“We’re building a city,” Dryden Brown declared last June, with the air of a man unfazed by the enormity of his words. “We’re building a city from scratch. Somewhere in the Mediterranean.” Brown, who has spent years explaining to investors why he’s the man to found a new world, has chutzpah in spades.

Under the auspices of the Praxis Society, which has received $15 million from Peter Thiel, he hopes to create a libertarian Mecca powered by “dissident Right” rhetoric and a cryptocurrency-is-king meritocracy. The new community, says Brown, will exude “hero futurism” and sport a “neo-Gilded Age” aesthetic.

For Thiel, backing such a project makes perfect sense: it is a logical extension of the billionaire’s broader philosophical mission to create parallel systems that sidestep government bureaucracy and the social norms hindering human progress. Consider his previous support for the Seasteading Institute, another initiative aimed at developing floating cities in international waters — sanctuaries free from the constraints of traditional governance. Like the Praxis Society, it raised a few million dollars by proposing an experimental, more streamlined model for governance. So far, however, it’s yet to produce a single oasis.

Yet such setbacks don’t necessarily matter to Thiel, who only needs one concept to strike gold, and benefits from the publicity associated with everything else. More important to him is advancing the idea of radical autonomy: the notion that, through technological innovation and capitalist enterprise, we can transcend the flaws and inefficiencies of contemporary political systems. If his attempts fail, so what? He’s still rich, and his ideas get another airing in various forums. For Thiel and his likeminded co-investors — including Joe Lonsdale, the co-founder of Palantir Technologies, and Sam Bankman-Fried — the Praxis Society is an almost fool-proof investment.

Unlike previous attempts, though, the Praxis Society is designed to appeal to a peculiar subculture of the Right. Employees, for example, are encouraged to familiarise themselves with “based Right” philosophies from the start. “When you’re hired,” a former employee told Mother Jones, “you get a welcome packet with 11 book recommendations”, including Bronze Aged Mindset. Dryden Brown also maintains a close relationship with Curtis Yarvin, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur known for his long-winded anti-egalitarian writings.

In endorsing such views, Thiel and his associates occupy a unique, almost iconoclastic, space. They are not just challenging the prevailing orthodoxies; they are endeavouring to build an entirely distinct cultural and intellectual ecosystem. Admittedly, much of this nascent subculture’s foundational literature consists of sophomoric blogs, hastily assembled podcasts and social-media posts that bear the marks of fringe discourse rather than mainstream acceptability. But their vision of a libertarian utopia isn’t an exercise in armchair philosophy — it is intended to inspire actual investment from people who see an alternative to our societal malaise.

Still, what does this intellectualised form of speculative capitalism actually signify? One could argue it reflects a version of capitalism that is growing increasingly isolated and elitist — one that is quite literally seeking to sever ties with the rest of society. The term “Fyre Festival capitalism” captures this phenomenon with eerie precision: an economic project fuelled by hype that is more concerned with image and exclusion than with functionality and inclusivity.

This brand of capitalism could almost be considered anti-social, not in the psychological sense, but in its fundamental structure. It is akin to taking your ball and going home when the game isn’t going your way — except in this case, “home” is a privatised utopia, a sanctum impervious to the pesky regulations and cultural norms that govern the outside world. This is a capitalism that takes its ball, builds a whole new playground, and then charges an admission fee based on IQ and crypto success.

Or is it just “capitalism” as we already understand it? If one were to summon the ghost of Marx, he would be both fascinated and horrified. Here we can see capitalism’s aversion to the worker taken to an extreme — a manifestation of what Marx thought was capitalism’s inherent contradiction: that it must exploit labour to succeed, but also to eliminate the labourer from the equation for maximum efficiency. With both Fyre Festival and the Praxis Society, this contradiction is lived out not in factories or office buildings, but in theoretical enclaves that aim to exist outside of conventional society. Pay enough and you can belong, at least on paper if not in reality, to a world for the cool kids who are rich enough to buy a ticket.

In other words, these are not just dalliances in intellectual experimentation; they are attempts to carve out ideological sanctuaries that challenge our fundamental understanding of egalitarian society. And while their immediate impact may be confined to the echo chambers of libertarian forums and closed-door investment meetings, they offer a glimpse into a divisive future where community is commodified and citizenship is contingent upon ideological patronage. This should not merely pique our intellectual curiosity; it should prompt serious scrutiny.

Integral to the Praxis Society’s approach is its shrewd engagement with New York City’s downtown social scene — or at least the perception of that social scene cultivated by long articles on communities such as Dimes Square, a mythical neighbourhood that artist Brad Troemel amusingly observed has produced more magazine features than notable works of art. B-list personalities such as Dasha Nekrasova, a supporting actress in Succession and a pivotal figure in the city’s avant-garde social circles, have already been seen at a black-tie event organised by Praxis. Thiel, for his part, has also thrown his monetary weight around downtown, including at Trevor Brazile’s cinema club, noted for its flagrant disregard of political correctness.

For this and other similar donations, the derogatory term “Thiel Bucks” is often deployed in conservative circles to highlight his token investments in fringe artists or intellectuals. But this forgets the strategic nature of most of his patronage. Consider his support for Blake Masters, a long-time colleague who recently waged a narrow electoral battle against Mark Kelly for an Arizona Senate seat. In this scenario, Thiel’s investments were not merely monetary; they were calculated moves designed to shape a particular narrative in American governance and culture. His backing of the Praxis Society should be understood in the same vein — it is not merely an investment in a naive utopian experiment, but part of his attempt to carve out a new political arena that dances between libertarian idealism and the socially conservative tenets of the Republican Party. His ongoing disagreements with the party, particularly on abortion and LGBT rights, underline this tension.

For Thiel and the Praxis Society, then, capitalism is not just an economic system; it is a tool for cultural and even philosophical change, aimed at remaking society according to a very specific ideological blueprint. And at its essence, this is a philosophy that is willing to sever its roots — to essentially say: “Thanks for the billions, America; we’re off to build a sanctuary free from your regulatory clutches.” In doing so, its supporters paradoxically shun the very masses that made PayPal and Thiel’s other ventures successful.

But this isn’t just gentrification — it’s ideological evangelisation. As Brown has made clear, the Praxis Society is about setting up an enclave that functions not just as a haven for free-market zealots, but as an exhibition space for tangible proof that Thiel and his compatriots’ theoretical ideologies can be practically applied.

If this sounds mildly terrifying, that’s because it is. Yet history, fortunately, offers a word of caution: American utopian experiments, from the religious communes of the early-18th century to modern ventures such as the Seasteading Institute, have a tendency to crumble under the weight of logistical and societal challenges.

And failure wouldn’t be without its lessons. Such a demise would turn the Praxis Society into a cautionary spectacle, a subject fit for another binge-worthy Netflix documentary dissecting the perils of “Fyre Festival capitalism”. Once again, it would be exposed as a movement that seduces with grand visions and carefully calibrated marketing hype, but is fundamentally bereft of social responsibility or even substance. Even with Thiel’s dollars, there will never be a festival or island to inhabit. Just an afterlife as a unit of streaming content — an appropriate end for such a squalid vision.

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