Has Paul Ryan pulled a "Mitt Romney" on Ayn Rand? We must ask because Ryan first declared that Rand was his inspiration for entering politics and now he claims to have rejected her basic philosophy.
But many could care less about Ryan's allegiance to Rand's principles asking, "Who's Ayn Rand?" This ironic question could be answered in terms of her history and philosophy. Above all, Ayn Rand is an all-or-nothing thinker who favors individualism over collectivism. This simply means that with any issue whether it be social policies, economic policies, or religion, she always sides with the individual sovereignty over outside help or control. As a result, almost everybody could find areas of agreement with Rand but whether one could be considered a disciple of Rand depends on how comfortable one is with their place on a continuum towards her all-or-nothing thinking. This is perhaps where Paul Ryan has found himself in trouble.
But before we get to Paul Ryan, one must note the source for both Rand's favoring the individual and her black-white thinking. The reason for both could very well come from her own history in Russia as it became a Communist country. What is necessary here is to consider the before and after effect that the Bolshevik Revolution had her life. Her family had to flee their home and her father lose his prosperous business to find safety from the violence of the revolution. In addition, she found the Bolsheviks to be control freaks. The trauma that must have been part of the experience can easily explain the all-or-nothing thinking Rand employs, but it cannot explain the preference for individualism since the latter preceded the revolution. Here we might refer again to her family's place in society as well as the fact that she was a highly gifted person.
Now, who is Paul Ryan and how does he regard Ayn Rand? In 2005, when speaking at an event celebrating Ayn Rand, Ryan gave her high praise as he credited her with inspiring him to enter public life. He also highly encouraged all of this staff to read her works. But a funny thing happened to Ryan on his way to the Vice Presidential nomination, he had to comfort Conservative Christians who take issue with Rand's opposition to religion, abortion, and, last but not least, Ronald Reagan. So Ryan pulled a "Mitt Romney," or a "John Kerry" if you are still living in the year 2008, and claimed that he only had a passing fancy in Rand and was interested in her economic views only. Should we mention to Ryan that Rand's economic views flow from her atheism?
So the question becomes whether Paul Ryan has a different view of Ayn Rand now as he did when he tried to force his interns to read her. To answer this question, we must first discern how much Ryan already disagreed with Rand. Rand was both an extreme individualist, a fiscal conservative, and was antiwar. As an individualist, she was a libertarian who favored abortion rights, and she promoted atheism and saw that as integral to her idea of individualism. Thus, she rejected religion because something other than one's own reason would rule over a person and their own self-interest.
Except for being a fiscal conservative, Paul Ryan has never agreed with Ayn Rand. So for Ryan to suddenly say that he now disagrees with Rand is disingenuous to say the least. Where has Ryan always agreed with Rand? It is in the area of laissez-faire Capitalism. Here, no one should be forced to give to any in need and there should be no government regulation of business practices. To what degree Ryan believes that Capitalism should be laissez-faire and business should be regulation free is difficult to ascertain because no one who is in government has shown themselves to be absolutists there. But that Ryan goes strongly in the direction of the all-or-nothing thinking of Rand is beyond dispute when one considers what he proposes for Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Since Ryan is in favor of privatizing Social Security and parts of Medicare, he follows Rand's self-interest philosophy where a service is provided only on the basis that someone profits from it.
Ryan's proposal also puts programs like Head Start at risk though the degree of risk is unknown because of the lack of details coming from Ryan and the Republicans. But what is clear is that Ryan views both financial and environmental regulations as chains that weigh down business performance. In addition, Ryan wants to reduce tax rates and simplify the tax code. But what nobody is admitting is that the Bush tax cuts are one of the leading causes to today's budget deficits along with increased military and wartime spending.
Whatever statements elected officials make, none of them can fully implement Rand's philosophies. That is because government is too big to be totally ruled in a wide scale all or nothing fashion. But general directions can be determined. And what is clear is that Ryan's following of Ayn Rand principles have seen no change. Ryan has always selectively followed her.
But more is involved than just partially implementing Rand's philosophies. For example, as Ryan predicts doom for the Social Security fund because of the increasing number of beneficiaries versus the number of contributors, he neglects to mention that our Social Security fund is the largest holder of our nation's debt. So that the biggest threat to the Social Security trust fund is not the beneficiary to contributor ratio, it is government's willingness to steal from this fund to save face. That Ryan objects to the Social Security philosophy of current contributors paying for someone else's benefits is merely a philosophical disagreement that bears no consequence.
In addition, that Ryan wants to reduce or privatize social services goes in the direction of Ayn Rand philosophy. But Ryan's belief in both increasing defense spending and in American Exceptionalism are contrary to Rand's philosophy. Such inconsistency might point to the fact that virtue and self-interest can oppose each other rather than go hand-in-hand as Rand claimed.
That Ryan can point to flaws in Obama's policies implies no merit to Ryan's proposals. For most of the analysis that Ryan provides on Obama and what he promotes rests on an incomplete context for Obama's failures. And the constituents about whom Ryan expresses his deepest concern are businesses. So when Ryan parts with Rand, such as in exorbitant military spending, it benefits certain businesses. And when Ryan at least partially implements Rand's ideas and values, such as reducing regulations and taxes on businesses, again, it helps the business community.
So perhaps all of the talk that ties to or distances Ryan and Rand is merely a slight-of-hand that exists to simply distract the audience while the trick of promoting corporate interests is being performed. And Ryan's motivation for protect business interests seems to come from a personal self-interest.
From a Christian perspective, self-interest at the expense of others is rarely if ever put in a good light. It certainly does not follow the model Christ provided and promoted without a real twisting of the Scriptures. Neither is Rand's all-or-nothing approach to individualism what is taught in the Bible. Besides the many examples where the Biblical writers appealed to authority to determine what believers should do, collectivism is taught throughout both testaments. For throughout the Bible, people are severely judged for withholding help from those in need. That their lack of giving would have violated the kind of personal integrity that Ayn Rand taught was never an issue in those judgments.
From a human perspective, a red flag must always be raised when people speak in absolutes. This is not meant to deny the existence of absolutes, it simply means that their presence is a strong indicator that we are playing on very thin ice. For one thing, psychologists warn against such thinking. So do most philosophers. But we should also note that many strongly religious people indiscriminately favor this kind of thinking. And we should note that because too many corporations follow an all-or-nothing approach to self-interest when they commit to maximizing profits, our economic system is about to implode rather than grow.
Perhaps this is why Martin Luther King preached a synthesis between Capitalism and Communism as the only viable social and economic alternative available to us. He promoted this because Capitalism's weakness is that it forgets that life always involves others, what the business world referred to as stakeholders, while Communism's weakness forgets that we are individuals. And the question becomes, when a public figure compares Ayn Rand to Martin Luther King as people, why would any sane leader base more of their theories on Rand rather than King. The answer to this question is simple. It is because of their self-interest. And it his own self-interest that determines how Ryan has and continues to selectively follow Ayn Rand.