Of the voluminous reporting and opining about
Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul
Ryan, one quote is quite striking.
“The reason I got involved in public service,
by and large, if I had to credit one person,
it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said in a 2005 speech
to the Atlas Society, an organization of Rand
followers. “The fight we are in here, make no
mistake about it, is a fight of individualism
It’s not a “gotcha” catch, where a politician
slips on an impromptu question. This is a core
statement, a clear-eyed description of a world
view and its influences. Ryan didn’t just reel
this one off at a Friday night fish fry in his
native Wisconsin. The Rand seed took root.
Ayn Rand is a Russian-born Atheist who died
in 1982 after peddling a philosophy known as
objectivism through works like “The Fountainhead”
and “Atlas Shrugged.” She believed we all live
in a state of nature, that we are but vessels
of competing desires and needs, bouncing off
each other like so many bumper cars. To do anything
outside of one’s own self-interest is to upset
the apple cart of life, Rand reasoned.
Take her word for it.
“Man — every man — is an end in himself, not
the means to the ends of others,” Rand said
of objectivism. “He must exist for his own sake,
neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing
others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational
self-interest and of his own happiness is the
highest moral purpose of his life.”
So this is the grass that feeds the GOP’s Boy
Ryan has said he rejects Rand’s Atheism. That’s
sort of like saying you’re a Christian who thinks
Jesus was a fantastically inspired mortal, not
the Son of God.
At some point in college or late in high school,
American students encounter Rand. They flirt
with her ideas. Being selfish is actually constructive?
If, like Ryan, you are reading Rand while at
the prestigious Miami of Ohio University, she
really grabs hold, because you are by definition
one of American society’s “winners.” Now you
can be selfish about it, too? What a deal.
All that brother’s keeper business from church?
Ryan isn’t just saying he read Ayn Rand like
millions of other Americans. She’s the reason,
Ryan says, he became involved in public service.
How do Bob Vander Plaats and the Christian right
square this? Can Ryan truly be at once a Rand
disciple and a man of Christ?
It takes little time to see the influence of
Rand in Ryan’s politics.
What would Ayn Rand do?
Turn Medicare into a voucher system where 85-year-olds
are buying health insurance in an open marketplace.
Rip away the cords of the social safety net
and free Americans to face each other, bare-knuckled,
fists full of dollars for the few, dirt-scuffed
hands for most.
Recall the words of Orson Welles’ Harry Lime
in “The Third Man” as he condescendingly gazes
down on the citizenry from a giant ferris wheel
in Vienna, Austria. The people? They are but
“dots” to Lime.
“Look down there,” Lime says in the 1949 movie’s
most poignant scene. “Tell me. Would you really
feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving
forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for
every dot that stopped, would you really, old
man, tell me to keep my money, or would you
calculate how many dots you could afford to
spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of
income tax — the only way you can save money
Ryan isn’t the only conservative touting Rand.
Iowa Congressman Steve King, R-Kiron, brought
her up the other day, telling a collection of
middle-schoolers at an entrepreneurial summer
camp at Des Moines Area Community College that
he read “Atlas Shrugged” at night following
long days of work with King Construction back
in the 1970s.
When I asked King about Rand’s Atheism after
the event, if he knew about her lack of religiosity,
King, a Kiron Republican, said, “I never had
a chance to convert her.”
Rand clearly converted a young Paul Ryan.
For serious Christians, this is serious business.
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa
newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily
Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.