Four members of the Congressional House Republican Caucus voted against Congressman Paul Ryan’s budgetary “Path to Prosperity.” Had I been there and had the opportunity to do so, I would have proudly been among their number. There’s a simple reason for this: Paul Ryan is an “[Ayn] Rand nut.” His proposal isn’t a path to prosperity or fiscal sanity, it’s a projection of an Objectivist vision for our society, our nation, and its future. And that’s a dark path we’d do well to avoid.
I’m not the only one who has recognized this. Jonathan Chait, for example, has noted that “when Republicans [like Ryan] invoke the horrors of the national debt, they don’t actually mean the national debt. They mean big government.” This is why Ryan, and many like him, despite all the talk of the perils of deficits, refuse to deviate at all from the GOP’s “anti-tax orthodoxy.” In the end, “[t]hey are left arguing that the debt threatens to destroy American civilization, but they would rather leave it unaddressed than agree to even a dime of higher taxes.”
This seeming incongruity is inexplicable without reference to Ayn Rand and the Objectivist school of extreme Libertarian thought:
“Ryan sees the coming fiscal crisis not as the gap between revenue and outlay but as the prophecy of Atlas Shrugged come to life — an overbearing government punishing the productive to aid the unproductive and precipitating a total collapse:
When Ryan warns of the specter of collapse, he is not merely referring to the alarming gap between government outlays and receipts, as his admirers in the media assume. (Every policy change of the last decade that increased the deficit—the Bush tax cuts, the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—Ryan voted for.) He is also invoking Rand’s almost theological certainty that when a government punishes the strong to reward the weak, it must invariably collapse. That is the crisis his Path to Prosperity seeks to avert.”
Congressman Ryan has long been a noted devotee of Ayn Rand. He has publicly stated that “[t]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” Today, Rand’s writings are required reading for everyone working in Ryan’s office.
This is troubling. Ayn Rand is essentially the L. Ron Hubbard of American conservatism. And Objectivism is its closest approximation of a political/ideological cult.
Time and space do not permit an in-depth analysis of Rand’s school of libertarian thought, Objectivism, and its various wrinkles and permutations. Thankfully, its essence has already been distilled for us by Charlie Sheen: “Winning!” It really all comes down to that. And from an Objectivist perspective, Winners have a special virtue, a superiority that differentiates them from everyone else. This gives Winners the right, no, more than that, the responsibility, to be selfish. The flip side of this is a tendency to see the poor as somehow lacking in virtue- they are poor because they are lazy, because they have defective or deficient characters, because they are just not quite smart enough to make the cut.
The only thing holding back the Winners from achieving even more is the rest of us, and especially the poor and the government that supports and protects them through social welfare programs. To an Objectivist, Winners are producers; the poor are a drain, an anchor holding society back… useless mouths. The greatest sin is to take from Winners and redistribute to the poor.
In the words on Jonathan Chait, “[t]he enduring heart of Rand’s totalistic philosophy was Marxism flipped upside down. Rand viewed the capitalists, not the workers, as the producers of all wealth, and the workers, not the capitalists, as useless parasites.”
Understanding this is the key to grasping the intellectual and ethical coldness at the heart of much of modern libertarian thought, as well as its tendency towards Social Darwinism. It also explains the deep hostility of many radical libertarians towards the federal government, the entity that takes from Winners, that places boundaries and restraints on their selfishness.
Ryan’s budget proposal is, in many ways, an Objectivist document. As Chait has noted, the “overwhelming thrust” of the proposal is a desire “to liberate the lucky and the successful to enjoy th
eir good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens.” As a result, Ryan’s plan slashes spending on social programs that benefit the poor and the middle-class while, simultaneously, reducing the tax burden on the wealthiest members of our society. This is inexplicable from a policy standpoint, and indefensible from an ethical one. But it makes perfect sense if you see the work.