Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand on religion and god

With Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, we can expect some discussion of Ayn Rand. Her message that social programs are merely ways to siphon away the wealth produced by the productive members of society to benefit ‘moochers’ and ‘looters’ has gained traction in the current Republican party and Paul Ryan, darling of the Tea Party, was an outspoken and unabashed admirer of Rand as the source of his ideas and philosophy.

Rand’s philosophy on how society should function is almost completely orthogonal to my own. But you have to admit that when it came to her belief in the importance of following reason to its logical conclusion, she was remarkably clear and outspoken. In this set of clips of her being interviewed by Phil Donahue and Tom Snyder, she lays out with clarity the case for atheism

But Republicans who worship her for her praise of selfishness as a good thing cannot stomach her atheism and as Jane Mayer writes for the New Yorker, having an acolyte of an atheist on a ticket headed by a Mormon might be a little too much for some Christians. Ryan is now trying to rewrite history, distancing himself from her and saying that he is inspired by Thomas Aquinas instead.

It will be interesting to see if he is pressed on this issue and how he tries to wriggle out of it.


  1. smrnda says

    I think calling Rand a ‘philosopher’ is giving her more credit than she deserves, though the influence she’s had on right wing politics in the US is high enough to warrant some concern.

    Having read her books, I’ve actually found her to be pretty inconsistent, and to be the type of know it all who has no interest in exploring facts in the real world. Atlas Shrugged features railroads as a central theme, and it’s obvious Rand did absolutely zero research on how they actually operate. Like a typical self-righteous blowhard, the world inside her head is the ‘real’ one.

    It’s also worth finding her quotes on why, though she totally opposes using force to redistribute wealth, she feels that white settlers were perfectly justified in using violence to take the US from Native Americans. Consistent? Rand is a typical hypocrite there.

  2. Corvus illustris says

    Ryan is now trying to rewrite history, distancing himself from [Ayn Rand] and saying that he is inspired by Thomas Aquinas instead.

    I look forward to watching Ryan dance around Aquinas’s discussion of the common good and our duties toward it, found in the Summa Theologiae and other writings. After that, he can discuss Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, which is rather reserved about unions, but not reserved enough to satisfy the Koch brothers.

  3. Mano Singham says

    After ploughing through The Fountainhead, I simply could not bear the thought of reading another 1000 pages of her writing so skipped Atlas shrugged.

  4. lpetrich says

    Ayn Rand’s argument was that the Native Americans were not making good use of the land that they had been living on. Thus, those who could make better use of it were justified in stealing the land from them.

    That would justify forcible redistribution of wealth from wealth hoarders and speculators, since they are not doing very much that’s productive with it.

    Something that Ayn Rand would have vehemently rejected as socialism and Communism.

  5. slc1 says

    Ayn Rand’s “philosophy”, such as it was, can, IMHO, be summed up rather simply: every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

  6. slc1 says

    Re lpetrich @ #4

    One could make the same argument relative to the inhabitants of the Ukraine in 1941, thereby justifying Frankenberger’s invasion of the former Soviet Union. Like the European invaders of North America who considered Native Americans untermenschen, the Slavs of the Ukraine were considered untermenschen by the Germans.

  7. smrnda says

    I would also add that her philosophy involved making up some verbose justification afterwards.

  8. smrnda says

    Reading Ayn Rand’s ‘rejection’ of Einstein’s theory or relativity is both sad and comical. She’s egotistical enough to reject something vehemently without bothering to even figure out what it’s all about first, instead, going with her ‘gut instincts’ on what it’s about. All said, she fits in with the standard right wing “no need to hear the facts I’ve already got an opinion.”

  9. Jo-Be-Se says

    I call bull. I’m sorry, but a Catholic politician saying that s/he is inspired by Thomas Aquinas has to be the most milquetoast piece of garbage I’ve ever heard of. Aquinas is the guy that every Catholic will reach for when pressed on the question “what influential religious figure has inspired you” and they don’t have an answer. Ryan might be telling the truth, but he’s going to have to substantiate that answer.

    Which does he prefer: The Summa Theologica or the Summa Contra? Has he read any of Aquinas’ sermons? Can he cite a passage/quote/idea of Aquinas that has made a personal impact on him?

    I am so sick of these bland answers being given a pass in the US press.

  10. Shawn says

    I have concern about post Vatican II Catholic Boy from Wisconsin having thoughts of granduer over Alisa Zinovievna Rosenbaum as almost counter to all I have ever known. She left her native land becuase Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky had better plans for organised religion. Her Russian -Jewish background would have easily made her anti Government from day one. A view not specificaslly relative to the USA’s issues. But,she would have seen the communist and unionist growth and the termoil in the 1930s.
    She would have seen first hand the Hollywood and Boradway views of artist and card carying union members of SAG. Its 7 term president and staunch Democrat Ron Reagan would have been the very target of Ayn Rand. Funny, a typewriter name served as her persona, she couldn’t be honest about who she was and her characters were apart of a bygone era of cold war rehetoric. Ron Reagan changed political parties to distance himself from Wisconsin Senator McCarthy and his witch hunt of communist sympathizers. The Depression, rise of unions, rise of communist party and socialist ideals of the 30s would have formed all of Rand’s ideals. She also would have distan for the Jazz Movement, The New Deal,the Civil Rights movement, Womens rights, beatnics and hippies. Funny, Republicans freed the slaves in 1865 only to re-enslave minorities and the down trodden in the next century. Embracing Right Wing Nut bag conservative religious views hardly seems politically corrrect for a girl raised Orthodox Jew. Maybe she is more misunderstood then we ever thought and her work should be reclassified. The very concept of egoism and moralism suggest she barely understood womens rights or what we call sufferage.Perhaps when we look at anyone claiming Ayn Rand as a force in their life, read the work to escape reality of what was really happening in the world. I believe the new Republican Party and the Tea Baggers both would embrace devil worship if they could get re-elected and have a majority to reduce taxes, remove reporting requirements on foreign investment holdings and pardon all tax evasions charges against those who refused to follow the tax law changes in 2010.The USA has become a septic tank of political ideals built on money, war and lies. Maybe Paul Ryan should own up to his darwinian ideals which are very contrary to his church teachings of creationalism. He should also consider what he preaches as a Catholic and tax the rich to feed the poor! Paul Ryan smacks of modern mcarthyism and his view of the USA is skewed for a rural fear mongering crowd that rarely travel more then 10 miles from home. I don’t mean to offend Ayn Rand for her work, I am just suggesting history played a role then and not now for a cold war anti communist view and moralistic high ground. None of which have anything to do with the State of the Union. Right?

  11. Art says

    Rand is a philosopher the same way pretty much every middle-school kid gets full of themselves and think they could do it all better are all philosophers. If a Randian has an advantage they use it to exploit others, they do it without qualms or mercy, and if questioned they are quick to claim it is their due by right. But if they get mugged, someone uses their power and talent against them, they are quick to cry foul.

    They can dish it out but they can’t take it.

    But, for me, the most annoying thing about Randians is that when cornered and denied what they want they always threaten to ‘go Galt’ but never ever follow through with that threat.

    Go Galt already. Please.

    They never do it.

  12. MLR says

    It really is ironic that the godless liberals are the ones that show compassion and concern while the God-fearing conservatives seem to believe in some sort of social Darwinism, where poor people and the elderly deserve their fate for committing the crime of being poor or elderly. And to kick up the irony a notch, Paul supports gutting Medicare, when not that long ago Republicans shouted, “Death Panels!” about Obamacare (which included nothing of the kind). But how is simply not being able to afford the care you need any different than the fictional “Death Panels” that disgusted them so? Maybe it’s like the old Karl Rove strategy of accusing your opponent of your own biggest failings, so that they then can’t accuse you of them. It seems that strategy applies to ideology too…

  13. says

    Republicans embracing the economic implications of Objectivism while rejecting the theological ones is like a child receiving a new toy for Christmas and only playing with the box it came in.

  14. M Groesbeck says

    Atlas Shrugged features railroads as a central theme, and it’s obvious Rand did absolutely zero research on how they actually operate. Like a typical self-righteous blowhard, the world inside her head is the ‘real’ one.

    Actually, that sort of thing is depressingly popular among philosophers. Anything which can be defended/asserted as being a priori or based on first principles is, among those philosophy departments where discussion of language, psychology, etc. is discouraged, actually quite popular. (It’s the hardcore “analytic” tradition, actually…knowledge based on the real world instead of on semantic games that assume a perfect accord between language and reality is rather undervalued.)

  15. M Groesbeck says

    Ayn Rand is only an “atheist” in the sense of rejecting a supreme being (i.e. in the same sense that one could, theoretically, refer to polytheists as “atheists”). Her model of private property (shared, in the important respects, with the likes of Rousseau and Marx) is fundamentally supernaturalist; Objectivism (and, actually, ideological capitalism) only works by taking for granted a supernatural essence of “ownership” attaching itself to (ontologically-pure) objects and material. If ownership and property are social practices (which they, um, kinda are if we’re going to base things on reality) rather than supernatural essences, everything is much too murky to make the absolute property claims (even on the embedded-labor model of Rousseau/Marx/Rand) required for hard-line capitalism.

  16. Corvis illustris says

    Ryan may be the “intellectual” darling of the GOP, but with a poli-sci/econ BA from a state U he doesn’t have the chops to tackle Aquinas. The Summae are long and closely reasoned. If Biden has any cunning he’s already got somebody who washed out of a RC seminary (not you, Tom Monaghan!) working out embarrassing questions for the VP debates.

  17. slc1 says

    I wasn’t aware that Ayn Rand was a relativity denier. I always pose the following question to such nutcases. If special relativity is wrong, how come quantum electrodynamics predicts a value for the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron that agrees with experimental observations to 10 significant digits. Pretty good for an invalid theory!

  18. smrnda says

    Ayn Rand didn’t understand relativity well enough to be that sophisticated in her denials of it. She seems to connect relativity and daylight savings time.

  19. smrnda says

    I love asking Randians how the notion of property came about, and how it’s justified. I mean, how did I end up owning the scrap of land my house stands on? To Randians, property rights are eternal and immutable, which is a ludicrous claim since at some point things which are not property become property. What legitimizes that first acquisition? Isn’t it just that using force to take things long enough ago creates its own justification by obscuring the origins of property?

    All said, Rand is just a watered down ripoff of the philosopher Max Stirner.

  20. eve brown says

    the video seems to have been removed.

    gutting medicare is totally not the same as death panels. it only happens to poor “people” for one. its also 7 letters in a row without spaces where “dead poor people” is 4 4 6, which is really much more tolerable; the spaces give your brain a break.

  21. flex says

    Assuming that was a real question, I’ll take a moment to answer, and save you the trouble of reading 1000+ pages of reading the pulp nonsense which is Atlas Shrugged (including the 100+ page manifesto delivered by Galt).

    In Rand’s inane world, there are creators and everyone else. These creators do everything themselves. They are a combination engineer, designer, draftsmen, scientist, inventor, innovator, and passionate lovers. The rest of the world is divided into drones for these gods of industry, or parasites. All government, including those functions of government which act to protect laborers, but especially any government with the power to regulate or restrict these paragons of production, is a parasites.

    John Galt decides that in order to save the American way of life of unrestrained capitalism, the rest of the country must learn how much they need these champions of commerce. So he organizes a revolt where all these exemplars of economies abandon their positions and take a vacation. (I’ve sometimes gotten a rise out of Randriods by pointing out that what they were really doing was going on strike.) Of course, without the demi-gods of development the USA quickly goes to hell, accessorized with a lovely hand-basket of moral stories by the author showing how the parasites all die appropriate deaths.

    To go Galt means to show the world how much it needs you by abandoning it. It’s at the same intellectual level of a child running away from home because their parents asked them to do their chores. Which is why it enjoys a great deal of favor among teenagers and libertarians.

    Many of us would love Randriods to “go Galt”. Regrettably, they show no inclination to do so.

  22. Jim says

    Have you read Atlas Shrugged? The “nobility of capitalism” as Rand would put it is based on the conception of mutual advantage that comes through trade.

    Here’s an excerpt from Atlas Shrugged that illustrates the point.

    “I work for nothing but my own profit – which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage – and I am proud of every penny that I have earned in this manner. I am rich and I am proud of every penny I own. I made my money by my own effort, in free exchange and through the voluntary consent of every man I dealt with – voluntary consent of those who employed me when I started, the voluntary consent of those who work for me now, the voluntary consent of those who buy my product.”

    You can disagree that capitalism actually works that way, but it is disingenuous to claim that Ayn Rand believed “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost” just because you disagree with her premises.

    Rand states many times that wealth that is earned through voluntary means is a noble thing because it involves producing things of value and swapping it with other things of value for mutual benefit of both parties.

    If you ever bothered to read Atlas Shrugged you’d realize that Rand’s prime moral argument for capitalism is that it is based on voluntary interaction whereas the states actions are dictated/mandated. Not “assholes should get to own everything”.

    Again you can disagree that anything involuntary is bad, you can disagree that capitalism is voluntary, but you can’t claim that Rand thought that was the case. Well not without being tremendously disingenuous.

    It is as disingenuous to claim that as to claim that pro-choice people support the murdering of babies or that anti-abortion people only care about infringing womens freedoms.

    Also feel free to assume from this comment that I agree with everything Rand says, ignore the point I was making and throw some epithet at me like “randroid” that does nothing to further the discussion.

  23. smrnda says

    The problem is Rand is promoting an ideal form of capitalism that does not exist in the real world. I mean, this line:

    “I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage.”

    Are two or more people in an economic exchange ever actually equals? She’s painting a false, ideal picture of capitalism so that people can promote the ugly real capitalism in real life. Do you seriously believe workers are ‘freely’ accepting the conditions under which they work, and that they are just as free as the shareholders?

    I also disagree that State actions are ‘compulsory’ and market actions are voluntary. A workplace is a dictatorship most of the time where workers can take it or leave it – at least in government, ideally, you can have some sort of a say. In this, her views are totally false given what reality is like. Workers, consumers, and corporations are not all equal parties, and power with votes is often used as leverage against economic power.

    Rand was an idiot blabber-mouth. She went with her opinions, wrote books that are cardboard cutouts of reality, and never bothered to actually learn. There’s very little evidence that Rand studied economics systematically, so her opinions on capitalism, at least to me, belong on toilet paper. Since her worldview isn’t based on reality, I can’t take her seriously.

    I mean, yeah, under the idealized ‘capitalism’ that she envisions, things would be fine, but since it’s not how things are, what value do her ideas have? She might as well have been a proponent of slavery based on an idea that it could have been benevolent.

  24. smrnda says

    I guess I should also add that since Rand’s premises are false, her conclusions are going to be false. She may have truly believed what she did about capitalism being 100% voluntary and the State (even when you can vote and have a say) is 100% compulsory, but just because she believed these things does not make them true, any more than what any religious nutcase believes. No economist thinks that all market transactions are truly voluntary for both parties, at least none I have met.

    I’ve read most of her writings, and her entire worldview is built on faulty assumptions, and overall, she’s arrogant enough to never bother with looking into empirical data. Her premises are false, so a person who follows her is making false conclusions when they reason with her premises, and they often are ignoring actual facts that would explain how things are the way they are.

    The whole ‘voluntary’ deal is just bullshit, it doesn’t exist in the real world. I don’t want to buy products made by slave labor in China, but rich people don’t want to provide me with better options, so I’m stuck. I’d like to buy a banana not produced by slave labor, again, option not there.

    In any exchange, those with greater power, wealth or control dictate terms to the others.

    Also, did Ayn Rand ever actually work in her life? She seems to have no idea how anything works in a workplace. I’d imagine a couple months working in a mine or slaughterhouse might have changed her mind on ‘voluntary’ cooperation.

  25. smrnda says

    In contemporary politics and business, if people like Mitt Romney went on strike, more companies would have had less incentive to gut their workforce (pushing the workload on a smaller group of employees) and so, in a sense, their strike would prove only that it’s they who are the parasites, and that their only function is the squeeze the rest of us.

  26. M Groesbeck says

    I tend to gravitate towards the Marx comparison because it pisses off the Objectivists so delightfully. (It also pisses off the orthodox Marxists, which is just gravy — if your ideological community is worth anything, you/we should be willing to improve your position as more information and perspective becomes available.)

  27. shonnawilliams says

    Apparently readers are forgetting her “philosophies” revolve around the characters dispositions. Yes, her writings are contradictory! That’s what wakes readers minds, which has proven in this thread, it has taken effect.

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