An Ayn Rand Catholic?

August 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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As you surely know by now, Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket. Paul Ryan, of course, is the author of a budget passed by the US House of Representatives in March that would have cut Medicaid and other health programs by $770 billion and other programs, including welfare, food stamps, agriculture subsidies and transportation by nearly $2 trillion. You also may have heard that Ryan is a Roman Catholic.

What you may not know is that the great inspiration of Ryan’s career in politics is Ayn Rand, the 20th century Russian emigre novelist, and political ideologue. Ryan announced this himself at a meeting of the Ayn Rand Society in 2009, that is to say, three years ago. Rand was adamantly opposed to any connection between the government and the economy. She had her reasons: she’d grown up under Soviet communism and believed that Stalinist repression of free enterprise was the greatest evil known to humankind. Her philosophy is the absolute reversal of all things communist: laissez-faire economics, radical individualism, every tub on its own bottom. She despised the New Deal, and hated Eisenhower for not eviscerating it. (To learn more about all this you can listen to an interview of the Stanford University Ayn Rand scholar, Jennifer Burns, on today’s Brian Lehrer Show  on WNYC).  This radical economic individualism is what Ryan’s budget embodies and what Romney has endorsed by choosing Ryan as his running mate.

The other thing worth knowing about Rand, however, is that she was an absolute atheist. This, according to Dr. Burns, was why, despite her opposition to communism, she was not popular in the 1950s and 1960s, during the “Cold War.” Communism was identified with atheism, so an atheist anti-communist was a contradiction in terms. She was also adamantly opposed to libertarianism, believing it was hypocritical, and hated Ronald Reagan because of his adulation of the Religi0us Right. In some respects, she was an individualist’s individualist, belonging to no party except her own. This is the great inspiration of Paul Ryan’s career in “public service,” as he describes it.

In her interview Dr. Burns argues that as Paul Ryan has become a figure on the national stage, he has tried to put some distance between himself and Ayn Rand’s atheism, but that his economic position is still Randian through and through. And if you’ve studied much philosophy you realize that it’s not so easy to to divide something like the religious/metaphysical dimension of a world-view from its economic/political perspective: atheism fits pretty well with massive individualism and letting the market take care of everybody. Alternatively, it’s kind of hard to believe in the Christian God and leave your neighbor to shift for him or herself. (See, for example, Luke 10:25–29.)

So as a Randian, can Paul Ryan be a Catholic? Well, as another Paul said, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), so I guess Ryan is as much a Catholic as the rest of us sinners. It’s worth noting, however, that the US Catholic bishops criticized Ryan’s budget fairly strongly, arguing that it fails to meet the moral criteria of “promoting the common good of all.” With the choice of Ryan as Romney’s running mate, the bishops’ criticism is getting a certain amount of play, in an editorial in the New York Times, for example.

Trouble is, hardly any ordinary Catholics are aware of the bishops’ criticism of the Ryan budget. (I’ve been taking a survey.) What they’re aware of is that the bishops sponsored a two-week protest against the Obama administration’s denial of Catholic institutional and individual entrepreneurial religious freedom. I’d be willing to bet my vast fortune that not fifty priests in the entire country addressed the bishops’ criticism of the Ryan budget from the pulpit. How many do you supposed spoke of the “Fortnight of Freedom”? Meanwhile, I note that Paul Ryan’s ideological mentor, Ayn Rand, was adamantly pro-abortion. Wonder what Paul-baby will make of that one?



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  1. […] number of commentators, myself included, have been opinionating of late about whether Paul Ryan has a “Catholic […]


  2. YES. We Christians need to speak clearly about our economic system and what it means to be disciples in a capitalist country. It wasn’t a popular position in Nazareth and it won’t be popular here, but it’s God’s way. (Luke 4:18-19)


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