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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

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Ari Armstrong

Ari Armstrong is an assistant editor of The Objective Standard. He blogs at AriArmstrong.com, and he has written for publications including the Denver Post and Complete Colorado. He is the author of Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles, a book exploring the heroic fight for life-promoting values in the Potter novels.


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