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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ayn Rand Is A Curious Choice For Conservative Veneration

Rep. Paul Ryan, now the GOP vice presidential nominee, is an Ayn Rand acolyte, a loyal adherent to the philosophies of a woman whose views have enthralled fringe segments of the conservative movement for more than half a century. He is famous for giving her novels to staffers in his office.

He has even called her works the inspiration for his government career, according to an August profile by New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, who quoted from a 2005 speech the congressman gave to the Atlas Society, an Ayn Rand fan club.

“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. The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism,” Ryan told the group.

That helps to explain Ryan’s ideas about the federal budget, which he would radically downsize to shrink the programs that help the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, and just about everybody else who needs the occasional helping hand. In Rand’s philosophy, the brilliant, the well-born and the lucky have no obligation to the struggling stiffs whose jobs don’t guarantee riches. Indeed, she believed altruism was foolish.

But nothing explains how the author of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” came to captivate so many economic gurus of the modern conservative movement, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Her “objectivism” is nothing more than rank selfishness promoted to a grand economic and cultural philosophy. (Among her works is one titled “The Virtue of Selfishness.”)

What’s more, Rand was an atheist and libertine whose private life was testament to her fierce belief that individuals should be free to do whatever they please, no matter the consequences to others. Though married, she conducted a long-running affair with one of her young disciples, in view of their spouses.

She mocked Christianity, proclaiming it anathema to reason. She once told an interviewer that faith “is a sign of a psychological weakness. … I regard it as evil to place your emotions, your desire, above the evidence of what your mind knows. That’s what you’re doing with the idea of God.” She’s a strange role model for members of a political party that claims to represent religious conviction and personal probity.