children out of public schools and their leftist Marxist brainwashing and teach them the Christian values your parents taught you or else this country will be lost forever to fascist Marxist neo-nazis that the Democrat party has become.
Get off the government suckling of money

Gail Appley
Gail Appley
18 days ago

On a lighter note, Biden celebrated his epic passage of the “ Inflation Reduction Act” as James Taylor sang about suicide and the market tanked. After the report of skyrocketing inflation.

Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  Gail Appley

The democrats in microcosm.

Ima Wander
Ima Wander
18 days ago

Interesting article. Peter Thiel is on target–I don’t know his angle, but what is cited here is quite accurate. I got to observe it some on a recent visit to Seattle and I came to a similar conclusion, though not as eloquently or comprehensively as Mr. Thiel who has had more time to examine the patient. Not good and certainly not sustainable–especially in light of how the NASDAQ is tanking! Ditto his criticism of the GOP that has no solutions to real problems.

Last edited 18 days ago by Ima Wander
Graff von Frankenheim
Graff von Frankenheim
14 days ago

I don’t know where Thiel got that 20% number for fanatics from; about 2 years ago a big US survey put the number at roughly 8%, predominantly white, young, educated and affluent.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
20 days ago

I really hope DeSantis beats Trump in 2024.

Sasha Stone
Sasha Stone
19 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

DeSantis can’t beat Trump. The grassroots is all MAGA. The problem is that, per this column, MAGA is not owned by large corporations and oligarchs. It is purely people driven. As American as you can get. I am not a Trump voter but it’s hard not to root for them, Davids against one massive Goliath.

Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  Sasha Stone

Hard then to understand why you are not….unless like me you are not a US citizen.

Trumpism has been the best thing in a long time for the entire planet and we can see what happens when China, Russia and their useful idiots in the democrat party, legacy media, marxist academe and crepuscular culture from Hollywood get their way.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
15 days ago
Reply to  Tendentious D

amazing as to how someone is brave enough, in writing, and in public, to pledge his troth to what the world outside sees and an embarrasing, ill educated, cretin with the vocabulary of a 13 year old, Americans just seem incapable of seeing Trump as a character from a Larry David comedy.

joe hardy
joe hardy
19 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Regardless of whether you love or hate Trump, please understand that he will not win a general election.

Gail Appley
Gail Appley
18 days ago
Reply to  joe hardy

He is too damaged,, obsessive/compulsive/reactionary and self absorbed to make sound decisions. His poor judgment in appointees kept compounding and he’s learned nothing. He continues to chalk up avoidable, self inflicted wounds, blaming everybody but himself.

Though I supported him and if th the choice was Trump, Biden or another milquetoast or too fundamentalist righty, I’d vote Trump. But if I could choose a blockbuster , bang out ticket, it would be DeSantis/Gabbard. She can really blow the lid off the entire cabal of corruption.Former Dems make the best Republicans.The best Republicans are able to attract Dems.

joe hardy
joe hardy
15 days ago
Reply to  Gail Appley

I have to reiterate, Trump running in 2024, though I would vote for him, will be the greatest gift to the neo jacobin democrats that the Republicans can offer.

Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  Gail Appley

I like it.

Naturally I default to Trump for his policies but cannot discount completely your analysis.

As far as Desantis/Gabbard goes you know you are over the target when the flak (fear) is heaviest.

Ima Wander
Ima Wander
18 days ago
Reply to  joe hardy

I’m not sure DeSantis would win a general election either. As Sasha says, it’s about the American People and Trump would say whatever was necessary to make them happy. It worked very well. Unfortunately, Trump lacks discipline and he is extremely petty. I can’t say Biden is really better on those counts. Who knows?

Last edited 18 days ago by Ima Wander
Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  joe hardy

But who will best him next time around?

Xiden?

Only if they cheat…..again.

Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

MAGA is still extremely popular (note win to loss ratio in primaries) and unless McConnell and Pelosi get their way, Trump will be a force to be reckoned with yet again.

Russell David
Russell David
20 days ago

Hope to goodness DeSantis gets the nomination. It’s going to be quite the battle trying to stop the giant orange egotist.

Sasha Stone
Sasha Stone
19 days ago
Reply to  Russell David

Trump is not hard to stop because of his ego. He’s hard to stop because he has been able to reach people no one else in government ever has. He’s also the only person with enough fight in him to take on the left. That said, I think a Trump/DeSantis ticket would be unbeatable. Trump can only serve one term. DeSantis can serve two.

Last edited 19 days ago by sashastone
Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  Russell David

Yeah, the American people shouldn’t have a say.

Maybe it’s naiveté but it is grand having someone call out everyone’s bs AND advancing policies that helped everybody…except America’s enemies…both foreign and domestic.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
14 days ago
Reply to  Tendentious D

It depends on which half of the American people win. If they are republicans, the democracy is threatened, you see. If the dems win, (regardless of how) then democracy is shown to have been preserved.

Garrett R
Garrett R
20 days ago

Thiel may have been on to something in 2018-2020 but I think he is out of date now. Newsom has gone after SF for its absurd housing policies. SF residents recalled Boudin earlier this year.

As for larger issues, CA just experienced a brutal heatwave without resorting to blackouts, something Abbott has now failed twice to handle. CA will also receive a boost from the abortion rulings due to the stupidity of TX to listen to their own Wahhabism cult that has now outlawed abortion at the moment of conception. Women comprise the majority of college grads, law school grads, and med school grads. Driving away this population will be an economic boondoggle. Furthermore, soaring property prices in a high property tax state is not a winning recipe.

FL has a much stronger position currently but not if DeSantis caves to anti-abortion zealots.

Last edited 20 days ago by Garrett R
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
19 days ago
Reply to  Garrett R

What’s an “anti-abortion zealot”? I believe in “life”, i.e., a force that underlies the distinctive quality of animate beings. Having said that, I also believe that if someone wants to terminate a life, that’s their call—just don’t ask me to pay for it with my tax dollar.

Dominic A
Dominic A
18 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Can pro-choicers – the 80% – use their tax dollars, or only if you ok it?

Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Unless you believe in termination up until the moment of birth (a tiny fraction of Americans and almost unheard of elsewhere in the world) you are not “pro-choice”.

Even the law proposed by Graham ( as ill-timed as it might turn out to be if the pro-abortion zealots have their way) is in line with most of the planet…15 weeks and health of the mother, rape and incest…but even THAT is NOT pro-life…but it IS a compromise to the pro-life position and as I said, aligns with popular sentiment ( as wrong as I think that is).

Tendentious D
Tendentious D
15 days ago
Reply to  Garrett R

Calling someone who is anti-abortion a zealot is like calling abortion “reproductive healthcare”.

You’re either pro-life or you’re not.

You can see it in their faces. Abortion activists are spitting angry in their total immersion in the self-absorbed death cult (AND they lie about what overturning Roe does) whereas pro-life folks are for the most part calm and erudite.