This article is based on a speech delivered at Shift’s Defense Ventures Summit in Washington, D.C. on November 15, 2023. Scroll down for a video of the address.
Two years ago, I made a bold prediction, which is actually a bad thing for a venture capitalist to do because we’re so often wrong. During the Reagan National Defense Forum, I tweeted “Time is Running Out with Silicon Valley.” We needed to figure out how to get the Department of Defense to transform its laborious, unproductive procurement process. If they didn’t, start-up companies with breakthrough ideas were going to abandon military defense and move to more fruitful areas of technology. We had to move faster. We had to act with urgency. Because American defense—and the defense of our allies—depended on us.
And then just a few months later, that prediction became a moot point: Russia invaded Ukraine and reminded us why defense technology is not merely something to debate in theory. We were living in a new geopolitical reality. Time wasn’t running out. The sand was at the bottom of the hourglass. History had begun again, and we understood we were entering a new, violent age that would look different from the recent past.
In that narrow window before the world changed, I also wrote a thesis for a new category of technology company. At the time, this felt somewhat controversial, maybe even a little shocking, to my friends in San Francisco. In the essay I stated that my firm Andreessen Horowitz, one of the largest venture capital firms in the world, was unabashedly and proudly declaring its unanimous support for America. That we were betting on America. And that this wasn’t a marketing gimmick or some ESG-adjacent nonsense, but a strategy. We’re in the business of value creation. Of taking bets on things that get very big, very fast. We concluded that America and our allies are best off when we’re building technology companies that support the national interest.
We believe a strong America means a strong world. A safer world. A more civilized world, which is a term we should use more. And that technology is the backbone of maintaining this order and civilization and always will be.
We called this movement American Dynamism. In the investing business, it’s all about calibrating risk and sometimes taking bets that others don’t see. But this bet was and is so obvious. It might have just taken a little bit of moral courage to say the word America out loud.
But others have said it. The great investors will tell you: one of the few certainties of the last 150 years has been the growth and dynamism of the United States. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, at their recent annual meeting in Omaha, repeatedly reminded their investors “never bet against America.” Buffett reminded the crowd that a young country like ours started out with half of one percent of the world’s population, and just 247 years later, here we are commanding 25 percent of the world’s GDP.
“A miracle,” he called it. That’s an oddly religious phrase for an investor, but an accurate one. Jamie Dimon prefers a poker analogy: that America has the best hand ever dealt to any country on this planet, ever. Whether it’s our geography, our universities, our peaceful neighbors, our natural resources, the rule of law, our work ethic, innovation in the core of our bones, the widest and deepest financial markets, and the best military on the planet. We will have this last item, he said, “for as long as we have the best economy.”
America is destined to win.
So why are we starting to fear that this miracle is now on shaky ground? Why do we sense we’re encountering the greatest global unrest since the Cold War? That we’ve entered the most precarious moment in our lives?
Because deep down, we know how you win a war against America.
You win a war against America when we stop innovating. When we become scared of technology, and the drive that resides deep in our bones. When we cease to be the world’s exporter of innovation and cede that role to China, or to global consortiums of dunces.
You win a war against America when you greet builders with suspicion. When your instinct is to destroy the weirdos doing new things on the frontier.
You win a war against America when old companies become too big to fail and ensure that the little ones around them are squashed instead. When we trust age more than we trust vitality, when everything is old—from our infrastructure to our industrial base to our political leaders—because we’ve conquered and discouraged the new.
You win a war against America when our identities become more important than our duties to each other. When we turn inward and focus on our neuroses rather than on the needs of our families and our communities. Around fifty years ago, sociologist Philip Rieff called modern man “psychological man” in The Triumph of the Therapeutic, noting that psychological man “is likely going nowhere, but aims to achieve a certain speed and certainty in his going.” In 50 years, our new neuroticism is now a meme that mocks men who would rather build things and do things than go to therapy, an ethos we used to celebrate in this country.
You win a war against America when we believe the doomer memes and stop thinking life has meaning at all. When our faith in everything is broken: a recent Wall Street Journal poll found that faith, family, and the flag—the very things that used to define our national character—have eroded in the last 25 years. Less than thirty percent of people say patriotism is important to them, down from 70 percent two decades ago. Religion, having children, and community fared the same. You win the war against America when it’s nihilism all the way down.
You win a war against America when our great cities are ruled by crime rings. When businesses are shuttered because security is meaningless theater. When our police are derided. When good people are driven out by bad policy.
You win a war against America when fentanyl pours across our borders, manufactured by an adversary that still remembers the Opium Wars, and delivered by cartels that have no respect for human life. One hundred thousand of our countrymen and women are dead every year in a silent epidemic that’s being met with a collective shrug.
You win a war against America with toys like TikTok that give our adversaries direct access to the anxious minds of teenagers. You win a war against America when you invest billions of dollars in the CCP’s tech ecosystem and pretend that’s just the way business works.
You win a war against America when you have us both-sidesing terrorism. When “nuance” and “it’s complicated” gets in the way of condemning barbaric enemies who slaughter children in their bedrooms as they plead for mercy. You win a war against America when we no longer believe in good and evil, civilization and destruction, just fine people on both sides.
You win a war against America when many in our media and universities seem more aligned with the propaganda of Hamas than the interests of this country. When we forget about hostages because the news cycle thundered to some other Current Thing. You win a war against America when the debate is no longer about security versus privacy but our modern and more dangerous debate of security versus grievance.
You win a war against America when you can no longer speak freely in the land of free speech. When we consume more than we create. When we attack capitalism, the engine of our growth, as though we don’t deserve and shouldn’t celebrate the fruits of our building.
You win this war against America silently, methodically, and without firing a single shot.
But the good news is we know how to fight back. And we’re here because we heard the call to build against these dark forces we face. We know technology is the escape hatch from a nihilistic world. That democracy demands a sword and sometimes we have to use it to defend ourselves, our allies, and civilization.
Some have been critical that we named this movement American Dynamism, but I’ll tell you, never have two words in the investing community meant so much and stood for real, civilizational truth. We often focus on America—the obvious beneficiary of our building. “American” was meant not only as a symbol of what we build for but the unseriousness we reject, a global elite that would be so foolish as to have Iran chair a UN Human Rights forum. America is order—the order we want, the order our allies want. And we shouldn’t be afraid to say that.
But even more important than our choosing the word America is the word Dynamism, the teleological end of technological supremacy. We aren’t American defense, or defense tech, or hard tech, or deep tech, or military tech. Those are means to the end we aspire to—but what is that end?
Dynamism is growth, movement, momentum, and opportunity. In his techno-optimist manifesto, Marc Andreessen wrote, “We believe everything good is downstream of growth. We believe not growing is stagnation, which leads to zero-sum thinking, internal fighting, degradation, collapse, and ultimately death.” Dynamism is life. And we embrace dynamism and the values upon which the country was founded because they are true and worth defending. Dynamism makes America the country people want to be from, to immigrate to, and to build a life, career, or company in.
The American lauds as a noble and praiseworthy ambition what our forefathers stigmatized as servile cupidity. In America, fortunes are lost and regained without difficulty, the country is boundless and its resources inexhaustible. . . . Boldness of enterprise is the foremost cause of its rapid progress, its strength, and its greatness. Commercial business is there like a vast lottery by which a small number of men will continually lose, but the State is always a gainer.
The State is always a gainer. America always wins.
So how do we ensure we continue building dynamism? How do we win a slow and methodical silent war?
Well, it takes will and it takes courage.
Every day I talk to smart young people who want to work in tech or become founders. And I ask them a simple and obvious question—one that should be instinctual to answer. Not about their revenue goals or their product or how they’re going to scale a team from 5 to 50. But a more essential question: What do you believe? Why will people follow you? I might as well ask: What is your creed? What will you shout from the rooftops even if you’re maligned for it?
We don’t win a war against bad ideologies unless we know who we are, what we stand for, and where we’re headed. And if we lose this silent war—the ultimate war for American ideals—it’s not because we don’t have the know-how to build missiles and hypersonics and attributable systems and drone swarms. It will be because we doubt our inheritance. Because we doubt the beauty and nobility of what we’re building. Because we doubt that American Dynamism is true and the key to a safer, more prosperous civilization.
Katherine Boyle is a venture capitalist and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. She is the co-founder of the American Dynamism practice, which invests in companies building to support the national interest. Follow her on X @KtmBoyle.
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