By Dr. Harry Binswanger
The buzz is huge. The web is "aTwitter" and the streams of the mainstream media are churning: VP candidate Paul Ryan is an admirer of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged."
The left is particularly exercised. Just Google "Ryan-Rand ticket" and you will find a slew of articles at Huffington Post, Daily Kos, etc., claiming that Rand's Objectivism has "taken over the Republican Party" and that Ryan's budget was an "Ayn Rand budget."
The Truth About Ryan's Views
As an Objectivist philosopher, let me point out the light-years separating Paul Ryan -- and every other contemporary politician -- from what Rand called "the unknown ideal": laissez-faire capitalism.
"When I say 'capitalism,'" she wrote, "I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism--with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church."
Ryan has been called an "extremist" for wanting to tinker with the way government funds a couple of programs and seeking to slow the growth of government spending. For the actual extreme -- i.e., liberty uncompromised -- step back for a moment and consider what Rand's laissez-faire would be like.
No Social Security, no Medicare or Medicaid, no welfare for anyone, no government-provided disaster relief, no post office, no public schools or state universities. That's only part of it. There would be no antitrust laws, no Federal Reserve, no regulatory agencies of any kind.
Rand, correctly, in my view, opposed all government regulation on principle. She identified regulation as preventive law, requiring the innocent to satisfy regulators that they will not engage in legally proscribed behavior.
Wait, there's more. Under laissez-faire, the money in your wallet would be "bank notes," issued by private (completely unregulated) banks. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving would be shut down. Even the roads would be privately owned.
What would be left to fund, in an "Ayn Rand budget"? Only the three legitimate functions of government: the military, to protect you against foreign aggressors; the police, to protect you from domestic aggressors (criminals); and the law courts, to settle disputes under objective law.
A Realistic Option?
Ludicrous, impossible, unthinkable -- right? Think again. This was, in essence, the original American system. This was the great engine of progress that reigned for most of the 19th century, rocketing America forward, luring millions from statist Europe, who said our streets were paved with gold.
Yes, there was a government post office and roads, but otherwise the American principle was the inviolability of the rights specified in the Declaration of Independence, with government force limited to the protection of those rights -- not used to violate them, as it is today.
And this is the system of "Galt's Gulch" in Atlas Shrugged. The politics of the novel express its deeper philosophy, and on every fundamental that philosophy, Objectivism, is the opposite of that espoused by Ryan, and of any form of religion. Objectivism upholds the absolutism of reason and reality, religion invents a "higher" world whose mysteries are to be accepted on faith; Objectivism holds that one's life on this earth is an ultimate value, the fundamental value on which morality itself is based; religion grounds morality in the arbitrary dictates of a supernatural being and demands the subordination of worldly interests to the humble service of this imaginary being; Objectivism champions rational selfishness, religion demands that man be his brother's keeper.
Here, for example, from Atlas Shrugged is Rand's view of the myth of the Garden of Eden:
What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge--he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil--he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor--he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire--he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy--all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man's fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was--that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love--he was not man.
If reading Atlas Shrugged moved Paul Ryan a teensy bit towards the "unknown ideal" of laissez-faire, more power to him. But given Ryan's religious worldview and his record of accepting and supporting the welfare state, Ayn Rand would have leapt to agree with his recent statements distancing himself from her philosophy.
She could have been speaking to Ryan when she wrote in 1980:
If you agree with some tenets of Objectivism, but disagree with others, do not call yourself an Objectivist; give proper authorship credit for the parts you agree with--and then indulge in any flights of fancy you wish, on your own.
Dr. Harry Binswanger, a former professor of philosophy, was an associate of Ayn Rand's and is a board member of the Ayn Rand Institute.