It was only minutes after news broke that Paul Ryan was Romney’s likely pick for Vice President that leftwingers on Twitter began to needle Ryan as a follower of that mean ol’ Ayn Rand, the famed objectivist philosopher of the middle of the last century most famous for writing Atlas Shrugged and for being a proponent of what the left says is a less than compassionate philosophy on humanity.
There is a mistaken belief on the left that Paul Ryan was somehow programmed by Ayn Rand and that his entire budget plan, his Roadmap For America’s Future, is somehow one great Randian, or worse Darwinian, exercise in the survival of the strongest. The left also chides him for later turning his back on Rand and pretending his ideas really aren’t driven by what they consider to be Ayn Rand’s mean-spirited philosophy.
Neither claim is true.
The whole discussion began in 2005, when Paul Ryan gave a presentation before The Atlas Society, an organization dedicated to the ideas of Ayn Rand. Ryan was quite effusive about Rand’s work, for sure. A full audio of the meeting is posted at the Society’s website, and on it you can hear Ryan really expressing a great enthusiasm for Rand.
One of the things Ryan said is that he requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged.
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. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.
From this the left went off like a dog with a bone imagining that Ryan was claiming to be a full-on Randian.
Then, this year, Paul Ryan gave an interview to National Review, and there he disavowed being a strict devotee of Ayn Rand.
As Ryan told the National Review:
“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.
This, the left said, proves he is a flip flopper or a liar. But, again, none of it is true.
First of all, Ryan does not disavow being a fan of Ayn Rand’s work. He fully admits that as a young man he was influenced by her economic theories and her energetic apologia for capitalism. But he has never, ever said he was enamored of her objectivist ideals. There are no quotes from him accepting Rand’s strict philosophy.
Another area where Ryan parts company with Ayn Rand reveals a key difference between them. Rand was a vehement opponent of religion — all religion — as well as its moral strictures. But Paul Ryan is a committed Catholic. As he stated in the quote above, Ryan has never signed onto her anti-religious ideals. Ryan’s compassionate Catholicism is what makes it impossible for him to be a full-throated Randian.
Still, the left claims that Paul Ryan’s budget policies are intended to throw grandma out on the street and that he intends an Ayn Rand-like destruction of the welfare state. But the truth is, his Roadmap For America’s Future goes out of its way to save the welfare state by paring it down to an economically sustainable form. Ryan is not proposing any end to the welfare state.
Ayn Rand was not nearly so kind. She called the welfare state an imposition of complete immorality on a polity and opposed its construction. Whatever you think of her philosophy, there is no evidence that Paul Ryan ever signed on to all of her ideas.
So, it just isn’t true that Paul Ryan is some wild-eyed “objectivist” ready to tear down grandma’s safety net. Paul Ryan is clearly a fan of Ayn Rand in many ways. But he is not a Randian objectivist. And he never was.