Peter Thiel Quotations

Peter Andreas Thiel / b. 1967 / Frankfurt am Main, Federal Republic of Germany / Hedge Fund Manager, Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of PayPal

Note: Although born in West Germany to German parents, Thiel was brought to the US when he was only one year old. He was educated in the US and in South Africa.

Capitalism and Democracy

I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself “libertarian.” . . . But I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible… The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely 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.

The Education of a Libertarian,” Cato Unbound, April 13, 2009.


Just as the legal attack on Microsoft was ending Bill Gates’s dominance, Steve Jobs’s return to Apple demonstrated the irreplaceable value of a company’s founder. In some ways, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were opposites. Jobs was an artist, preferred closed systems, and spent his time thinking about great products above all else; Gates was a businessman, kept his products open, and wanted to run the world. But both were insider/outsiders, and both pushed the companies they started to achievements that nobody else would have been able to match.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014).

. . . the phenomenon of serial entrepreneurship would seem to call into question our tendency to explain success as the product of chance.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014).


In politics or culture, for the future to have power over the present, it has to be different from the present. The future has power because it is a time that will look different from the present, and so it can’t just be an endless Groundhog Day. If it’s just always the same, just always repetition, then the future does not have any appeal, and it’s not part of any political agenda.

Interview with Peter Robinson, “The World According to Thiel,'” Uncommon Knowledge, with Peter Robinson, Hoover Institution, January 17, 2020.

Looking at Western Europe, I would say, there are . . . basically three plausible futures on offer. Number one is Islamic sharia law, and if you’re a woman you get to wear a burqa. Number two is totalitarian AI à la China, where the computers track you in everything you do—all the time—and that’s kind of creepy. So the Eye of Sauron, to use the Lord of the Rings reference, is watching you at all times. And then the third one is hyper-environmentalism, where you drive an e-scooter and you recycle. And even though I’m not a radical environmentalist . . . if those are the three choices, I think you can understand why the Green Movement is winning—because those are the three visions of the future we have. And the challenge on the conservative or libertarian side is to offer something that is a picture of the future that’s different from these two dystopian and one somewhat stagnant one.

Interview with Peter Robinson, “Peter Thiel on ‘The Straussian Moment,'” Uncommon Knowledge, with Peter Robinson, Hoover Institution, September 23, 2019.


My own answer to the contrarian question is that most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more. . . . In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014).


I don’t think the intellectual battle is ever fully over, because I don’t think history is over.

Interview with Peter Robinson, “The World According to Thiel,'” Uncommon Knowledge, with Peter Robinson, Hoover Institution, January 17, 2020.


Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014).

Unless they invest in the difficult task of creating new things, American companies will fail in the future no matter how big their profits remain today. What happens when we’ve gained everything to be had from fine-tuning the old lines of businesses that we’ve inherited? Unlikely as it sounds, the answer threatens to be far worse than the crisis of 2008. Today’s “best practices” lead to dead ends; the best paths are new and untried.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014).

Whenever I interview someone for a job, I like to ask this question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” This question sounds easy because it’s straightforward. Actually, it’s very hard to answer. It’s intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in scholl is by definition agreed upon. And it’s psychologically difficulty because anyone trying to answer must say something she knows to be unpopular. Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014).

Manhattan-Style Projects

Most of our political leaders are not engineers or scientists and do not listen to engineers or scientists. Today a letter from [Albert] Einstein would get lost in the White House mail room, and the Manhattan Project would not even get started; it certainly could never be completed in three years. I am not aware of a single political leader in the U.S., either Democrat or Republican, who would cut health-care spending in order to free up money for biotechnology research—or, more generally, who would make serious cuts to the welfare state in order to free up serious money for major engineering projects.

The End of the Future,” National Review, October 3, 2011.


We’re definitely onto something big. The need PayPal answers is monumental. Everyone in the world needs money—to get paid, to trade, to live. Paper money is an ancient technology and an inconvenient means of payment. You can run out of it. It wears out. It can get lost or stolen. In the twenty-first century, people need a form of money that’s more convenient and secure, something that can be accessed from anywhere with a PDA or an Internet connection. Of course, what we’re calling “convenient” for American users will be revolutionary for the developing world. 

Speech delivered in 1999 to PayPal staff; as reported by Eric M. Jackson in The PayPal Wars: Battles with eBay, the Media, the Mafia, and the Rest of Planet Earth (2004).

Progress vs. Progressivism

Men reached the moon in July, 1969, and Woodstock began three weeks later. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this was when the hippies took over the country, and when the true cultural war over Progress was lost. Today’s aged hippies no longer understand that there is a difference between the election of a black president and the creation of cheap solar energy; in their minds, the movement towards greater civil rights parallels general progress everywhere. Because of these ideological conflations and commitments, the 1960s Progressive Left cannot ask whether things actually might be getting worse.

The End of the Future,” National Review, October 3, 2011.

Teaching Innovation

The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative. Indeed, the single most powerful pattern I have notices is that successful people find value in unexpected places. . . .

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014).


[The media] never takes [Trump] seriously, but it always takes him literally. I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously, but not literally.

Interview with Thomas Burr, “The Presidential Election of 2016,” National Press Club Newsmaker, with Peter Thiel, October 31, 2016.


The university system in 2014, it’s like the Catholic Church circa 1514. . . . You have this priestly class of professors that doesn’t do very much work; people are buying indulgences in the form of amassing enormous debt for the sort of the secular salvation that a diploma represents. And what I think is also similar to the 16th century is that the Reformation will come largely from the outside.

Interview with Bill Kristol, “Peter Thiel on Innovation and Stagnation,” Conversations with Bill Kristol, July 29, 2014.

Work and Success

It’s good to test yourself and develop your talents and ambitions as fully as you can and achieve greater success; but I think success is the feeling you get from a job well done, and the key thing is to do the work.

Caroline Howard, “Peter Thiel: ‘Don’t Wait to Start Something New,'” Forbes, September 10, 2014.