TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Paul Ryan Rejects Ayn Rand’s Ideas—In Word and Deed

According to leftists and the mainstream media, the fact that Paul Ryan (Mitt Romney’s selection for vice president) has praised Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and drawn inspiration from her works means that he embraces her philosophy. In fact, Ryan rejects Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism in both word and deed.

Here’s one example of the leftist “logic”: Because Ryan has praised Rand, saying her views contributed to his values and beliefs, and because he has credited Rand with motivating him to enter politics, Ian Reifowitz, a writer for the Daily Kos, concludes that Ryan must therefore embrace Rand’s philosophy. Reifowitz even calls Ryan a “bald-faced liar” for saying he rejects Rand’s philosophy.

But Reifowitz’s claims—and similar claims by others—are ridiculous. The mere fact that a person agrees with some views of an author or draws inspiration from an author’s books hardly means the person embraces the author’s philosophy (can you say non sequitur?). Anyone who has ever read literature (I assume Reifowitz has) understands this to be the case. I could name dozens of authors who have inspired me but with whom I have serious philosophical disagreements, and I suspect you could too.

Millions of people have read and were inspired by Ayn Rand’s books. Are they all advocates of her philosophy? Would that they were! Many of them stand diametrically opposed to her ideas. For instance, Hillary Clinton—Obama’s Secretary of State—says she was inspired by Rand’s ideas. Does Clinton advocate Rand’s philosophy? Likewise, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis praised Atlas Shrugged as a “great book.” Is Polis a “Randian”? There are countless similar instances of people who express appreciation for Rand’s ideas but who clearly do not embrace her philosophy.

Where is Reifowitz and company’s exposé of the leftist politicians who are actually “Objectivists”? As Rand would say, “Blank out.”

Ryan Rejects Rand

Ryan both says he rejects Rand’s philosophy and demonstrates this in practice.

Earlier this year National Review—a conservative publication that has published and repeatedly republishes an article lying about the contents of Atlas Shrugged and slandering Ayn Rand—published an interview with Ryan in which he emphasizes that he rejects Rand’s philosophy:

I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them. They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman. But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.

I reject her philosophy. 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. Don’t give me Ayn Rand.

Although Ryan misrepresents Rand’s views about human interactions (see below), he correctly notes that Rand rejected religion and faith. Ryan, on the other hand, embraces both. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Ryan also rejects Rand’s politics of laissez-faire capitalism—the politics rooted in Rand’s morality of rational self-interest and her epistemology of strictly observation-based knowledge. Rand’s ethics and epistemology are wholly at odds with the self-sacrificial ethics and faith-based epistemology of the Bible.

Politically, whereas Rand was a proud defender of pure, laissez-faire capitalism, Ryan supports a mixture of freedom and government controls—including a robust welfare state. Here are but a few of the political differences between Ryan and Rand:

  • Ryan wants to “save and strengthen Medicare,” protect Social Security, and provide a “minimum standard of living” (i.e., welfare). Rand advocated phasing out all such programs and ultimately abolishing the welfare state.
  • Ryan wants to outlaw abortion on religious grounds. Rand recognized a woman’s right to abortion and condemned those who deny this right.
  • Ryan supported the bank and auto bailouts. Rand opposed forced redistribution of wealth in all circumstances.
  • Ryan wants to slow the growth of government spending. Rand advocated radical cuts in government spending with the ultimate goal of reducing government to only the courts, the military, and the police.

As a consequence of his basic philosophic beliefs, Ryan’s political views are radically opposed to those of Rand.

Ryan Misrepresents Rand

As noted, Ryan claims that Rand’s philosophy “reduces human interactions down to mere contracts.” Without any additional context, Ryan’s comments seem to suggest that Rand is concerned only with financial contracts and that Rand reduces human relationships to material interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Although Rand describes all healthy human relationships as types of trades, she sees trade as applicable to both material and spiritual values. She sees personal relationships as properly built on mutual respect for the virtues of those involved. Consider Rand’s comments on love and friendship:

Love, friendship, respect, admiration are the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another man’s character. Only a brute or an altruist would claim that the appreciation of another person’s virtues is an act of selflessness, that as far as one’s own selfish interest and pleasure are concerned, it makes no difference whether one deals with a genius or a fool, whether one meets a hero or a thug, whether one marries an ideal woman or a slut.

Whatever Paul Ryan’s merits or demerits as a vice-presidential candidate, he does not embrace the philosophical or political views of Ayn Rand. He rejects Rand’s views—in both principle and practice. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either uninformed or aiming to deceive.

If people wish to understand Rand’s ideas, they should read her works, especially Atlas Shrugged. If they do, they will see that Ryan’s ideas have nothing to do with Rand’s, and that Rand’s—not Ryan’s—are the way to a future of reason and freedom.

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Creative Commons Image: Gage Skidmore

Posted in: Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Politicians and Candidates

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Anonymous

    Ryan’s conflicted allegiances show how much traction Ayn Rand’s alternative humanism has gotten in American culture organically, without central planning to bring this about, despite the fact that long-established, entrenched strongholds of mysticism and collectivism like the Catholic Church and progressive political constituencies didn’t want or expect this to happen. People keep trying to dismiss Rand, with some justification, as a kook, a sociopath and an ignoramus, but she must have gotten a few things right to pull this off. At the very least, she seems to have displayed a high g level and some good intuitions about American culture, despite her immigrant origins. 

  • Anonymous

    Maybe the high profile, leftist critcism of Ryan for his fleeting admiration of Miss Rand will at least expose her ideas to the uninitiated, and finally influence many them to read her works for themselves.

  • Dale Netherton

    Hillary Clinton may have praised Ayn Rand ( which I have never heard ) but she did say she had “outgrown” the writings of Ayn Rand.   Outgrowing truth is obviously what she did.

  • Phil Stanley

    Atlas Shrugs Part 2 comes out Oct 12th.  Part 1 was excellent. Can’t wait to see Part 2.

  • Betsy Speicher

    This is what Yaron Brook has to say about Paul Ryan:

  • Anonymous

    I have seen it mentioned that Ryan opposes the right to abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Hardly an example of being influenced by Ayn Rand…

  • James Peterson

    A person cannot object to the principles of Objectivism without also objecting to the reality of ones own physical existence. Objectivism is nothing more that an intellectual look at what the absolute nature of physical reality is and how it functions. 

  • Russ Karlberg

    While I don’t disagree with this article, I think it’s a bit too negative.  The Yaron Brook podcast posted above does a better job of focusing on the positive.  Paul Ryan is the best candidate we can hope for in the current philosophical climate.  He and Romney are obviously far from perfect, but they can slow down the march toward socialism, giving us more time to fight the necessary philosophical battle.

  • Brian Hruska

    We should all rejoice this choice, because this is probably as close as we are going to get to having an Objectivist in the White House.
    Claiming to be an atheist would be political suicide in the Republican party, so such pronouncements do not invalidate any and all influence Rand’s philosophy has had on Ryan.  He is the most rational of the politicians in my view, though that’s not saying he’s a full-out Objectivist.

  • Anonymous

    Nice commentary..  agree.

  • David Hayes

    When I first read the Paul Ryan statement that Ayn Rand’s philosophy “reduces human interactions down to mere contracts” (Ryan interview, National Review Online), I gave him credit that he was using “contracts” in a wide, implied sense, so that he was recognizing that love relationships, family relationships, etc., were sustained by exchange (whether spiritual or otherwise), and thus “contractual” in a metaphorical, unwritten, sense.

    Such an understanding on Ryan’s part would reflect a fine understanding of Rand’s works. In non-fiction, Ayn Rand wrote, “Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. He is a contractual animal.” I don’t know whether Paul Ryan knew this about Ayn Rand or whether he unintentionally got something right while trying to malign her, but I do regard this portion of Ryan’s statement as true, if it is taken in the proper, inclusive context.

    I was so intrigued by the Ayn Rand statement against man being “a social animal” that I made the quote the basis of a video I produced, “Man is a Contractual Animal”:

  • Jurgis H. Brakas

    Thank you Betsy for the link. Far superior to the above “off-the-top-of-the-head” rationalistic approach of the above article.

  • Anonymous

    Russ, the purpose of this article was NOT to evaluate Ryan as a candidate, but to evaluate whether he is an advocate of Ayn Rand’s ideas. Clearly, he is not. Whether Ryan is worth supporting as a candidate (and I happen to think that he is) is a topic for another time. -Ari

  • Anonymous

    Jurgis, Your claim that my article is “rationalistic” is a smear, and as such it violates the TOS requirement that comments be civil. Incidentally, I listened to Yaron’s commentary and agree with it. If you wish to point out a difference between Yaron’s view on Ryan and my own (and I don’t think there is one), then please do so, so long as you offer an argument, not an ad hominem attack, as to why one position is superior to another. -Ari

  • Keith Sketchley

    People extrapolate when someone says they admire the writings of Ayn Rand. Their epistemology practice in such cases is correlation with a snippet of information. Many obviously “don’t get it”, perhaps just grabbing something they like. For example, if someone says “greed is good”, many of those who want to initiate force against others will agree, but obviously do not understand an essential of what Ayn Rand said. Even many people sincere about Ayn Rand’s philosophy lack an understanding of essential like that. Herr Hilary’s “outgrown” is a sneer. Recall Ayn Rand’s strong objection to an audience question in a TV interview show, which used similar wording. Beware the high probability that con artists will play on people’s tendency to correlate and extrapolate.

  • Jeff Griebel

    Saying you reject her philosophy to embrace christianity is not exactly an improvement. If medicaid, medicare, and sicial security did not exist today he would not support establishing them. And, by the way, neither would I.

  • Jesse McMaster

    This is the problem with the “lesser of two evils” choice we as Americans always seem to be left with after the primaries. Writers and individuals pander sacrificing principle to slow down evil. But then after 4 or 8 years, we once again realize that we have not slowed down, but increased, the tyranny and lost more liberties than we had before the last “more evil” candidate. Can we stop looking at two glasses and arguing for the glass that is half full and against the glass that is half empty? One glass is blue and the other is red and there is no other difference between the two! Both are only using half of their potential.
    WAKE UP!

  • David M. Brown

    This is rationalism. We either have a lesser of two evils in the two major-party candidates, or they are at least roughly equal in their threat to our liberties. This can only be determined by looking at the facts and assessing the candidates. I’m afraid that urging readers to wake up does not constitute an argument.

  • Darren Wolfe

    Great article. Just the intellectual ammo I needed to go after the OWS noise: