August 19, 2012
Vice President candidate Paul Ryan once remarked, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. And at the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand’s writings when he told his audience, “Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill… is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict – individualism versus collectivism.”
Ryan has handed out copies of Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents. Later he seemingly rejected Rand’s philosophy.
According to Rand, “Totalitarianism is collectivism. Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group—whether to a race, class or state does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called “the common good.” According to Ryan, social security, for example, is a collectivist system.
Rand has other admirers on the economic and religious right. “Who is John Galt?” signs are seen at Tea Party protests. John Galt, by the way, is a fictional character in Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. The Tea Party loves Ryan. Conservative commentators Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh have praised the book. And Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas cited Atlas Shrugged as among his favorite novels.
Who is Ayn Rand and what is it about Atlas Shrugged that appeals to Ryan and the Tea Party? As the Atlas Shrugged plot unfolds, Galt is acknowledged to be a creator, philosopher, and inventor who symbolizes the power and glory of the human mind. He serves as a principled counterpoint to the collectivist social and economic structure depicted in the novel. This depiction portrays a society based on oppressive bureaucratic functionaries and a culture that embraces stifling mediocrity and egalitarianism, which the novel associates with socialistic idealism.
As outlined in Atlas Shrugged, the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest and that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism. “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Paraphrasing the late Gore Vidal on Ayn Rand: Rand gives moral sanction to greed and self interest. She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the “welfare” state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your tough luck. In sum, Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality
The phrase “going John Galt” or simply “going Galt” has been used to describe productive members of society cutting back on work in response to the projected increase in U.S. marginal tax rates, increased limits on tax deductions, and the use of tax revenues for causes they regard as immoral. That’s why we see Galt signs at Tea Party rallies and protests.
With the addition of Ryan, the GOP presidential candidates now celebrate the virtue of selfish capitalism. Remember, Romney devoted his career to vulture capitalism; he would buy up companies, extract the most profits for Bain Capital and its investors, often firing workers, outsourcing jobs, and loading up companies with so much debt that they were forced to declare bankruptcy. Bain and Romney left with massive profits.
If she were alive today, Ayn Rand would probably vote for Romney/Ryan in the November election, favor a free market economy devoid of regulation, and, of course, oppose taxes on the rich.
In sum, Rand in her writings had the particular genius of recasting the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as oppressed.
The GOP and Ayn Rand are a match made in Heaven. Well maybe not in Heaven.