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From Übermensch to Uber-man

Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship in the spirit of early Italian Fascism

The great disruption: When progress means smashing things.

Lausanne, Switzerland, Rue Caroline, sometime in the year 1904. The young socialist agitator Benito Mussolini had just given a lecture to workers in the Maison du Peuple in which he argued that God would not exist. He is now discussing with an Italian evangelical pastor who provides some arguments in favor of the existence of the Lord. At one point of the conversation, the future Duce asked someone in the audience for a watch. Holding it in his hand, he announced, “if in three minutes I am not struck down by a lightening, it will prove that God does not exist.” After three minutes, he silently walked away. Legend has it that he put the watch in his pocket and forgot to give it back.1 To build the new, you need to destroy the old. Not just replace it. You need to smash it, humiliate those who still believe in it and rub their noses in the debris of their convictions. This idea is at the core of Italian Fascism. In his Manifesto del Futurismo, the Manifest of Futurism, one of the central and defining inspirations of early Fascist ideology, the artist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote in 1909: “We want to glorify war – the only hygiene in the world – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of libertarians, the beautiful ideas for which we die. We want to destroy museums, libraries, academies of all kinds and fight against moralism, feminism and against any opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.”2 The experience of the First World War reinforced this contempt for the values and habits of modern society in the early 1920s. Thousands of young men returning disillusioned from the trenches to their old life, “determined that nothing was ever going to matter to them again” as philosopher Alasdair Macintyre wrote.3 Ezra Pounds, the poet who was much admired by Italian Fascists gave a voice to the returning angry front fighters in his poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley:

There died a myriad,

And of the best, among them,

For an old bitch gone in the teeth,

For a botched civilization.

While they despised the civilized, ordered, disciplined and Utilitarian version of the Enlightenment civilization, Fascists still shared a key belief with modernity: That we are progressing as a species into a brighter future and that this progress was driven by technology. Through technology, Marinetti and others imagined, nature could be bend to the will of man. Eventually, we would even get rid of nature altogether. “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”, Marinetti wrote in his manifesto. He fantasized about smashing a cyclist with his car and pushing him out of the way. The early Fascist vision was building on “aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.”4 The future should not be the linear continuation of the past into a somehow better version that builds on it – as it was imagined by the Enlightenment thinkers. For Fascists, the future was supposed to be radically different from the present and not it’s linear continuation. Whatever represented modernity had to be burned down to the ground so that the future could be born as a radical transformation of the world. A new version of homo sapiens would evolve in this process. Better, stronger, more beautiful. Whoever resisted the radical change had to be pushed out of the way.

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, 1938

Silicon Valley couldn’t agree more. Speed is what counts there as well. As Stanford professor Adrian Daub writes in his analysis of this startup world near his campus, tech entrepreneurs engage in “accelerationism”, which “advocates a surrender to the forces of acceleration”.5 And that’s why they also love destruction. In the early 1990s, Harvard Business School professors Clayton Christensen and Joseph L. Bowers invented the concept of disruption. As they observed, companies rely too much on what their actual customers want. These customers, caught in their routines, do not see technological changes coming, are not able to properly evaluate the consequences or might even not be the right target group to pioneer those changes. As a result, such previously successful companies were able to well manage incremental technological change but often utterly fail to evaluate the potential of more disruptive changes. According to Bower and Christensen, “small, hungry organizations” are better positioned to reap the advantages of disruptive changes. These small organizations start by targeting a neglected market segment and move mainstream from there faster than mainstream competitors can react. They disrupt a market.6 Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors embraced the concept enthusiastically and – as Christensen later wrote – profoundly misunderstood it. Mark Zuckerberg notoriously explained to his team that “unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough” and Trevor Kalanick, the Uber founder promised to his team and investors that Uber would “break the back of the evil taxi empire”. Silicon Valley understood disruption in the good old Fascist way: Smashing, humiliating, despising the existing order and its representatives. Rules do not count for those who advance new information technologies. “We are new economy”, they used to say at Enron and “the others are old economy”. If you are new economy, you do not follow established rules, you write new ones. After all, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are the destroyers of old and builder of new worlds. “Elon puts rockets into space, he’s not afraid of the FTC”.7 This is how Alex Spiro the lawyer of Elon Musk described the entrepreneur’s relationship with the Twitter regulator. Technology does not just change society, it dismantles the existing order, propelling us into a totally different future.

The Macho ethics of Fascists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs

Sometimes, analysts of Fascism – be it the Italian or the German version – argue that its destructive and disruptive ideology had no normative foundation and would just be pure operational violence. What they forget, however, is that violence can play an important normative function in belief systems, and it has its roots in ancient Greek and Roman societies. Philosopher Hilary Putnam refers to the ancient ethics as “macho ethics”, the “ethics of courage and manly prowess”. His colleague Simone Weil describes how in the Ancient world, warfare was a source of powerful values. “In the purest triumph of love, the supreme grace of wars, is the friendship that rises to the hearts of mortal enemies. It makes disappear the hunger for vengeance for the son slain, for the friend killed, it erases by miracle even greater the distance between benefactor and supplicant, between victor and vanquished.”8 War, so the belief of warrior societies, brings out the best in man. “Rage and fury drove me. I felt it was a lovely thing to die in battle,” the Roman hero Aeneas explains to Dido, the queen of Carthage when she wants to hear about the fall of Troy. And: “I felt it was a lovely thing to die in battle”.9

When Macho ethics was superseded by new ethical role models proposed by Jesus, Confucius or Sokrates and later the emerging discourse of the Enlightenment about the dignity and rights of individuals, human rights replaced the ethics of the strong warrior. As Putnam writes, with the rise of early Christianism, people learned that there is “dignity in siding with the victims of plunder and conquest, with the poor and downtrodden, rather than with the heroic Roman general.”10 However, where Putnam sees dignity, Fascists who were driven by the idea of creating a new and stronger man, saw weakness. Their ideology is “a rebellion against the standard form of modern anthropocentrism… a turn against the values of the Enlightenment” as Charles Taylor writes.11 Fascists protested against “the levelling effects of the culture of equality and benevolence”, against the “levelling down of human beings to the bourgeois, utilitarian mean”12– the old bitch in Ezra Pounds’ poem.

Inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s phantasy of the Übermensch who liberates himself from all moral chains and only enacts his own Will to Power, Fascism voted for “destruction and chaos, the infliction of suffering and exploitation, as a part of the life to be affirmed.”13 Charles Taylor reminds us of the enthusiasm with which many young people in Europe entered the first world war: “It still astonishes us when we catch a glimpse of the mental world of those who went to war in 1914… in a host of contemporary comments and letters. It’s not just the heightened language in which they talked of war: honor, valour, sacrifice, staunch and gallant. It was also the way they saw the conflict through images of a glorious national history, preserved in the greatest literature…”14 He continues, “what was needed was a new discipline, which would create order and hierarchy and would lead to a life of commitment. Faith against skepticisms and science, dedication to the nation against individualism, commitment and discipline against individual choice, hierarchy against equality, these were the lines of attraction for young people of this tendency… They would deserve and achieve the status of glorious dead, as understood in the archetypes of military valour which went back to the ancient.”15

Returning from war was a disappointing experience for many of those front fighters. “The spiritual hunger with which many entered the war remained unsatisfied.” Mussolini (and later Hitler) used the disappointment. “Fascism gives us the paradigm of a counter ideal of the modern order, one which extolled command, leadership, dedication, obedience over individualism, rights and democracy, but which did so out of a cult for greatness, will, action, life. There was no place left for the morality of Christianity, and certainly not of liberalism; the ultimate goal was to make something great out of one’s life. Greatness was measured partly in the impact of power, through domination, conquest, partly in the pitch of dedication.”16 Fascism gave people the opportunity to step out of the old order and to build something new – a world in which the strong would prevail (= they themselves) and the weak (= the others) could expect nothing but despise. Front fighters had returned from war, but in their minds, they were still fighting. Mussolini promised them new enemies, new meaning, a second chance to win. The new enemies, however, were not on the frontline. The next war had to be fought at home against ordinary life, the habits and the moral compass of modern liberal society.

Stepping out of the liberal obligations of modern society resonates well with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Many tech entrepreneurs like Peter Thiel, Mark Zukerberg or Travor Kalanick are fans of the writer libertarian Ayn Rand. Kalanick was especially inspired by her novel “The Fountainhead”. For a while, he used the cover of the book as his Twitter avatar.17 The book tells the story of Howard Roark, who rebels against the rules and norms of society. Born in Russia and deeply impacted by the absence of freedom in Communist regimes, Rand considered the unfettered self-interest of individuals as the most important characteristic of human nature and altruism as a destructive weakness. Through the protagonist of her novel, Ayn Rand praised selfishness as the central value of a free society. The hero of her novel does not follow the rules, he makes them. He demonstrates how the selfish individual drives the progress of a free society in which life is about winning against others. Whatever stands in the way of individual freedom – such as religious or political rules – needs to be removed.18 As the novel’s hero Howard Roark states in the novel: “I don’t make comparisons. I never think of myself in relation to anyone else. I just refuse to measure myself as part of anything. I’m an utter egotist.”19

The world of Silicon Valley is a world of the strong in which there is no place for the weak. It is ruled by zero-sum meritocracy. Employees are evaluated on a Gaussian distribution curve. They are either high, average or low performers. They are either weak or strong. And the weak must be removed from the company. They get fired. Zero-sum competition dominates the culture of Silicon Valley start-ups as it dominates their behavior on markets. Employees can only survive if some of their peers don’t and success on markets can only be achieved when competitors can be fully destroyed. “You have to kill the enemy”, as Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld told his team. They had to “rip out the throats of their enemies.”20 Libertarians like Kalanick or Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel share this believe in the strong Übermensch. As Thiel once famously stated, “competition is for losers.”21 If a company has competitors, it didn’t do its job right. Life is a war and only the strongest warriors will survive. Compassion with the weak is a luxury, which neither Fascists nor Libertarians can afford.

The Führerprinzip in Silicon Valley

The parallels between early Italian Fascism and Silicon Valley do not stop here. For both, strong humans live the life of warriors and warriors need strong leaders. The Führerprinzip is the idea of the absolute leader who demands absolute obedience from followers. It is a feature of the aggressive leadership style of Steve Jobs, Trevor Kalanick, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Elizabeth Holmes and others. Dissensus and criticism is perceived as a threat to the hierarchical order of things and dissenting voices will be punished, humiliated and kicked out – or even completely destroyed as Musk, Holmes and others have demonstrated in some cases. The Führerprinzip includes another important dimension that we can include in our list of parallels. The Italian historian Franco Venturi once defined fascism as the realm of words that are moved by ghosts and which are ultimately taken for reality.22 In Silicon Valley they are proud of the ability of some charismatic leaders to create a reality distortion field around them. They succeed in shifting the perception of reality of followers to shift reality itself in the end. Fake it till you make it. Enron CEO Ken Lay has been called the Messiah by The Economist. WeWork founder Adam Neumann by his wife. And everybody wants to be the next Steve Jobs. Elizabeth Holmes explained to her staff that Theranos was a religion. Neumann called WeWork a spiritual community. Mussolini also called Fascism a spiritual community and a religious concept of life. Fascist mythology represented a metareality, which followers had to accept.23 If you do not want to be part of our new religion, Holmes once explained in an all-hands meeting at Theranos, just leave. Her lover and COO Sunny Balwani added, in his own style, that they were expecting devotion and loyalty and those who were not prepared for it should “get the fuck out.”24 Scholars in entrepreneurship and leadership must do some soul searching and ask themselves, how they contributed to how we celebrate the ruthless, narcissistic and charismatic founders as role models to our students.

Man becomes God – the new religion of Longterminism

The violent disruption of the old world and the building of a new one does of course need some narrative direction. In Fascist Rome, Mussolini smashed to build. Here comes a final parallel I want to draw. The Uber-man is not sufficient to replace the Fascist Übermensch. The Uber-man is good in breaking stuff, but he has no vision. Fascists used nationalism as a powerful ingredient in their narrative. Mussolini promised a return to the golden Age of Augustus in which the Roman warriors subdued the world and Italy as the natural heir of the Roman empire would revive that powerful empire. Silicon Valley neither has a particular vision of the past, nor is it nationalistic. Their business model is planetary. They only believe that the future must be radically different, more exciting than the past. It must lift homo sapiens to a higher level as already Fascism had hallucinated. In Silicon Valley, they believe in Homo Deus, the reinvention of a new species, half human, half machine. Rising from the ashes of our modern world man will ultimately merge with the machine and connect his brain with the existing knowledge – the singularity moment as one of the high priests of Silico Valley, Ray Kurzweil calls it.25 Technodeterminism, is how Jonathan Taplin recently critically labeled this approach,26 which parallels the fervent belief of early Fascism in the power of technology: Cars, trains, machines of all kind that drive us at an accelerating speed into an entirely new world – one of our own creation. In Silicon Valley, rockets replace the cars.


Fortunato Depero (1892–1960), Il motociclista

The new narrative of Silicon Valley is called Longterminism. Toby Ord outlines the basic idea in his book The Precipice:27 None of the current risks to which humanity is exposed represents a runaway risk. That is, neither nuclear winters nor climate change nor any other risk threatens the existence of humanity as such. There will always be humans. Trillions of people can still be born until the sun goes out in 500 million years. An amazing potential if you imagine the technological progress, we already achieved in a few hundred years and compare it with the one we can achieve in millions of years! The consequences longterminists draw is that we must invest in technological progress with the goal to transforms these future people into a new species. Homo deus, as Yuval Harari calls that it in his book with the same titel.28 Two technologies are crucial to achieve this wonderful future: rockets to leave this eventually-dying planet and AI merger with the human brain. Longterminism has its own research institute in Oxford and is financially supported by Thiel, Bezos, Musk and other relevant libertarians. The race of the Silicon Valley trillionaires for the longest and thickest Mars rocket can be explained by precisely this new religion. As for the brain-machine fusion, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and others massively invest in developing the brain computer interface for homo deus. Transhumanism, as this element of the new religion has been called, is “the world’s most dangerous idea”, as Francis Fukuyama has warned.29

To destabilize the current society and accelerate the fall of liberalism, some Silicon Valley protagonists like Peter Thiel finance extreme rightwing media and actors.30 Others prepare for the collapse by investing like preppers in stockpiled food and ammunition like ChatGPT CEO Sam Altman.31 Still others buy hideouts in New Zealand.32 They all promote crypto as another element of the new that destabilizes and disrupts the old liberal market order. As fervent believers in Longterminism, the Silicon Valley elites are not interested in the current multiple crises of our societies. On the contrary, through their social media platforms, Zuckerberg and Musk even instigate further polarization. Climate change, inequality, erosion of democracy – who cares? What counts is the far away future, not the present. Their greatest fear is not the collapse of our climate or the mass extinction of animals – they are haunted by the nightmare of AI taking over control. This would spoil their homo deus party. AI in control doesn’t need humans anymore. It is an explicit element of this new religion that in any decision preference must be given to future not current human beings. Why care about the millions of today if you can help the trillions in the (admittedly far away) future. The radically free market and new information technologies are their leverage. While the Fascist movement only wanted to create the Übermensch, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs go one step further. They want to turn man into immortal Gods.


1 Cantini, Claude, 2015. Les tribulations de Mussolini en Suisse. Passé-Simple, vol 3, March. Accessed at:

2 “9. Noi vogliamo glorificare la guerra – sola igiene del mondo – il militarismo, il patriottismo, il gesto distruttore dei libertarî7, le belle idee per cui si muore e il disprezzo della donna. 10. Noi vogliamo distruggere i musei, le biblioteche, le accademie d’ogni specie, e combattere contro il moralismo, il femminismo e contro ogni viltà opportunistica o utilitaria.” The Manifesto was published February 1909.

3 Macintyre, Alasdair, 1981. After Virtue. London: Bloomsbury, p. 49

4 Gherarducci, Isabella, 1976. Il Futurismo italiano: Materiali e testimonianze critiche. Roma; Editori Riuniti, page 27. My translation.

5 Daub, Adrian. 2020. What tech calls thinking. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux: New York. Page 125

6 Bower, J. L. and Christensen, C. M. 1995. Disruptive Technologies. Catching the Wave. Harvard Business Review, January–February. Accessed at:

7 Weiss, Debra Cassens, 2022. Meet Alex Spiro, a lawyer ‘in constant motion’ who is helping Elon Musk change Twitter. ABA Journal, November 7. Accessed at:

8 Weil, Simone, 2014 [1941]. L’Iliade ou le poème de la force. Paris: L’éclat, p. 76. My translation.

9 Vergil, Aeneid, book 2, 316-17. New translation by Shadi Bartsch, 2021. New York, Random House, p. 36

10 Putnam, Hilary 2004. Ethics without ontology. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, p. 29-30

11 Taylor, Charles, 2007. A Secular Age. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, p. 369

12 Taylor, 2007: p. 372

13 Taylor, 2007: p. 373

14 Taylor, 2007: p. 410

15 Taylor, 2007: p. 417

16 Taylor, 2007: p. 418-9

17 Kosoff, M. 2015. Everything you need to know about ‘The Fountainhead,’ a book that inspires billionaire Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Business Insider, June 1. Accessed at:

18 Kosoff, 2015

19 Rand, A. 1971 [1943]. The Fountainhead. New York: Macmillan. page 518

20 Levin, Bess 2007. Dick Fuld’s “I’ll Fucking Kill You, Like Actually Put A Shotgun In Your Mouth And Pull The Trigger ‘Til It Goes Click” Style Of Management Has Kept Lehman Brothers Safe From Things Like $8.4 Billion Writedowns, So Far. But Is He Going Soft? Dealbreaker, Oct 29. Accessed at:

21 Daub, 2020, p. 86

22 “un regno della parola che si muove di fantasmi che finisce per credere reali”. Franco Venturi, Il regime fascista. In AA. VV., Trent’anni di storia italiana (1915-1945), Torino Einaudi, 1961: pp 186-7) cited in: Isnenghi, Mario, 1975. PER LA STORIA DELLE ISTITUZIONI CULTURALI FASCISTE. In: Belfagor, Vol. 30, No. 3 (31 MAGGIO 1975), pp. 249-275

23 Payne, Stanley G. 1996. A History of Fascism, 1914-1945. London: Routledge, p. 215.

24 Carreyrou, John, 2018. Bad blood. London: Pikador, p. 173

25 Kurzweil, Ray, 2006. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York: Penguin.

26 Taplin, Jonathan, 2023. Zuckerberg, and Andreessen—Four Billionaire Techno-Oligarchs—Are Creating an Alternate, Autocratic Reality. Vanity Fair, August 22. Accessed at:

27 Ord, Toby, 2020. The Precipice. Existential risks and the future of humanity. London: Bloomsbury.

28 Harari, Yuval Noah, 2015. Homo Deus. A brief history of tomorrow. London: Harvill Secker.

29 Cited in: Taplin, 2023

30 Pogue, James, 2022. Free radicals. Inside the New Right, Where Peter Thiel Is Placing His Biggest Bets. Vanity Fair, April 20. Accessed at:

31 Nguyen, Britney, 2023. Meet OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who learned to code at 8 and is a doomsday prepper with a stash of gold, guns, and gas masks. Business Insider, May 30. Accessed at:

32 O’Connell, Mark, 2018. Why Silicon Valley billionaires are prepping for the apocalypse in New Zealand. The Guardian, February 15. Accessed at:


  1. Nicely written! Thank you for linking it all together; it’s a mess with these so called messiah-like saviors. Seems people don’t read history anymore to learn, & to think critically. They are full of Blah blah blah, ego, ignorance etc I can keep going & going … but will live it here.

  2. Walk the talk. Ohne Integrität ist diese Empörung leider nichts wert. Menschen in Gefahr bringen, aber keine Verantwortung übernehmen und von dem System leben, das man kritisiert. Schwierig.


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