With no desire to practice law, Karp went on to study under Jurgen Habermas, one of the 20th century’s most prominent philosophers, at the University of Frankfurt. Not long after obtaining his doctorate, he received an inheritance from his grandfather, and began investing it in startups and stocks with surprising success. Some high-net-worth individuals heard that “this crazy dude was good at investing” and began to seek his services, he says. To manage their money he set up the London-based Caedmon Group, a reference to Karp’s middle name, the same as the first known English-language poet.
Back in Silicon Valley Thiel had cofounded PayPal and sold it to eBay in October 2002 for $1.5 billion. He went on to create a hedge fund called Clarium Capital but continued to found new companies: One would become Palantir, named by Thiel for the Palantiri seeing stones from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, orbs that allow the holder to gaze across vast distances to track friends and foes.
In a post-9/11 world Thiel wanted to sell those Palantiri-like powers to the growing national security complex: His concept for Palantir was to use the fraud-recognition software designed for PayPal to stop terrorist attacks. But from the beginning the libertarian saw Palantir as an antidote to–not a tool for–privacy violations in a society slipping into a vise of security.