Why do so many Democrats keep trying to paint Paul Ryan, Washington D.C’s most “serious man,” as an Ayn Rand disciple and one whose philosophy was shaped by the queen of Objectivism? Well, it’s probably because he said so more than once.
Despite Ryan’s efforts to rewrite his personal history, which seem to have started around April 26, 2012, a time that it is becoming more and more clear coincides with a push by the paleocons in the Republican party to push Ryan onto the presidential ticket, Ryan has clearly branded himself and no matter how much he bobs and weaves the undeniable (at least for a normal person) fact are there and their not going away. For his part, Ryan would like everyone to believe that this silly idea that he is a Rand fan is an “urban legend.” and he rejects her philosophy, as he told the National Review. I wouldn’t put too much stock in the National Review article written by Ryan flack and shill Robert Costa, however, because Costa also wrote,
“Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, recently called Ryan “an Ayn Rand devotee” who wants to “slash benefits for the poor.”
Krugman probably said that because Ryan does and he has voted to and authored a proposed federal budget that would cut 280,000 low-income children off automatic enrollment in the Free School Lunch and Breakfast Program while those same children and one and one-half million other indigent people would also lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamp benefits. He wants to privatize Medicare, a move that would spell its death as an effective source of health care for all but a few very wealthy seniors and he would like to end Social Security. Draw your own conclusion.
“’These Rand-related slams,’ Ryan says, are inaccurate and part of an effort on the left to paint him as a cold-hearted Objectivist. Ryan’s actual philosophy, as reported by my colleague, Brian Bolduc, couldn’t be further from the caricature. As a practicing Roman Catholic, Ryan says, his faith and moral values shape his politics as much as his belief in freedom and capitalism does.”
These “Rand-related slams!” Are you serious? As a practicing and “devout” Roman Catholic, though, being an Ayn Rand devotee would certainly be a poser. We’ll see why shortly.
Unfortunately for the hapless and apparently confused Paul Ryan, and thanks to those two brand new technologies, audio recordings and the internet, we can listen to him in his own words. Here are some choice quotes from a recording of a speech Ryan gave to the Atlas Society in 2005 and highlighted by Elspeth Reeve of the Atlantic Wire in her article, “Audio Surfaces of Paul Ryan's Effusive Love of Ayn Rand:”1
I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and [in] the fight we're engaged here in Congress. I grew up on Ayn Rand, that's what I tell people.
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
But 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.
And when you look at the twentieth-century experiment with collectivism -- that Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism -- you can't find another thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand.
It's so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand's vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are. Because there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand's writings and works.
Don’t these people ever realize that their misdeeds and poorly conceived ideas are enshrined for posterity on some recording device or another and are just waiting to be trotted out to expose them for the charlatans they are. If you want to worship Ayn Rand feel free. Just don’t try to deny it when it becomes inconvenient.
Brad Delong, a professor of Economics and chair of the Political Economy major at the University of California, Berkeley included this quote in his blog:
“Social Security right now is a collectivist system. It is a welfare transfer system. It is a system where--and I always tell my constituents, and none of them usually believe me--you don't have an account with your name on it in the federal government. There isn't a box with your cash in it that is going to come to you when you retire. A lot of people think that. And what is important is that if we actually accomplish this goal [of Social Security privatization] of personalizing Social Security (extended laughter)--think of what we will accomplish. Every worker, every laborer in America will not only be a worker but a capitalist. They will be an owner.”
There’s a great piece of “serious man” thinking for you. If Bush had succeeded in privatizing Social Security every worker, every laborer would also have lost what many were counting on either as their only source of retirement income or as a much needed supplement to a private pension. The criminally greedy (to everyone except Eric Holder) bankers would have lost it all in unethical, amoral and frequently illegal investment schemes.
Further, Ryan told Insight on the News on May 24, 1999, that the books he most often rereads are
"The Bible (it’s always the Bible. Has any politician ever not included the Bible first in their list of most loved books?), Friedrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (are you kidding me? Has anyone actually read The Road To Serfdom unless it was required in a college literature class?) and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (It speaks for itself").
He also told the Weekly Standard on March 17, 2003,
"I give out Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well... I try to make my interns read it."
If Ryan wasn’t such a self-serving, pseudointellectual, mendacious phony I could cut him some slack on the comments he made prior to 2007-08. Sure, there was more than ample evidence from the experiences of the late 1920s through the Great Depression to convince any reasonable person that laissez faire economics and deregulation inexorably led to disaster but Ryan was probably busy reading his bible and Atlas Shrugged when he should have been boning up on American history. But he is all those things and, like so many right of center and Tea Party Republicans, he’s still worshiping a few what should be long dead sacred cows and huckstering supply side economics.
Alright, I hope we can all agree now that Paul Ryan once loved Ayn Rand, or at least her half-baked ideas but that really isn’t why I started this article. The truth is, I suspect, that many people reading about this controversy have little or no idea why how Ryan felt about Ayn Rand is important. The answer in a word is Objectivism, the so-called philosophy and lack of values system that brought Rand her fleeting fame, primarily with people with congenital mental defects that made them want to rob, pillage and plunder and were looking for justification, in the 1950s.
Any crackpot who can string together a few loosely connected thoughts, ad ignorantiam fallacies and ad hoc generalizations and give them a name preferably ending in –ism can attract a following especially when that –ism seems to lend legitimacy to beliefs they already hold but make them uncomfortable because they conflict with other beliefs they hold, say, their religion, for example. That is precisely what Ayn Rand did with Objectivism.
Bear with me here because it helps to understand how someone could come up with something such as Objectivism if you understand a little about what was happening in the esoteric world of twentieth century European philosophy and psychology.
Traditionally, and almost exclusively prior to about the mid 1920s, psychology had been taught as a subset of philosophy because it was widely believed that psychology was a field not subject to quantification. In the mean time, the hard sciences, particularly physics, were making making great advances in both the theoretical and applied areas because they were subject to quantitative (particularly statistical) analysis.
This concept that man can never actually know (study, quantify and discover scientific laws) how his mind (Phenomenologists were big on abstract terms such as mind) worked because an organism can never understand itself can, to a great degree, be traced back to Immanuel Kant and his Critique of Pure Reason. Kant believed that one had to distinguish between "phenomena," those things interpreted by human senses (sight, hearing, touch, etc.) and "noumena," objects as actually they exist which humans cannot directly experience. They would later come to known as proximal and distal stimuli.
In the early years of the 1900s, Edmund Husserl, a famed Austrian philosopher (and mathematician) proposed a method for studying the structures of subjective experience and consciousness he called Phenomenology. While not strictly a field of psychology as we understand it today, it became the dominant force in European psychology. Phenomenology took the intuitive experience of phenoma (what presents itself to us in phenomenological reflexion) as its starting point and tried to extract from it the essential features of experiences and the essence of what we experience. Under Husserl’s tutelage Phenomenology became the reflective study of the ”essence of consciousness experienced from the first-person point of view."[ In other words, to the Phenomenologist, the human mind became a “black box” which we could not open and into which we could not look directly but what we could do was extract essential information through reflection and from that, infer how the mind worked.
If by now you are wondering what this has to do with Ayn Rand and Objectivism, the answer is this; Phenomenology is where Rand got the idea that only first person experiences mattered. She had been born in Russia and immigrated to the United States when she was twenty-one. Thus, she had received her early schooling in an atmosphere where Phenomenology was dominate. Since she believed that only first person experiences were of value, it wasn’t too much of a leap to the idea that since one couldn’t know any reality but one's own, only that reality should be the bedrock of your personal value system. Reduced to it’s simplest elements, Objectivism's central themes are that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense(s), that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the processes of concept formation (organizing complex notions into simpler, and therefore more easily usable, forms and groups) and inductive logic (extending deductive logic to less-than-certain inferences), that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (or rational self-interest) and that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism,
In her own words:
My philosophy, in essence, 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.2
It’s not too hard to see how certain elements of Objectivism fundamentally conflict with a life in public service. How can I convince you to elect me to be your representative in government when, at heart, I’m really only out to advance my interests and make only myself happy? Not a problem as long as I can keep a low profile but a real albatross if I decide to run for Vice-President of the United States.
But Ryan’s problems with Ayn Rand don’t stop there. Ryan frequently, and with great piety, describes himself as a devout Roman Catholic. Why, he’s so devout that he thinks that the laissez-faire government he worships with such ardor should be invasive comme enfer (that’s French for invasive as hell) when it comes to women’s reproductive life. Ayn Rand, on the other hand, isn’t Roman Catholic. She isn’t even Christian. She’s an atheist and a devout one. Here a few of her better known quotes on the subject:
Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves--or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth.
The good, say the mystics of spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive- a definition that invalidates man's consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence...Man's mind, say the mystics of spirit, must be subordinated to the will of God... Man's standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man's power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith
....The purpose of man's life...is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question.3
For centuries, the mystics of spirit had existed by running a protection racket - by making life on earth unbearable, then charging you for consolation and relief, by forbidding all the virtues that make existence possible, then riding on the shoulders of your guilt, by declaring production and joy to be sins, then collecting blackmail from the sinners.4
...if devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.... the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind.5
An abject zombie serving a purpose he does not know. Faith is only a short circuit destroying the mind. God is running a protection racket. That’s powerful stuff. If I were running for an elected office I wouldn’t want it known that, how did Ryan say it, “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”, or, “ It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. I’d probably want people to believe the rumor was an (insert nervous chuckle here) Urban Legend too and I’d probably find some lightweight hack to write a cover-up piece for me in some right wing rag but mainly I’d pray devoutly to that God I might or might not believe in that the audio tape of me singing Ayn Rand’s praises didn’t turn up and let everyone know what a two-faced, intellectually dishonest hypocrite I really am.
1. Audio of the Ryan speech to the Atlas Club can be heard at http://atlassociety.org/...
2. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
3. For the New Intellectual by Ayn Rand
4. For the New Intellectual by Ayn Rand
5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Full Discloser Note: The information I have presented from Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead came from a variety of sources, Cliff Notes, Bibliomania, the internet. I’ve tried, lord knows I’ve tried, to read them. After all, I made it through Ulysses and I didn’t think anything could be mind-numbing than that. I was wrong. It was like listening to Wagner. They were mostly long, ponderous and incredibly boring. My thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who has actually suffered completely through both books.