Unexamined Premises

Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged

The media has discovered that Paul Ryan has an affinity for the works of Ayn Rand. From the Daily Beast:

The chair of the House Budget Committee and this year’s Republican candidate for vice president first encountered Rand’s novels of heroic individualism and swashbuckling capitalism in adolescence. “I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are,” the congressman told a convention of Rand followers in 2005. Rand was “the reason I got involved in public service.” A passionate convert to her black-and-white, apocalyptic worldview, Ryan also became a missionary for her ideology. He required his congressional staff to read her novels as an introduction to real-world, free-market, and monetary theory. “We start with Atlas Shrugged,” he said in 2005. “Then we move on, and we require [Austrian economists Ludwig] von Mises and [Friedrich von] Hayek as well.”

So naturally they’re now shrieking with joy at discovering “hypocrisy” — to the Left, the most dreaded sin, although one to be found exclusively on the Right — since Ryan is a Catholic and Rand was an atheist and…

Let’s let that reliable font of Leftist received wisdom, the New York Times, have a go:

Mr. Ryan’s youthful, feverish embrace of Rand and his clumsy attempts to distance himself from her is more than the flip-flopping of an ambitious politician: it is a window into the ideological fissures at the heart of modern conservatism.

Rand’s atheism and social libertarianism have long placed her in an uneasy position in the pantheon of conservative heroes, but she has proved irresistible to those who came of age in the baby boom and after. They found her iconoclasm thrilling, and her admirers poured into Barry M. Goldwater’s doomed 1964 presidential campaign, the Libertarian Party and the Cato Institute. After her death, in 1982, it became even easier for her admirers to ignore the parts of her message they didn’t like and focus on her advocacy of unfettered capitalism and her celebration of the individual…

Yet when his embrace of Rand drew fire from Catholic leaders, Mr. Ryan reversed course with a speed that would make his running mate, Mitt Romney, proud. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he told National Review earlier this year. “Give me Thomas Aquinas.” He claimed that his austere budget was motivated by the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which holds that issues should be handled at the most local level possible, rather than Rand’s anti-government views.


But, what, really was Rand all about? Let me take this opportunity to bring Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged, directed by Chris Mortensen, to your attention. (Full disclosure: I have a small part as one of the talking heads.) The film is a remarkably even-handed examination of Rand’s life and her most famous work — which despite the best efforts of the MSM was by no means enthusiastically embraced by conservatives at the time. Whittaker Chambers’s notorious excoriation of Atlas Shrugged in the pages of William F. Buckley’s National Review magazine included the famous line, “To a gas chamber — go!” Mortensen also skillfully negotiates the fraught territory between the Randians and the skeptics — a battle that continues to rage to this day.

So before the Left completely distorts Rand’s message in order to hang it like a flaming tire around Ryan’s neck — did you know that Alan Greenspan, aka Mr. Andrea Mitchell, was a Rand acolyte? —  please take a look at Mortensen’s documentary, which was first released last year. You can check it out on Facebook, buy the DVD or stream it directly to your computer. You’ll be glad you did.

Also read: But does Paul Ryan like Rush?