Does Ayn Rand’s Influence on Paul Ryan Matter?
Following the leader, supporters of newly minted Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan have been downplaying the influence of Ayn Rand upon his political life and thought, but Ryan’s enthusiasm is too well documented for us to credibly believe that the Objectivist hasn’t colored his outlook and shaped his philosophy. Ryan is no Objectivist, but he needn’t be anything approaching a full-fledged Randian for her ideology to have meaningful and notable affect on his rhetoric and policies. And affect it arguably has.
Conscious that Rand’s extreme individualism doesn’t sit well with most voters or cohere with the social and political theology of his Catholicism, Congressman Ryan has recently (and smartly) argued for his path to prosperity in the language of social justice, emphasizing the nation’s debt as harmful to the poor. His terminology, however, bears more than traces of Randian individualism, despite his pulling some of it from papal social encyclicals. He speaks of subsidiarity, but confuses it with small government and the efforts of individual communities. He invokes the principle of solidarity, but conflates it with competing and co-operating in an open market, climbing the social ladder, and keeping the fruits of one’s efforts. Ryan now says he rejects Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but his own philosophy hasn’t changed as a result.
You don’t hear him talk about distributive justice or the universal destination of goods. Instead, he frames the current policy debates in such a way as to exclude third ways and other alternatives: equal opportunity versus equal outcomes, individualism versus collectivism, incentivizing responsibility versus exploiting fear and envy, empowering patients versus empowering bureaucrats, and social mobility versus redistribution. Ryan denounces class warfare while setting up his own warring simplistic binary oppositions.
Does any of this matter? I think so. It matters if you want to understand the philosophies and theologies that have at least nominally informed the congressman’s worldview. It matters if you’re either a devotee of Rand or of Catholic social teaching who believes Ryan is wholly on your team—he isn’t. It matters if you find the Path to Prosperity and Ryan’s overall vision for the United States either beneficial or harmful for the country or for you personally.
It matters, in my opinion, because Paul Ryan has meshed together ideas from two radically incompatible worldviews into an eclectic mess, and that, I wager, doesn’t make for structurally-sound policy.