After establishing a career as a screenwriter, Ayn Rand authored two novels, “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” that are the intellectual bibles of libertarian conservatives, corporate executives and callow undergraduates. Among the many aspirational young conservatives inspired by Rand’s philosophy was a kid named Paul D. Ryan.
“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said in a 2005 speech. “I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are… It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.”
Now that Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is the No. 2 guy on the ticket of evangelical America’s favorite party, he denies Rand was ever that big an influence and says he rejects her beliefs. While it may be true he does not share her atheism or her support for abortion, it is disingenuous of him to claim he rejects the economic core of her philosophy because it is the central animating principle of his, and his party’s, crusade to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.
Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism," in her own words, centers on "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." Rand saw free-market capitalism as the only moral system for organizing society because it protects individual rights and allows exceptional people to create, build and thrive.
In Rand’s view of the world, there were “makers” and “takers,” and the makers had no obligation to share their wealth with the takers. It is easy to understand why she is a goddess of the tea party movement and every high roller on Wall Street. It is less easy to understand what she would have us do with those many, many people who are not as brilliant, not as talented, not as powerful, not as lucky, not as blessed with good health as the “heroic beings” who achieve great things.
Despite his renunciation of Rand, Paul Ryan has written federal budget plans that are quite Randian. They cut services for the poor and give benefits and tax breaks to the rich. For this, the Roman Catholic congressman is being criticized by America’s Catholic bishops, as well as the Jesuits and American nuns who preach a social gospel that reeks of the selfless altruism that Rand despised. The religious right, on the other hand, has blessed Ryan’s work. The Americanized gospel of the politicized evangelical churches tends to see success and affluence as evidence of God’s favor, while poverty and joblessness are suspicious signs of weak moral discipline and a proclivity to leech off the hard work of the virtuous.
So, with the enthusiastic backing of Christian conservatives, virtually every major piece of economic legislation proposed by Republicans in Congress favors the successful and wealthy. The much esteemed “job creators” are to be unburdened and unleashed while immigrants, welfare recipients, jobless people, the working poor, powerless consumers and struggling students are penalized for wanting a break, working too little, expecting protection and asking for too much.
Republicans act as if this approach to government is somehow part of a divine plan, but their philosophy contains very little of Jesus and a lot of Ayn Rand.