Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand: Why the New VP is Not As Free Market As We Think

Since Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his VP, many news outlets have run pieces on the Wisconsin congressman’s interest in Ayn Rand. CNN ran a surprisingly thorough, if overreaching, analysis, and both the Los Angeles Times and New Yorker took succinct takes. The essence of these pieces is that because Ryan is a Randian, he is economically heterodox and perhaps unchristian. Further, his libertarian leanings and relative charisma make this Republican ticket look a lot like 1996’s Dole-Kemp. These extrapolations may be true, but he is no more a Randian than Obama is a socialist. And Paul Ryan’s dueling Aristotelian influences, Ayn Rand and Thomas Aquinas, will continue battling for the heart of the Republican Party with or without him.

Who is Ayn Rand? She was born in Russia and lived through the 1917 Communist Revolution before moving to the United States in the 1920s. She is most famous for her two novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, that outlined her philosophy known as Objectivism. She maintained that she was influenced by Aristotle alone — indeed, she defined her epistemology simply as reason — but her emphasis on the power and autonomy of each man smacks vaguely of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. The premise for the title of Atlas Shrugged explains it all. The intelligent and wealthy everyman is likened to the Greek god Atlas bearing the world on his shoulders. What is he to do when the world demands more and more of his blood, sweat, and tears? Simply, shrug.

Compare this to Christ on the cross, willingly suffering and dying for the most parasitic and malicious of all men, and you begin to understand the tension at the heart of the Republican Party. Rand was an adamant atheist, and Objectivism underpins parts of The Satanic Bible. Problematically, Ryan is a Roman Catholic, so he recently distanced himself from Rand by pegging his own epistemology to Saint Thomas Aquinas, a view that, as the LA Times cheekily observes, is “unlikely to scare up criticism at a town hall meeting in Sheboygan or Rapid City.”

It is not impossible to hold to Rand’s politics while affirming Christian ethics. That’s part of the reason Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was able to draw support from atheist libertarians and Bible Belt conservatives. But Rand would abhor Ryan’s voting record. Besides backing the PATRIOT Act, the NDAA, and, initially, SOPA, Ryan voted for the auto bailouts, TARP, and to extend Medicare. Rand’s most influential disciple was former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, and his biography is a much more interesting exploration of the tenets of Objectivism, especially in regards to the 2008 financial crisis.

As The Daily Show pointed out on Monday, both Republicans and Democrats are excited to talk about Ryan’s seemingly libertarian policies to slash the budget and cut Medicare. His voting record tells another story, and it’s one libertarians aren’t buying. Disaffected Paulites and other independents are more likely to flock to Gary Johnson than the Romney-Ryan ticket, but Johnson’s role in this election remains uncertain.