Are secret societies always bad for society?

Jules Evans
8 min readApr 19
Members of Yale’s Skull and Bones

This January, the World Economic Forum reconvened in Davos. The annual gathering has been criticized as a place where the globalist elite gather to conspire against the rest of us. But Malcolm Collins scoffs at the idea anything important happens there. ‘Davos is where lower-level elites go to be told what the narrative is’, he says. ‘It’s where the mindless minions get their marching orders.’ The real elite is gathering elsewhere.

Malcolm and his wife, Simone, organize ‘secret societies’ for the American elite, particularly the tech rich. Simone was managing director for Dialog, the invite-only ideas-gathering set up in 2006 by Peter Thiel and Auren Hoffman. They also recruited members for Act2, a young leaders network set up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy, and have worked for other more secretive organisations.

‘Secret societies are very interesting and high utility’, Malcolm tells me. ‘They’ve become more popular in the last two years for two reasons. First, a lot of the elite moved out of big cities during the pandemic, so they need places to socialize and learn what’s new. Second, they need a place where they can talk honestly without being cancelled. There’s zero chill in society right now.’

What Malcolm calls ‘secret societies’ have long been popular with the American elite, though they may be becoming more so. Eric Schmidt has gathered everyone from Senator Cory Brooker to Lady Gaga at his annual Yellowstone Club. Investment bank Allen & Company has run its Sun Valley ‘summer camp for billionaires’ since 1983. Now, the ‘new elite’ is finding places to think ‘outside of the orthodox and figure out what’s going on’, Collins says. Peter Thiel hosts a few of the new gatherings, from the Founders 50 island retreat to the Hereticon festival.

Another organizer of an exclusive gathering says: ‘Where can you meet and hang out with people with different views to you, but still in an environment where you can trust the conversation will stay private? The secrecy is a means to an end, so people don’t leak things to raise their status.’

The ‘granddaddy’ of this sort of network is Renaissance Weekends, a gathering in South Carolina founded in 1981 by power couple Phil and Linda Lader. Phil says: ‘One evening we were talking with…

Jules Evans

Recommended from Medium


See more recommendations