Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Paul Ryan abjures Ayn Rand

     Ayn Rand is in the news again. Seven-term U.S. Representative and presumptive GOP 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has famously espoused Rand's writings and philosophy as recently as 2005 in a speech to the pro-Rand Atlas Society. More recently, in a National Review article, he's quoted as saying:

     “I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “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,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

 Cover from Penguin.com (USA) and AP photo (cropped)
      You mean he hadn't noticed before? Or did he not think that it mattered until the tea party subjected such statements to closer scrutiny?
     Anyone who's read The Fountainhead knows that Rand was an atheist, and it's impossible that anyone who's read that book could not have known the fact. Only if Ryan was a poseur who never read Rand but thought it made him seem like an intellectual or edgy to pretend to have read Rand could he have been unaware of this.
     Ryan doesn't say he now rejects her philosophy on its merits, only because it is an atheist philosophy. For example, he could say (but doesn't) that he rejects its atheism but accepts its economic principles or tenets of self-reliance. No, he rejects it outright.
     In that same National Review article, Ryan also claims that he never required his staff and interns to read Rand (it's described as an urban myth, like The Vanishing Hitchhiker and other told-to-a-friend-of-a-relative-of-a-friend stories that Jan Harold Brunvand has been collating, collecting and analyzing for decades). Well, that got the Atlas Society's dander up, so it's released an audio file of the speech and printed select transcripts on its web site (here):

     "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. There’s a big debate about that."

     (For the record, you should start with The Fountainhead, then go to Atlas Shrugged, if for no other reason than that Atlas is about twice as long as Fountainhead; it's like stretching before a marathon.)

     Maybe he was just pandering to the Atlas Society then, but it's never a good idea to lie about something you said into a tape recorder, particularly when you're now dissing their idol, but that doesn't make Ryan a bad person necessarily. It just makes him a politician. Most politicians (heck, most people) deny they said something they actually said, usually indignantly and with deprecating remarks about the person who says they said them.
     Maybe Ryan really doesn't remember saying that. Maybe he said that but didn't do it. Maybe he said and did it but is afraid it will hurt him politically and so is an inconvenient truth.
     Don't reject Ryan because he does or doesn't admire Ayn Rand.
     As Shelly Long's Diane Chambers said when Ted Danson's Sam Malone told her that the crass guy hitting on her is married, "Well, I am sorry to hear that. ...  I was hoping to reject you based solely on your personality."


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