Ryan can’t have it both ways
The arrival of Congressman Paul Ryan on the national scene as Mitt Romney prospective running mate has elicited a range of reactions, from bewilderment to adoration. Heralded as an ideological leader of the Republican/Tea Party, Ryan’s intellectual prowess has been acclaimed.
But I wonder. Two of his heroes, Jesus—he’s a traditional Catholic—and Ayn Rand, couldn’t be farther apart. Rand, author of several other entertaining novels including Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness, was hardly a Christian.
Ayn—pronounced as if rhyming with mine—Rand, fleeing Stalinist Russia in 1926, rejected economic tenets espoused by the Marxist-Leninists. Yet she shared their abhorrence for a belief in God. Rand was an atheist.
Dismissive of religion of any sort, she told Playboy, “Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason.”
Ryan, a “mystic” from her point of view, is unequivocally anti-choice/pro-life to the point of supporting a “personhood” bill that declares a zygote a human being.
His heroine, on the other hand, unequivocally proclaimed, “An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).”
“Abortion,” she continued, “is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?”
Jesus encouraged his followers to be charitable, to take care of those less fortunate. Rand held that he was full of malarkey. “My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty.” Selfishness is, as she wrote, a superior virtue. So much for the Sermon on the Mount.
Rand equated the rational process—thinking—with morality. In Atlas Shrugged, she proclaims, “Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. Moral perfection is an unbreached rationality—not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.”
Something has happened to the conservative movement over the past decades. The conservatism of William F. Buckley is a thing of the past, a conundrum for today’s “conservatism” since it rejects its birth and natural state for something new, untried, which Newt Gingrich labeled “rightwing social engineering.”
Of Buckley’s brainchild and a continuing conservative media source National Review, Rand said, “I consider National Review the worst and most dangerous magazine in America. The kind of defense that it offers to capitalism results in nothing except the discrediting and destruction of capitalism.”
Because, she argued, National Review ties capitalism and religion together, “The ideological position of National Review amounts, in effect, to the following: In order to accept freedom and capitalism, one has to believe in God or in some form of religion, some form of supernatural mysticism,” which negates the argument that capitalism can be defended rationally, therefore forfeiting intellectual grounds—reason—to “capitalism’s enemies.”
Regarding differences between the godfather of 20th-century American conservatism—Buckley himself—and her, Rand said, “It would be simpler to ask what similarities there are: none.”
Buckley conservatives, she sneered, “are paralyzed by the profound conflict between capitalism and the moral code which dominates our culture: the morality of altruism.
“Altruism holds that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value. Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. The conflict between capitalism and altruism has been undercutting America from her start and, today, has reached its climax.”
Rand considered any type of public social program—Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, student loans, et al—to be a form of altruism, “unselfish concern for others,” reprehensible, morally and intellectually bankrupt.
It comes down to this: One can neither be a good Christian nor a Buckley conservative yet be a disciple of Ayn Rand. On the other hand, one can be a rightwing ideologue or a Tea Party Republican and be an avowed Randian.
“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt 7:20)