Paul Ryan, famed for his near-deification of Ayn Rand, may be slightly angry with our President after Barack Obama’s recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, wherein he said that, “Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up.” Here is the transcript for the section in question:
Q: What do you think Paul Ryan’s obsession with her work would mean if he were vice president?
Obama: Well, you’d have to ask Paul Ryan what that means to him. Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else … that’s a pretty narrow vision. It’s not one that, I think, describes what’s best in America. Unfortunately, it does seem as if sometimes that vision of a “you’re on your own” society has consumed a big chunk of the Republican Party.
As Huffington Post says, “It’s probably safe to say that Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead aren’t on President Barack Obama’s nightstand.”
His father’s death also provoked the kind of existential soul-searching that most kids don’t undertake until college. “I was, like, ‘What is the meaning?’ ” he said. “I just did lots of reading, lots of introspection. I read everything I could get my hands on.” Like many conservatives, he claims to have been profoundly affected by Ayn Rand. After reading “Atlas Shrugged,” he told me, “I said, ‘Wow, I’ve got to check out this economics thing.’ What I liked about her novels was their devastating indictment of the fatal conceit of socialism, of too much government.” He dived into Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman.
In a 2005 speech to a group of Rand devotees called the Atlas Society, Ryan said that Rand was required reading for his office staff and interns. “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,” he told the group. “The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” To me he was careful to point out that he rejects Rand’s atheism.
It is somewhat unclear when Paul Ryan originally discovered Ayn Rand, but because he was already quite smitten in 1988, when he was 18, it seems that he falls perfectly into the demographic President Obama so astutely listed as Rand’s. The difference between Paul Ryan — and other Rand-obsessed Republicans and Libertarians — and other people? The Paul Ryans of the world never grew out of their selfishness. When talking about her sons, Ann Romney mentioned that boys around that age are always selfish, and need something to happen for them to grow out of it and become men. I disagree with her general statement, but it appears that in some cases she was right; some boys just can’t get over Ayn.
At one point, before I decided I was on the wrong path, I was a philosophy major (I know it’s a pointless degree, and that’s why it was a dual major — the other half was physics). Although I quickly realized that neither of my majors were things I wanted to do, I have always maintained and had a love of philosophy. I’ve read Ayn Rand. I’ve also read Hobbes, and I see no reason to give either of them complete control over my personal beliefs and philosophies. In fact, Rand has always seemed to me to simply lend some hollow sense of authority to those who really want to be selfish but understand that society doesn’t appreciate an overinflated sense of self-worth. Paul Ryan seems to be one of these, even though he has attempted to distance himself from previous statements about certain social programs being “collectivist.” However, the common conservative view of them being false “entitlements” is hardly an improvement.
Here’s a thought — if your main influences, favorite philosophers and personal beliefs all try to justify putting oneself above the majority as the highest moral objective, why the hell are you in government?
When I was younger, and a little bit more innocent than I am now, I used to think that people in power in America ran for that office because they truly believed they could do a good job and help the country. I thought that those who failed in that calling — in some cases, miserably — were simply inept and misguided as to their abilities. In some cases, this seems to be true. In others, we get individuals whom are truly suited to the job, and in this we are lucky.
Then we have people like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney who truly enter office with one thing in mind — individualistic elitism. Ryan doesn’t give a damn about others, and he’s said so himself. His philosophy is all about the extreme minority; the singular individual. Ayn Rand was on Social Security when she died. Randian followers attempt to justify this by saying, “well, she paid into it!” As do we all, and that’s the point of programs like that. We do things that don’t directly benefit ourselves because they indirectly benefit us by benefiting society.
With notable exceptions, humans are not designed to live on their own. We build houses together. We get food together. We generally live in communities. Do you truly believe that this aspect of humankind vanishes when it comes to economic considerations?
And Congressman Ryan, if you ever read this, let me do you a favor — if your office contacts me, I will send you $500 worth of books in the genre of philosophy that you may read at your pleasure. I highly recommend it. Maybe then you can speak with authority on subjects that you simply sound stupid talking about now.