January 6th, 2005

eyes black and white

Speech at a meeting in memory of Ayn Rand

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I am François-René Rideau, a one-man think tank from France, and the webmaster of Bastiat.org. Since I realized tonight that time is expensive, I will be short. Iris asked me to answer the question: What is the reaction in France to Ayn Rand's ideas? Well, the answer is quite short actually: <french accent>The reaction to what???</french accent> In France, Ayn Rand is even less known that in America. The difference is that in France, academics don't even have to find a pretense so as to dismiss the significance of Ayn Rand, that is hardly ever brought about.

But the problem with the silencing of libertarian ideas goes much further. Consider that free trade was relatively popular in 1776 after Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. At the same time, socialism was mostly unheard of. Nowadays, free trade goes mostly undefended, while socialism is the semi-official religion of the day. So this is not just a matter of new ideas that haven't had the time to spread.

Ayn Rand insisted that the superiority of objectivist ideas resides in their rationality. Well, for an argument to be accepted, there are four steps which must be overcome: the argument must be heard; it must be listened to; it must vanquish prejudices; it must be understood. Only on the last step does rationality matter. For the rest, we must develop our skills at rhetoric if we want our ideas to compete on par with those of our opponents.

Having fun together is nice and well, and we're enjoying tonight (at least, I hope); but it only goes so far in terms of advancing Liberty. To advance Liberty is to convince other people of the nature, validity and importance of human rights. And convincing other people is a long and difficult task. It is an Enterprise of its own, to be approached as such. We have limited resources; we must manage them properly. With these resources, we must develop and market our ideas and arguments. Usual marketing techniques and pitfalls apply. We must define our targets, and cater to their needs. Most importantly, so as to survive and to extend, we must follow the bottom line: the self interest of the participating individuals, the sustainability, hence profitability, of the structuring institutions through which we advance Liberty.

Liberty will not prevail by chance. It will prevail because some people will have taken its success seriously, and will have undertaken the task of heralding it rationally. You can be among these people. You can become an activist. Or you can fund activism by people who specialize in the field. You may decide to fund my think tank, or another libertarian organization. In any case, it is your responsibility to entrust proper resources to people who will advance the cause of Liberty. Because you are the ones who know better.

Thank you for your attention.