PARTY LIKE IT'S 1905
A gala celebration in honor of the 100th birthday of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" writer Ayn Rand (1905-82) is scheduled for February 2 at Porters Restaurant in Chelsea. Copywriter and author Don Hauptman, whose books focus on language and wordplay, will host the event, and one of Rand's friends and lawyers, Erika Holzer, will share her recollections of the novelist. The cost of the event is $55, and reservations can be made through Laissez Faire Books.
On January 6, another celebration in honor of Rand was held by Junto, a monthly New York discussion group focusing on libertarianism, Objectivism, and investing. One highlight of the evening was when a birthday cake decorated with dollar signs was rolled in. When Rand died, a 6-foot dollar sign was placed near her body at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home. It's enough to make other thinkers "green" with envy.
One Rand fan arrived from afar to pay homage to the lady of the hour as a speaker. Paris-born Francois-Rene Rideau, 31, was on his first visit to New York. He described himself as "a one-man think tank from France." He said if one asks, "What is the reaction in France to Ayn Rand's ideas?" the French respond, "The reaction to what?" In America, he said, academics have learned to dismiss Rand as irrelevant without a real argument, but in France, no one has even heard of her.
The Knickerbocker spoke with Mr. Rideau again later that week to get a sense of what life is like for a conservative in France. He said, "Culturally I'm cosmopolitan; politically I'm for individual sovereignty." Following Rand, he believes that the smallest minority is the individual and says that if one is not for individual rights, one is not for minority rights.
Mr. Rideau himself finds himself part of a very small minority indeed as a libertarian in France. His father, born a Catholic in Tunisia, is a retired mathematics professor who studied at Ecole Polytechnique. His mother hails from Vietnam; her family fled communist North Vietnam in 1954 when her father was threatened with death by Ho Chi Minh's regime. She moved to South Vietnam before immigrating to France in 1971 to complete her Ph.D.
Mr. Rideau said his politics were influenced by his mother's concern about checks and balances within governments. "She made me read George Orwell's '1984' in the year 1984, made me interested in liberty." Another book that influenced him was Friedrich Von Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom." which, he said, left many questions unanswered but "put me on the right track." Finally, he discovered Claude Frederic Bastiat (1801-50), the French economist and advocate of free trade - and, as he said, "the rest followed." Mr. Rideau runs the Web site www.bastiat.org.
"I love America," he said. "I am an American in a way. I believe in the principles of life, liberty, and property that inspired Founding Fathers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson."
He believes that all voluntary transactions between consenting adults are legitimate. Asked if he supports limited or no government, he replied, "It depends on what you call government. If by government, you mean monopoly of force, then I am for no government. If by government you mean organization of force, I am for as much government as individuals want to support voluntarily."
While many French libertarians do not particularly support President Bush, they are more worried about Arab terrorism than others of their countrymen, Mr. Rideau said. Such terrorism "is supported by the French left because they are both enemies of capitalism," he said. There is a divide among libertarians on the question of war in Iraq, he continued. American libertarians tend to resent the cost of war to America in terms of destroyed lives, wasted taxes, and reduced liberties; the French libertarians are more directly concerned about the unchecked growth of anti-civilization forces of Islamic fundamentalists.
Mr. Rideau said his view is, "Nobody should be forced to participate in a war he doesn't like but shouldn't be prevented from fighting for the things he values."
He said one of the reasons he did not vote for Alain Madelin - "a kind of libertarian conservative candidate for presidency" - was that he "never dared to defend openly capitalism on moral grounds."
Mr. Rideau said libertarians are ignored or "censored" by the mainstream press in France but that interest is growing "thanks to the Internet and underground journals." Asked about anti-Americanism in France, Mr. Rideau said one couldn't escape it. Since it's already at the top, he said, it has no room to rise.
How does he compare America and France economically? America is more and more a social democrat protectionist welfare state, he said, but as "compared to France, it's a free market paradise."
Many of our best historians are former journalists. One notable example is Robert Caro. The city editor of the New York Observer, Terry Golway, is a rare historian who has remained a practicing newspaperman.
On Monday - the day his latest book was published - Mr. Golway discussed "Washington General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution" in a noon appearance at the Makor/Steinhardt Center of the 92nd Street Y on West 67th Street.
His talk, followed by a question-and-answer session, made clear that the now obscure Greene, the namesake of Brooklyn's rising neighborhood of Fort Greene, had a dramatic effect on American history at a few key junctures. The Quaker from Rhode Island became a self-taught military man and President Washington's youngest brigadier general. In 1775-76, he helped Washington lead the resistance in the hills surrounding Boston, eventually forcing the British to evacuate. When the battleground then moved to New York, Greene helped keep the rebel army a step ahead.
Mr. Golway cooled his rapt audience's ardor for his subject by reporting that once the British had won New York, Greene suggested burning the city to cheapen the enemy's prize. Congress vetoed the plan, but a suspicious fire promptly consumed 40% of New York.
Most notably, Mr. Golway argued, had not an outmanned Greene developed a brilliant plan to thwart the Crown's "southern strategy" in the Carolinas and Virginia, then Lord Cornwallis, Britain's general, might well have won the Revolutionary War by 1781. Greene also had a major and unintended influence on the course of events, Mr. Golway makes clear, by dying young. Had he not perished in 1786 at age 43, he likely would have served as Washington's vice president or at least the secretary of war, Mr. Golway said.
Even so, Greene's story is certainly about more than generalship. The biographer made clear at Makor that Greene's rebellious youth was a notably interesting one, and that his charismatic wife, Catharine, with whom Washington once danced for three hours straight, was a charismatic 18th-century feminist.