The 2021 Frank Schirrmacher Prize goes to German-American billionaire Peter Thiel, who made his fortune as a co-founder of PayPal and other tech companies.
The award ceremony takes place on October 7, at the Berlin offices of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). Frank Schirrmacher was author and co-editor of the German daily.
After his death in 2014, the Frank Schirrmacher Foundation was established in Switzerland to maintain his legacy as one of Germany’s leading intellectuals.
The foundation honors intellectuals, artists and others for “outstanding achievements in understanding our current events.”
Previous prize-winners include renowned authors such as the Frenchman Michel Houellebecq, the American Jonathan Franzen or the German Daniel Kehlmann, as well as the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
It was therefore surprising to see Peter Thiel join the ranks of these cultural personalities.
A look back at the work of Frank Schirrmacher perhaps shows some links with the entrepreneur and the philanthropist.
A New Understanding of “Culture” in Newspapers
Frank Schirrmacher, born in 1959, succeeds literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki as director of the artistic supplement of the FAZ newspaper.
Frank Schirrmacher in 2007
He later became one of the journal’s five editors and opened its soap opera section to a wide range of subjects, from the natural sciences to the philosophy of technology and medical research.
Traditionally focused on literary and artistic criticism, the German soap opera concept has evolved into a space for reporting, a forum for debate on ethical and political issues.
An author of books on society
Schirrmacher has also written several books on contemporary issues. His 2004 book, Das Methusalem-Komplott (The Methuselah Plot), dealt with the aging of society. In Minimum (2006), he argues that the family dissolves in Western society.
Refund of 2009 examines the threats of the digital age to society. In 2013, Schirrmacher published Ego, his latest book. It deals with the nature of international financial markets and the excesses that cause economic crises.
As a financial investor involved in the digital transformation of the world, Peter Thiel therefore reflects in a way the ideas promoted by Schirrmacher.
Star of the tech scene
A partner in a venture capital firm in San Francisco and chairman of a hedge fund in New York, he is one of the stars of the Silicon Valley tech scene.
Thiel, along with Max Levchin and Elon Musk (Tesla), founded the online payment service Paypal, which they sold in 2002 for $ 1.5 billion (€ 1.3 billion).
Peter Thiel, left, and Elon Musk, right, promoting PayPal in 2000
He also founded and is still president of big data firm Palantir Technologies, one of the largest – and most controversial – software providers to U.S. intelligence agencies.
Thiel was also Mark Zuckerberg’s first outside Facebook investor.
In 2016, Forbes magazine estimated Thiel’s private fortune at $ 2.7 billion.
Chess and philanthropy
Thiel was born in Frankfurt, Germany on October 11, 1967. At the age of one, his parents emigrated to the United States. Thiel studied philosophy and law at Stanford University in California.
He speaks German and travels regularly to Germany, keeping an eye on the Berlin startup scene.
As a philanthropist, he supports several research projects and awards scholarships to students.
Develop visions of the future in one of its concerns.
He hopes that humanity will one day overcome death. “Most of the illnesses we have are related to old age in one way or another, and conversely, aging itself can be viewed as some kind of illness.” Thiel said in an interview with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung journal in 2019. “Diseases can be cured. Is aging really irreversible, or do we just think so? So why, in simple terms, shouldn’t we be able to be healed of death? “
Thiel is one of the best chess players in the United States, although he hasn’t played tournaments in years.
He has a long-standing friendship with former world chess champion Garry Kasparov. In their 2012 joint book The plan, they diagnosed the “stagnation of technological progress” and called for increased spending on research to ensure global prosperity.
A libertarian supporter of Trump
A self-proclaimed libertarian, Thiel was Trump’s most famous supporter on the tech scene.
At the 2016 Republican presidential nominating convention, where Thiel was Trump’s delegate, he expressed his support for the real estate mogul: “I build businesses and I support people who build new things, from social media to rockets ”. Thiel said in his convention speech. “I am not a politician. But neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder, and it is time to rebuild America.”
In 2008, he supported hard-line conservative Ron Paul in his presidential candidacy; in 2012 he was Paul’s biggest donor and also donated money to the populist conservative Tea Party movement.
In a 2009 essay, Thiel said that freedom and democracy had become “incompatible”.
Outrage on Twitter
Today, the controversial investor receives the Frank Schirrmacher Prize.
“By awarding the prize to Thiel, his comprehensive work of analyzing the opportunities and risks of technological progress will be honored,” the Frank Schirrmacher Foundation said in a statement, adding that “ignoring the prohibitions of thinking, he gives intellectual impulses and thus enriches the current socio-political discussions in a wide variety of fields.
But when the foundation revealed the winner’s name in August, many social media watchers disapproved.
“As someone who knew Frank Schirrmacher rather well – and his views on Silicon Valley – I’m quite dismayed that an award in his honor has been given to Peter Thiel. What cosmic injustice is this?” author and editor Evgeny Morozov tweeted.
“Peter Thiel is a destructive figure of the present. This man has now received the Frank Schirrmacher Prize endowed with 20,000 francs (18,500 € / 21,500 $)”, underlined literary researcher Johannes Franzen in another tweet.
Another critical point was that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is currently under investigation for media corruption, was chosen to deliver the glowing speech.
This article has been adapted from the original German version.