Viewpoint: Rand and Ryan

By Ryan Barnett….

On the surface of the recent discussion relating to Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Ryan as running mate is the interesting question as to how much Ayn Rand’s line of thinking colors Ryan’s worldview. It has been suggested that Ryan has perhaps outgrown Rand, as evidenced by his more recent rejection of Rand in interviews in favor of St. Thomas Aquinas. Or perhaps his views were simply not being closely scrutinized years ago. We generally prefer the credibility of spontaneous statements to those which are well prepared. It is difficult to disregard the fact that Ryan is carefully attempting to marginalize Rand’s influence on his thought. This shift is most likely the result of either growth or disingenuous political maneuvering – authenticity vs. political expediency.

I am hopeful that the marginalization represents growth. The implication of Ryan’s shift could represent a very tangible exhibit in the battle for honest expositions of the social tensions we find at hand – the likes of the Tea Party and Occupy. Is an honest depiction of the underlying tension, “we don’t like that you have more money than we do (but we won’t say it that way),” and “we think the common people are beneath us and lazy (but we won’t say it that way)?”

It has been suggested that the upcoming presidential election represents a battle for the soul of this nation. A fight that Rand aptly predicted in her writings. Without question, there is great value in cultivating a sociopolitical environment which fosters growth, creativity, and the ingenuity which has made our country what it is. And yet, there can be no question that Rand’s thinking was completely and blindly focused on self for the benefit of none other than selfish prosperity. It is the antithesis of a Christ centered worldview. It is the vast difference between Invictus (Henley) and My Captain (Dorothea Day).

For the Rand purist, money becomes god. Nothing, literally, could be further from the teachings of Christ. So why are many modern religious conservatives so fond of her? It might be that she got a few things right. For instance, Rand’s railing against altruism as the root of “guilt,” which in turn leads to ever more tacitly consented to government because people quietly “know” they are not doing their part to care for the least of these – is in many ways, incredibly perceptive – albeit warped. Rand is correct that small government is a valid objective and one espoused by our founders. But on this point, is she right for the wrong reasons? Might the better questions be on the proper function of altruism?

Rand presents us with the delusional belief that we have the potential to divinely actualize via completely selfish individualism and the fruits of our labor (money). There is no place for God and little for others in the equation. Rand has clearly influenced the conservative religious right for many years (irony of all ironies being that she was an atheist) because she stands for part (the money and government part) of what the conservative right stands for. Thus, it is a fair question to ask how the largely religious right can so instinctively trust the fundamental philosophical tenets of an atheist? How is Rand and conservative thinking squared with Medicare, Social Security, or any other massive social program? How is Rand squared with faith?

If the conservatives are going to rail for Rand’s thinking – where is the fully authentic political manifestation of that policy? The evidence clearly bears out that many modern day conservatives are selective when it comes to reconciling truly conservative thinking and policies. Look no further than Medicare to understand this.

Rand, in many ways betrayed the fundamental worldview of the founding fathers whom conservatives believe her thinking embodies. The approach of the likes of Jefferson was to ensure freedom to do well with a quiet expectation that one would do good (Jefferson’s founding of the University of Virginia, case in point). In fairness, Romney may in fact be a good example of one who has done well and done good. But the truth of the ages is that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to find his way into heaven. Romney may be the exception and may assume too much of his peers. Yet, the failure of men to care for their brothers does not necessarily mean that it is the role of government to do the job of good men. Rather, it is the charge of good men to strive to lead and change other men.

So the pundits may be correct. The election may represent a battle for the soul of the American people. And Rand may be correct that we ought not place the great industrialists and thinkers into regulatory bondage. Yet, what is missing in some respects is a consistent and honest exposition (amongst the fringes of the political spectrum) as to what drives our ideology and personal theology. Without honest questions and honest answers we are unlikely to move toward effective statesmanship.

Ryan M. Barnett