Peter Thiel is a super-smart, super-successful businessman and libertarian activist. He co-founded PayPal, invested in Facebook and has pledged three and half million dollars to a project searching for the key to human immortality. He also thinks it was a bad idea to give women the vote.
A couple of years ago Bloomberg reporter Deepak Gopinath visited Thiel’s offices at San Francisco’s Presidio. Thiel is a fan of Leo Strauss, René Girard and Star Wars. The offices of his hedge fund — Clarium Capital Management LLC — are deliberately located away from those of other money managers and investment bankers. He doesn’t want to mix with the herd.
The herdlike behaviour of voters is one of the reasons Thiel believes libertarianism and democracy are incompatible. In the wake of the global financial crisis "the broader education of the body politic has become a fool’s errand", he writes in Cato Unbound: "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."
This is the kind of thing that worries people who read books by Naomi Klein and believe that libertarians secretly hope to emulate General Pinochet. But rather than lead a libertarian takeover of the United States, Thiel would prefer to colonize outer space with right-thinking libertarians (sadly that’s not feasible yet).
Another libertarian, Will Wilkinson regards Thiel’s comments about female suffrage as "boneheaded". "Extending the franchise to women is, in my estimation, one of the great triumphs of the American classical liberal tradition", he writes in a recent blog post. According to Wilkinson, libertarianism often looks like a system rigged to protect the gains of the haves while denying opportunity to the have-nots — particularly groups that have traditionally been oppressed and disenfranchised. Libertarianism has public relations problems:
… not because most people are stupid or immoral [but] because libertarians have done a terrible job countering the widespread suspicion that it’s a uselessly abstract ahistorical ideology for socially retarded adolescent white guys. The sadly common libertarian-conservative penchant for "brave" counter-PC truthiness (e.g., "Women do love the welfare state!" "Blacks really do have lower IQs!") certainly doesn’t help.
In the end, says Wilkinson, the best idea is to engage with people who’ve rejected libertarian ideas and try to convince them "that free markets and limited government are better than they might have thought."