Some of the more well-known criticisms leveled against Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is that his budget unfairly attacks the poor, his ideas promote Social Darwinism, and that he wants to push Grandma off a cliff. Expect Democrats to regurgitate these talking points ad nauseam until Election Day. But perhaps the most absurd claim against Ryan is that he’s a disciple of the late Ayn Rand, the 20th century philosopher and atheist who founded the school of thought known as “Objectivism.”
Rand, a Russian-born immigrant who moved to America in the mid 1920s, was a prolific writer whose support for rugged individualism and laissez-faire capitalism was best illustrated in her novels “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” both of which have become cult classics for college-age conservatives and libertarians.
In her own words, Rand states that her philosophy is essentially one that views man as a “heroic being,” a being who understands “happiness as the moral purpose of his life, productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Rand’s views, to say the least, run counter to Catholic teaching when it comes to, among other things, morality, economics, and the role of reason. So when Ryan told the Washington D.C.-based, Rand-supporting Atlas Society back in 2005 that he was a huge fan of her ideas, progressives lambasted him for embracing a worldview that they say defends the rich at the expense of the poor. It also allowed Jim Wallis, founder of the Evangelical Christian website Sojouners, to suggest that Ryan’s budgets were more inspired by Rand than by Jesus Christ.
To be sure, prudential judgments can be made about the best way to lift people out of poverty, but to claim that Ryan’s budgets, documents that emphasize the Catholic social principle of subsidiarity, economic freedom, intergenerational justice, and fiscal sanity, are Objectivist-inspired pieces of work is a bit of a stretch.
When speaking with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo last year, Ryan explained his views on Rand: “She, through her novels, did a very good job of defending the morality of the free enterprise system.” But “Objectivism, by definition, requires atheism. So how on earth can a devout Catholic consider themselves an Objectivist?”
Although “Atlas Shrugged” inspired him as a young adult, Ryan told National Review’s Robert Costa that it’s a stretch to assume that he considers himself a Rand devotee: “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.”
Rand’s philosophy might not square nicely with Catholic social teaching, but her emphasis on man as an end in and of himself and the importance of democratic capitalism actually does, and Ryan is right to highlight that.
In fact, the same could be done for 19th century philosopher Karl Marx. Marx, along with Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto, coined the phrase “workers of the world, unite!” Does that mean that everyone supportive of labor unions is a Marxist? Of course not. But even Pope Leo XIII knew that there was a kernel of truth in what he was saying. That’s why his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum emphasized the importance of just wages, safe working conditions and the right to form unions.
The reality is that anyone who thinks Ryan is bringing an Objectivist outlook to the Republican ticket will be sorely disappointed. He may appreciate what Ayn Rand wrote in regards to free markets, but he’s not going to be asking groups like the Atlas Society for advice if he assumes the role of vice president. You can be sure of that.