“American exceptionalism has led us to a country that is exceptionally overweight, exceptionally addicted to opioids, exceptionally unaware and exceptionally un-self-reflective.” That was the thundering central thesis of Peter Thiel on the first day of the National Conservatism conference at the Ritz Carlton in Washington D.C.
I was skeptical that I’d find a money quote while covering the conference this week. Little did I know that by the end of the first day I’d have heard Thiel call for a federal investigation into Google for treason for its refusal to work with the Pentagon while voluntarily helping the Chinese military during an era of great power politics, and calling for the withdrawal of nonprofit status for Harvard and other universities.
The year 2016 was a defining moment in the Western polity, with Brexit and Donald Trump’s election changing the status quo, which led to this conference trying to figure out what exactly is causing such changes. For a conference featuring John Bolton and Tucker Carlson, Thiel was an interesting choice for the first day’s keynote speaker.
Thiel was one of President Trump’s top Silicon Valley supporters and donors (and an insider dissident to the tech industry). In his keynote he called for renewed scrutiny on Google and other tech companies which, according to him, have brushed off American national interests and sold their souls to money and global markets.
Interrogating Google’s Collusion with Rogue Governments
Three questions should be asked of Google, Thiel said. First, how much foreign intelligence infiltrated their Manhattan Project for artificial intelligence? Thiel hints that Silicon Valley is floating with Chinese spies who are transferring U.S. tech secrets and taking advantage of open markets between the two countries.
Immediately after that, Thiel targeted Google. “Does Google’s senior management consider itself to have been thoroughly infiltrated by Chinese intelligence?” he asked. The logic is simple: Google refused to work for the Pentagon, but helps China with their firewall that keeps citizens from open internet access, and other projects. The question is why.
“Is it because they consider themselves to be so thoroughly infiltrated that they have engaged in the seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military and not with the U.S. military… because they are making the sort of bad, short-term rationalistic [decision] that if the technology doesn’t go out the front door, it gets stolen out the backdoor anyway?” Thiel asked.
Thiel’s argument of a state-guided and scrutinized tech industry would be a controversial start among the foreign policy guys in D.C., but overall reflects a Teddy Rooseveltian trend that is ascendant in Western conservatism. The question of why Google agreed to work closely with China while discouraging a Defense Department contract raises questions, and Thiel is not the first person to ponder those.
“These questions need to be asked by the FBI and the CIA,” Thiel said. “And I’d like them to be asked in a not-excessively-gentle manner.”
The conference, arranged by Yoram Hazony, David Brog, and Ofir Haivry, and led by a fledgling organisation called the Edmund Burke Foundation, is attempting to chart a new conservatism that is ascendant in the Anglosphere — one that is more attuned to faith, flag, and family than the ideological dogma toward free markets of the last two decades. The reactionary edifice of liberal globalism and neo-conservatism, which forms the foreign policy establishment in the Euro-Atlantic, has been increasingly challenged by a new conservatism rooted to tradition, family, and—most importantly—civic nationalism, Hazony told me a few months back in London.
True to tone, the conference started with a strong denunciation of both liberal and neoconservatives, as well as white supremacists and racists. Nationalism, according to its organizers, means a civic nationalism, regardless of the color of one’s skin; one which is simultaneously opposed to borderless globalism and ethnonationalism.
The conference has been under relentless attack from the alt-right website VDARE and the Never Trump website The Bulwark, in a scathing indictment of the horseshoe theory. It also merits keynote speakers from Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) to National Security Adviser John Bolton to Tucker Carlson—speakers as ideologically diverse as possible but joined by one single platform: opposition to multilateral, technocratic, borderless institutionalism.
True to form, Trump is the first president to have stopped foolish wars, Thiel said, adding that nothing is perhaps more important for someone to understand, and that this fact alone is reason enough for Trump to be re-elected.
As someone living in the United Kingdom, where displaying a national flag is automatically considered xenophobic, this was a welcome change. For all the growing skepticism, America still remains a place where stars and stripes flutter from every single visible building in D.C., and where a conference of this scale can be organized.
On the day a bunch of anarchists tried to put up a Mexican flag at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, the National Conservative Conference showed that the nation-state remains the most important unit in global politics. A lot can still go wrong, but perhaps there’s hope, after all.