As part of phase 1 of the Left’s plan to define then destroy Paul Ryan, we’re now being treated to article after article after article detailing Ryan’s alleged devotion to Ayn Rand. For those who aren’t familiar with Rand, she’s an anti-communist, atheist, libertine libertarian who wrote two famous (but tedious) economic screeds masquerading as novels. Rand is a divisive figure amongst conservative intellectuals because she was a militant atheist — utterly contemptuous of the faithful. She’s a hate figure on the Left because of her withering critique of collectivism. To the Left, a “Randian” is a social darwinist capitalist who would slaughter the poor if he could. So when a Leftist calls a politician a Randian, they’re delivering the ultimate insult.
But that tells only part of the story. For conservatives of my generation (I’m one year older than Paul Ryan) Rand often represented an exit ramp from economic liberalism. Then as now our educational system — both public and private — was steeped in collectivism and deeply critical of capitalism. Reading a Rand character’s epic rants (her novels are full of “monologuing”) was like getting splashed with cold water. When I read Rand’s novels, I was put off by her atheism and painfully bored by her plots but also exhilarated by her dissent from socialism. Sure, Hayek would have been a better first read, but for better or worse (mostly worse) Atlas Shrugged was passed around much more than Road to Serfdom, and for many conservatives reading Rand was part of the rite of passage out of liberalism.
So when Paul Ryan said this:
[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.
I knew exactly what he meant. But understanding Rand as a critic of collectivism does not mean embracing Rand as a model for policy or morality. In fact, by virtually every objective measure that matters, Ryan is no Randian.Most importantly, Paul Ryan is a faithful Catholic, counting Thomas Aquinas as a key influence. By contrast, here’s Rand speaking about religion in an interview:
Playboy: Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?
Ayn Rand: Qua religion, no – in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason.
And here’s Paul Ryan on abortion:
I’m as pro-life as a person gets . . . You’re not going to have a truce. Judges are going to come up. Issues come up, they’re unavoidable, and I’m never going to not vote pro-life.
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).
Finally, Rand was an implacable opponent of the welfare state, utterly opposed to the social safety net in any recognizable form. The Ryan budget, on the other hand, represents a creative effort to not only make Medicare sustainable over the long run, but also to make it work better for seniors. Watch the video below and then try to argue that those are the words of a man who doesn’t care about seniors and who doesn’t care about preserving their access to affordable, high-quality health care:
The bottom line? Actions speak louder than words, and Paul Ryan’s career in public service represents in many ways the best the conservative movement has to offer — a faith-filled man who defends the most vulnerable in society even as he seeks creative ways to sustain an American system that tens of millions of Americans depend on and value.
Ayn Rand would not approve.