Paul Ryan Book Club: Shrugging Off Ayn Rand?

Richard B. Levine/Newscom

Wisconsin's First District has voted him into Congress seven times over the past 14 years, but popular as Paul Ryan is at home there may be another constituency that holds the Republican vice presidential candidate in even higher regard.

Ryan, you see, is the country's most powerful Randian. At least, he used to be. More on that in a moment. First, a look at his adoring relationship with the work of Russian emigre novelist Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead."

It began, according to a 2005 speech Ryan gave to The Atlas Society, when he was still a student. And it guided his thinking on monetary policy for decades to come:

"I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are," he told the group. "It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff."

Ryan has since denied making his staff read the books.

He continued: "But 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. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism."

Rand's literary inner circle was called, ironically perhaps, "The Collective."

Individualism, or objectivism in some cases, provides the philosophical underpinnings for most of Rand's narratives. The novelist and literary critic Harriet Rubin wrote bluntly in the New York Times that "Atlas Shrugged" is a "glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest."

It also celebrates atheism, treating religion with a degree of scorn.

"If devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking," one of Rand's characters says in the novel, the "alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind."

This is where politicians and business leaders tend to pull up.

Ryan has, as noted above, taken a step back from his impassioned Rand-regard in the past few years. And in an interview with the National Review this April, he did a pretty firm about-face:

"I reject her philosophy," Ryan says firmly. "It's an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas," who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. "Don't give me Ayn Rand," he says.

So after all that, Paul Ryan, it seems, has shrugged off Ayn Rand.

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