Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand: Can a brother shrug?

In the past few weeks, Paul Ryan has been the prime bogeyman of liberals and progressives.  His proposed Federal budget plan trims entitlement growth more than Democrats would like.  Supreme Keynesian Paul Krugman has accused Ryan, a father of three from Wisconsin, of being an Ayn Rand fanatic.  The Congressman has played down his affinity for Rand’s egoistic philosophy of Objectivism.

Liberals’ groaning over Ryan intensified after he delivered a policy speech at the Catholic Georgetown University last week.  Here he hoped to justify his policy decisions in terms of a personal understanding of his Catholic faith.  Invoking church doctrines creatively and boldly, he suggested that the moral obligation of solidarity with the poor might best be served by a prudential application of subsidiarity.  In layman’s terms, our society can help the poor better by learning from history and subsequently devolving aid responsibility from the highest offices of power to the smallest practicable unit.

Ryan’s speech was thoughful and provocative, but perhaps too threatening to the Georgetown faculty’s belief that Catholic social teaching is an automatic endorsement of unmitigated big government.  Ninety of the school’s faculty signed and sent Congressman Ryan a scathing epistle rebuking and encouraging him to bone up on the doctrines he cited.

So recently, Ryan has aggrieved his fellow parishioners and has been linked with one of the grumpiest, most selfish atheists of yesteryear.  Is he just a glutton for punishment?  No. If we heed Mr. Ryan’s call to look at history and experience, we’ll find that his Christian faith and Rand’s Objectivist philosophy furnish common ground for resisting America’s decades-long progressive drive toward cultural and fiscal oblivion.

In Ayn Rand’s most influential work, Atlas Shrugged, we get to see a worldview shaped by the author’s firsthand experiences of two historic catastrophes: Russia’s Bolshevik revolution and America’s Great Depression.  The first impressed her with man’s capacity for coercion, and the second his capacity for incompetence.  And it’s this second lesson that remains pertinent to us today.

We can trace the more salient markers of the the progressive quest for social equity: FDR’s New Deal entitlements of the 1930s, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s, and lately, Barack Obama’s budget-busting program expansions.  The unending accretion of altruistic programs has done more harm than good.  We’re saddled with triplicate and quadruplicate bureaucracies that don’t produce results.  A little empirical evidence demonstrates just how ineffective Federal social programs have been for the past half century.

Progressivism, the worldview that drives the long leftward march, prefers central planners to do the thinking of everyday life rather than families or individuals. The result of such a society is what Rand’s Atlas warns against: a world where people exchange the virtues of thought and creativity for pity and manipulation.  Among the classifications she assigns to the degenerate denizens of the Atlas world: “moochers” and “mystics.”  People who’ve stopped working and stopped thinking.

It’s in vigilance against such a fate that Christians share with the Randian cause.  Apologist and philosopher J.P. Moreland warns us against the sensate society, where people make decisions less with their brain and more with their gut.  One of the central truths about humanity is that each of us bears Imago Dei, God’s image.  We resemble him in our ability to reason and to create.  Even these two activities are at the core of Ayn Rand’s Nietzschean pursuit of existential necessities.

How do we turn back from a world where centralization has elevated entitlement and choked out incentive?  Atlas only offers the dramatic cataclysm of a Capitalists’ strike.  But fortunately, in the real world, Congressman Paul Ryan encourages us all to re-think our march off the cliff of uncritical, state-driven altruism.  If we can get around the Left’s pipe dreams, maybe America can jettison the vice of entitlement and recapture the values of reason and creativity.  Then we will have a truly compassionate and just society.

How is Ayn Rand elitist?

In a recent Christian Science Monitor opinion piece, sociologist and author Vladimir Shlapentokh asks, “How is elitist Ayn Rand a tea party hero?”  The real question should be instead, “How is Ayn Rand elitist?”  I am no Rand scholar, but a cursory look at Atlas Shrugged clearly vindicates her as a logical champion for “anti-elitist” Tea Party circles.

Although Rand’s protagonists are rich corporate tycoons, they are not elites in the sense that Democrats and liberals love to invoke today.  Rand crafts her heroes as being personally competent.  They are geniuses, honest, strong, and dedicated laborers to boot.  But they lack the social capital that brings power in their society.  The villains Rand casts opposite them are the real elites, leveraging their positions in or connections to government better than anyone else.  The bleeding hearts invoke guilt, the flunkies shamelessly beg, the ruthless politicos live by extortion, and the megalomaniacs wrangle for military power.  All of these villainous types must get what they want by spinning reality, kissing up, or trading favors.  And by contrast, the book’s heroes trade their labor with a cold dignity that stems from honest appraisals of material scarcity and the productive value of their fellow men.

The heroes of Atlas are left-brained people living in a world run by the right-brained.  They are engineering and hard science majors that want to be free of the unsavory affairs of the communications majors that rule over them.  Essentially, Atlas is a nerd-liberation manifesto overthrowing the urbane and the charismatic in favor of the earnest and the awkward.  And those are the folks that are the rank-and-file of the Tea Party.

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