Ayn Rand giving Paul Ryan the Pip Among the Papists

When Mitt Romney selected the Catholic Paul Ryan to be his running mate, he probably thought it would lock in “the Catholic vote” in one neat move.

He couldn’t possibly understand that what he’s really done is revealed a few trenchant truths about Catholics in America, to whit:

1) We are not monolithic in our thinking. This should not surprise anyone; a quick Facebook turn through the timelines of Catholics in-various-degrees-of-obedience to Rome will demonstrate keenly that Catholics run the ideological (and sometimes theological) gamut.

2) Most Catholics are not represented by Nancy Pelosi’s extreme liberality or Bill Donohue’s extreme conservatism but fall somewhere within the sane middle of the spectrum. Insofar as sanity is possible.

3) Catholic Social Teaching is complex, nuanced and does not lend itself to accurate representation in 140-character tweets, 5-word bumperstickers or 30-second soundbites, which tend only to distort and dilute. Which is why we all buy the bumperstickers and listen to (or provide) the soundbites and tweets that suit our individual agendas.

For a Catholic politician to successfully capture the so-called “Catholic Vote” would require that he or she nimbly traverse these mine fields and somehow come through with limbs-and-heart-and-soul intact after various Catholic factions have done their explosive best:

— Be ardently and womb-to-tomb pro-life
(Rating: Difficult but but do-able. The pol must not strident about it, nor be especially anti-contraception although he must support Catholic’s rights to not have the exercise of their religion impacted by policy)

— Support comprehensive Immigration Reform
(Rating: A gift. Easy-peasey)

— Support legislation meant “to help the poor”
(Rating: KA-BOOM! Nearly impossible, because Catholics have very different ideas about how to best serve the poor (and because those ideas are often tied to political leanings) they are vocal about it and quick to break into spittle-flecked hissing factions. Our teaching on the principal of Subsidiarity is helpful here, but it is little-understood and, unfortunately, as ripe for agenda-basketed-cherry-picking as anything else.

Given the above, it might seem like the selection of “Conservative Catholic” Paul Ryan on the GOP ticket will be as impactful among the Papists as the selection of “Liberal Catholic” Joe Biden on the Democrat side, except for one issue that has the potential to divert the entire presidential campaign into a distracted (but possibly determining) debate on Ayn Rand and her disconnected Objectivism.

I find the prospect cheering; if discussed in good faith (as far as “good faith” is still possible amongst us) a round of Rand-focused discourse could have the beneficial impact of forcing the candidates in this very important election to leave off with the easy, cynical, and excessive use of red-meat hype and negative ads, to actually engage in the exploration of vital ideas, and in this way Subsidiarity may finally get looked at

The thing is, most Catholics are repulsed by Rand’s philosophies. In the middle of reading Atlas Shrugged, my husband tossed the book at the wall and said “that’s enough of that; my soul can’t take anymore. And her prose is terrible.”

He objected, as most of us do, to Rand’s philosophy of “rational self-interest” which she takes to arid, inhuman and inhumane extremes. Objectivism, she claimed, is “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.” Or, as one character in Atlas Shrugged vowed, “I swear by my life, and by my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, not ask another man to live for mine.”

It follows, of course, that such a philosophy would also refuse to die for the sake of another man’s life.

Nothing could more clearly delineate the chasm between Rand and Catholicism, particularly today, when Catholics remember Saint Maximillian Kolbe, the priest who died at Auschwitz, so that another man could live.

The proudly misanthropic (and non-Catholic) Florence King wrote of Rand, “She carried misanthropy of the naked intellect further than it has ever been carried before or since.”

Paul Ryan has been quoted in the past as saying:

“I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.” [...] 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,”

I suppose some could argue that Ryan meant that he found Rand’s ideas so repellent they helped form him in an opposite direction, but disingenuity is not helpful.

Also not helpful is the new narrative that Ryan’s praise of Rand is a myth, or an “urban legend”.

Matthew Archbold has a sensible take on the question of Ryan and Rand: Read, and then read more:

Rand diagnosed the problems we are seeing today incredibly well. Socialism, according to Rand, dictates that the individual has no right to exist for his own sake and that the sole justification of existence is what they can offer to society. I think many Christians would express this similar concern about the culture of big government today.

I, however, strongly differ with Rand on the solution as I’m sure would Paul Ryan. She would advocate selfishness and I would argue love.

My own view is that if Barack Obama is allowed to “evolve” on gay marriage, and his evolution must be taken at his word, then Paul Ryan is allowed to “evolve” on Ayn Rand, and we must take him at his word, as well. Common sense dictates that one can read someone else’s philosophy and find a kernel or two worth keeping while rejecting the rest. Even the least-generous of opponents must concede that — and, as we saw in 2008, the Obama/Biden ticket can be as ungenerous as any Randian hero, when they want to be.

It does no good to pretend one has never said what one has said, so Ryan would do well to get out there and define his own ideas on Objectivity and the egregious Rand before others (with the prompt help of the Obama-assisting press) succeed in doing it for him. In the process he might lead the nation into a serious discussion of what sort of people we are, and by what means we best serve “the least among us” — where are our limits in service to the poor, and how far are we willing to go to justify “practical” means toward such worthy ends?

The fact is, some conservatives might applaud some of Rand’s notions, but they would also recoil at a story of medical care rationed to the more mentally-fit, which the icy Rand would probably applaud with vigor. Likewise, many progressives might similarly support such rationing as a “practical” matter”, while finding Rand’s extreme individualism repulsive.

So, in Ayn Rand, there is a lot to hate, and everyone can join in, but there are, unfortunately, those “kernals” that line-up with philosophers on the left and the right. But there is so much chaff amid her few stalks of wheat, they seem to me to be best left wholly unplucked.

There is a lot of good writing out there on this issue of Ryan and Rand. Here are some links, in no particular order:

Thomas L. McDonald: Ryan, Rand and the Catholic Angle

Mark Shea: Having none of it but notes “my concern about Ryan is not about Ryan”

David French: Ryan is no Randian

Dwight Longenecker: Catholic Ryan loves Atheist Rand?

Instapundit: Is Ryan’s Budget Radical? Far from!

Ryan: Writing last April

Can Ryan’s Candidacy: energize exploration of Catholic Social Teaching?

Ed Kilgore: St. Ayn and St. Thomas

Frank Weathers: What Ayn Rand Missed

RCP: Ryan taking on (holy) water

MSW: Enjoying Ryan’s Randian problem

More Frightening for Dems: than Rand’s notions

Ryan on the USCCB’s reaction to his budget plan:

YouTube Preview Image

UPDATE: Irony of the day via Facebook, where a “progressive” friend who routinely disagrees with the bishops on most pelvic matters ranted “how dare the National Catholic Register go against the Bishops”. Too funny. This was the piece that inspired it.
Pat Archbold: Bishops wrong on Ryan

Meanwhile Chris Matthews: as hyper and hyperbolic as usual.

Politics is a sewer

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Laura

    ‘Ryan Shrugged’ Robert Costa at NRO.

    [It's already linked in the body of the text -admin]

  • Nicky

    I would guess that Romney is analytical enough to know that picking Ryan would not “lock” up the Catholic vote.

  • http://www.cleansingfiredor.com Nerina

    I agree with Nicky. It seems to me that he was looking to shore up his conservative credentials by picking Ryan. I think he is really hoping that Ryan can bridge the gap between establishment and “TEA Party” conservatives.

  • Laura

    Lots of links, I am sorry I missed that. I suppose the bigger question might be: is the candidate an ethical free-market capitalist?

  • Richard

    “Bill Donohue’s extreme conservatism” — I’m sure that Bill, and many others, would say that he is simply being faithful and obedient to the magisterium of the Church, a much needed antidote in the public square to the cafeteria Catholicism of Pelosi, et. al.

    [We can agree to disagree but Donohue takes it to an ugly and unedifying extreme too often for my tastes, as he did a few months back on the issue of homosexual parents -admin]

  • http://goldfishandclowns.com/ Jerry Wilson

    Trying to decide whether this omnipresent hand-wringing over Rand being an influence on Ryan is genuine desire for doctrinal purity or a massive case of collective butthurt.

    I’m leaning toward butthurt.

  • Lex Libertas

    Silliness on stilts. The obsessive focus on the Rand-Ryan nexus will be yesterday’s news right around tomorrow. I am uncertain whether this nervous tic is a bad case of CathBlog digital mortification, or just another example of successful MSM narrative shaping. Either way, it is another distraction for those who chase shiny objects for a living or as a hobby. And the self-righteous hrrumphing from the usual subjects (yes Mr. Shea, your phylacteries and fringes are showing) is both depressing and banal, which is difficult to pull off. The Obama team is quietly smiling at each “question” from the media & pointless clarification from Ryan regarding his reading list, as they realize it means several more days of distraction and deflection from the real issues. So, by all means, let’s help that process along.

  • sam

    Tell me how are we to know that the author of this article is as pure as she claims to be re Catholicism. Paul Ryan like many young people explored various writers, philosophers, etc. But Paul Ryan like many young Catholics moved away from the things which proved contrary to Church teaching. Congressman Ryan is a as Catholic as they come and perhaps even more Catholic than the writers husband who threw the book because he can’t tolerate other opinions w/o feeling conflicted. That’s his problem. Pope Benedict XVI as well as PJP II and many other excellent Catholics do read things outside the faith then leave them behind. PBXVI has read the Harry Potter books (did any of you know that? and he even wrote to the author). All prior to his papacy but in line w/his work in the Magisterium.

    It seems to me to be totally ignorant to attempt to destroy a person whom you have never met or had any relationship w/by using stories that float on the web w/o getting the right info from the person himself. Not journalism to be sure. Not Catholic Christen either.

    [I'm gathering you didn't read this post. I never said I am a "pure" Catholic, nor did I castigate Ryan. I just said he needs to get out in front of this and define the Rand issue himself before it's done for him. -admin]

  • Chris

    My response to reading Rand was similar to your husbands: i thought it was awful writing and bad philosophy (insofar as i am qualified to judge philosophy).

    i didn’t throw the book at the wall, though, because it was a library book.

    i’m interested in what Congressman Ryan actually says himself about Rand and her influences on his thinking, not what the spinmeisters (working for either party).

  • http://egregioustwaddle.blogspot.com/ Joanne K McPortland

    It does seem to be totally ignorant to attempt to destroy a blogger whom you have never met or had any relationship with by impugning her faith and that of her husband in your defense of Mr Ryan’s commitment to atheist self-interest, paint it in Catholic colors however he may try. Not Christian at all, at all.

  • Brian English

    Has anyone yet identified a specific Randian component contained in the budget plan Ryan is famous for?

  • http://abbey-roads.blogspot.com/ terry nelson

    Fr Z links to another writer who quotes Ryan:

    ““I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

    “I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.”

    Works for me.

    Something to blog about, I guess. ;)

    [Yes, and Matt Archbold, whom I quote in this piece -- because I tried to write something really balanced -- says Rand led him (ultimately) to Catholicism. But apparently Paul Ryan is about to become the new Palin, in that if anyone writes about him in anything-less-than-glowing-and-wholly-adoring-phrases, they're stupid and enemies...or something. Here we go again: "my-ideology-is-met-in-this-person-and-here-comes-my-idol." -admin]

  • Guy Murdoch

    I just stumbled across this post and have no dog in this fight, but I am interested in knowing whether the Catholic blogosphere was as intently interested in the intellectual roots of Joe Biden’s pro-Choice advocacy? How about we judge the man based on what he has done (I don’t think trying to save Medicare for future generations would get kudos from Rand), instead of what he read in high school.

    [Once again, I wonder if the commenter actually read the post or is just assuming that it's a bit Ryan-slam. -admin]

  • Roz Smith

    Frankly I’m almost suspicious of those who didn’t like Rand when they were young. As a general rule the young tend to be hyper sensitive to hypocrisy. Our college campuses are often rank with hypocrisy. Rand’s brutally honest selfishness can be a refreshing contrast to the far less honest Marxism for thee but not for me fashionable among the handsomely rewarded tenured professor class and the frequently professed undying love for mankind expresses by administrators who seem to delight in treating the peons with utter and complete disdain. Young people also watch as the brown nosers like Peter Keating and second raters like Ellsworth Toohey among them thrive, worry about selling out like Gail Wynand and relish tales of heroic individual accomplishment. Of course with a bit of intellectual maturity the young idealist soon figures out that Rand’s objectivism isn’t going to work any better in practice than secular collectivism because it misses both the social nature of man and our hunger for the divine. Indeed, as the agnostic Charles Murray surprisingly concludes at the end of his monumental Human Accomplishment a belief in the transcendental values Rand scorns may actually be crucial to genuine human creativity and accomplishment.

  • Jim Englert

    Congressman Ryan may say “Give me Thomas Aquinas,” but is there any indication that he has read the Angelic Doctor, at least with the intensity evidentyly given to his reading of Rand? His Thomism seems pretty derivative and thin, his Objectivism rather direct and thick.

  • Laura

    It seems interesting to demand ideological purity from one’s accountant, no? I see Rep. Ryan’s influence of Hayek, Friedman and Von Mises to be more important. Being devastatingly handsome, Catholic AND Irish is icing on the cake.

  • LisaB

    Soooo… Paul Ryan reads the anti-Communist Ann Rand and the Left has twisted panties… surprise, surprise, surprise. And in other news… water is wet.

    Obama reading Satan worshiping Saul Alinsky… nothing to see here folks, move along.

  • tz

    Some people see different things in the same book. In Atlas Shrugged, workers were paid to the last penny. When Midas Mulligan closed his bank the books balanced to the last penny. The Judge would rule truthfully and honestly based on the law and the facts. The stories of influence peddling end in disaster, destroying the railroad and taking many lives. In her world morality is objective. Even honest money that you can’t inflate. She may have been wrong in the details, but we have the dystopia of the moral relativists as the dominant culture today.

    You can look for truth and good or look for error and evil, and you will find what you look for.

    In the world of Harry Potter, family is important, marriages are indissoluble. Name the sibling or mother of any 3 major characters from the “Christian” Lord of the Rings.

    My problem with RYaNO is that he is NOT enough a follower of Rand. He accepts fraudulent money (Ron Paul doesn’t). He voted for TARP – like the corrupt characters running things in the novel. The books can be fuzzy and never balance, John Corzine can steal his clients segregated money and nothing will happen, Big insurance and big pharma can continue to get their tax money via Medicare and whatever he will change Obamacare to. He wants corrupt cheating judges, but ones that will cheat on his side.

    RYaNO did not evolve from Randian Objectivism and honesty and integrity and justice – too hard and insufficient to balance and add charity and mercy, he devolved into the go along to get along relativism, do what it takes to get elected including corruption. He is no different. And that is the problem.

  • Dan C

    Ryan was a choice to appease the Temple of the Wall Street Journal and shore up its campaign support. Religion was unlikely a close second.

  • Brian English

    “His Thomism seems pretty derivative and thin, his Objectivism rather direct and thick.”

    On what evidence do you base that statement?

  • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

    Since Catholics are presumably concerned here with the shape a “Christian politics” should take, may I offer a 20th-Century French peasant’s overview — that of the Thomist Jacques Maritain in his book Peasant of the Garonne (second chapter): “A healthy Christian politics … would undoubtedly seem to go pretty far to the left as regards certain technical solutions, … and in its demands for the transformation of the present economic regime. In reality, however, it would have absolutely original positions, proceeding, in the spiritual and moral order, from very different principles than the conceptions of the world, life, the family, and the city, which prevail in the various parties of the left.”

  • Linus

    I wouldn’t read too much into his comments about Rand. He is a good Catholic and pro-life. Rand was neither. So he apparantly doesn’t follow her to the extremes. And you certainly cannot regard him as selfish in the Rand sense, at least I see no evidence of that. He does have a family and he appears to be a faithful husband and father. And to capture the ” liberal ” Catholic vote ( the majority ) he would have to reject the teaching of the Church on a host of moral issues and I don’t see him doing that.

  • SunnyJ

    I see the author gets pretty defensive when someone disagrees with them or presents actual comment by Ryan on Rand, which this author did not do. Whay so defensive? Why do you suggest that by presenting Ryan’s actual comments that explain exactly where he stands on Rand, this is idolitry and somehow you assign your behavior and treat them like they are the enemy or stupid in your terms. Lighten up. Lots of us read Rand and identified with that strong individual, walking away from group think and peer pressure to do what we think is right, while the world would like us to join the mediocracy. We are gathering the threads of our own philosophy, which we will add to our religious training if we have any, what our Grandpa said in the barn, and best of all our own experiences. This seems a bit silly.

  • Mr. Patton

    I am sure that when Ayn Rand passes away it will be with all the accolades of a death bed convert…:)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Actually, Mr. Patton, Rand has been dead for some time, and, as I understand, never converted, either on her deathbed or any time previously.

  • Win Nelson

    Rand is out of her mind in her vision of utopia, but she really nailed what is bad about collectivism.

    Her “utopia” was limited by her atheism and if you believe Branden’s biography, let’s just say that she had problems.

    But in capturing the antithesis to her utopia, the collective, this is an opportunity to bring in Catholicism while reading Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead; in taking the more positive view of St. Thomas Aquinas, as he brought the best of Aristotle’s views into Catholic thinking. I could be wrong, I do forget a lot – but I seem to recall that it was St. Thomas Aquinas who also took the view that a coerced good ceases to become a good. This also reconciles to Rand’s depiction of collectivism. We do genuine good only when we truly want to and we also have to be humble about it; to avoid imposing our will on those most vulnerable.

    When Rand describes the collective, it seems driven by not only violating the Tenth Commandment, but in glorifying the breach of the Tenth Commandment – exacting penalties and not knowing/caring what this does to those who are most vulnerable.

    As an atheist, Rand is unable to see that we can want God to be pleased with what we do, without being destructive of others.

    We are blessed as we can see the difference, if we choose.

  • Patricia

    Ryan did “Get out in front of this” about a year ago on The World Over with Raymond Arroro. It was a great interview, and should put all of the wondering to rest. Ryan told it like it is, and as most of us would have expected, in accordance with his faithful Catholicism. I would have to think that Raymond will be re airing it in light of recent events.

    FWIW, I too have a few good things to say about Ayn Rand (re: capitalism) while at the same time I loathe her Objectivism which IMO, isn’t a “philosophy” as much as “me myself and Ayn, total selfishness.” I agree that she throws out a few good nuggets; also agree with your husband that her writing style leaves much to be desired. I often wonder if she was unknowingly competing with the “Left Behind” authors?

    [Did I not embed the interview with Arroyo? -admin]

  • Merkn

    The best evisceration of Rand based on Catholic principles of love and charity is the scene where she visits a prep school in Tobias Wolfe’s Old School. Worth the price of the down load. i also take him at his word when he says he now rejects her. We all do stupid thongs in college and form half baked ideas. Her appeal to immature adolescents is pretty powerful. Think of Holden Caufield railing against the “phonies”. An awful lot we know as adults we learn from experience that comes after college when we start trying to meet our obligations on our own. That it took him a while does not trouble me. Our current leader is still evolving. At least Ryan says he is evolving in the right way. Your husband shouldn’t have quit on Atlas. If you read her dialogue out loud you can really get a sense of how preposterously funny it is. Like her philosophy.

  • Guy Murdoch

    Dear -admin,
    Yes, I did read the article. Thank you for your gracious concern.
    My point was that based on what the man has done in Congress (and not the caricatures that are presented by liberals) there is nothing Randian about the man. So, it would have been better to leave this topic “wholly unplucked” because, whether it was your intent or not, to even write a post about whether Ryan is a Randian has the effect of forwarding the liberal meme that says he wants to push your grandmother over a cliff.

  • http://lgstarr@socal.rr.com Linda Starr

    An interesting article about Ayn Rand by a non-Catholic, Libertarian friend who just retired as a Philosophy Professor:

    With all said and done, however, please never forget that Obama could appoint up to three Supreme Court Justices! How much good will it do to discuss Ayn Rand when we’re all in the gulag?

  • http://frmartinfox.blogspot.com Fr Martin Fox

    I appreciate that so many of the commenters, ahead of me, have made the point about the good stuff in Ayn Rand. I’ve read both Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged–twice!–and enjoyed what was enjoyable without buying what was awful.

    Rand’s philosophy–such as it is–doesn’t hold together. But as someone who saw the fraud and soul-hatred of collectivism, she stands tall.

    You know, when we fought the Nazis and the Fascists, we fought alongside the Communists. That alliance had problems, no question, but it was largely forced upon us by circumstances, and if you believed–as many did then–that Freedom was fighting desperately for survival, it’s an understandable turn of events.

    Most of the whales Rand harpooned, deserved it, and I readily admit I wished I’d hurled the harpoon myself. (Shrug.)

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    First off, I completely agree; Ayn Rand’s writing is the pits. I’m more skeptical of anyone who can actually read her work than anyone who actually endorses it. But then again we aren’t electing literature majors for office, and thank God for that. Second, as to her philosophy, it’s ridiculous as a working philosophy. It’s adolescent stuff. It’s an extrapolation in the opposite direction of Marxism. Laissez-faire capitalism has never existed. It’s some fantasy ideal. It is impossible not to have taxation, regulations, or mandated standards. Complex commerce requires common agreements and third party (government usually) enforcement of ground rules and fair exchange. Adam Smith never endorsed Laissez-faire capitalism, or since the term was not created yet in his day, endorsed anything resembling it. At its core, The Wealth of Nations endorses free trade, which is different than “anything goes.”

    How we come to anti-communism is varied. Ayn Rand painted a picture (correctly if you ask me) of what the soul of communism entailed, and a young Paul Ryan, along with many others, were inspired and embraced that Laissez-faire extrapolation because Rand created a simple dichotomy. If you hate what communism is, then it is inherently logical to embrace this opposite ideal. But that ideal is just as false as to what it stands against. Can anyone name a culture that is truly Randian? Or even a politician who has effectively put Randian legislation into practice? We already know that Laissez-faire capitalism has never existed and can never exist because commerce would be in chaos and more importantly because human beings (a) require values and (b) human beings have compassion for their fellow man. Perhaps Paul Ryan embraced Rand at one time. It’s a good thing he came to an anti-communist position. But we are layered in our values. He also embraced his Christian values possibly at that very same time. When he says, “I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview,” that is Paul Ryan growing up and shucking fantasy for reality.

    I guess I agree he should get in front of the possible political smear, but really we Catholics should understand that people mature.

    [Gosh, Manny...I thought I'd made it pretty clear that "people mature" and Ryan should be free to say he's "evolved." I think I'm going to close comments. -admin]

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