There has been quite a bit of discussion, in the liberal camp at least, about some Tea Party Republicans embracing the works of Ayn Rand. Paul Ryan is especially fond of Atlas Shrugged, and requires his staffers to read it. Ryan, author of the controversial House Budget proposal, claims that budget is based on the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and cites Pope John Paul II’s warning that government assistance programs can lead to inertia, overweening public agencies and bloated budgets. I suppose that’s a possible influence, but one look shows it’s not the only one. To my mind, a quote from Jonathan Chaitt’s December 28, 2010 article on Ryan’s love of Rand’s works seems dead on point: “Ryan would retain some bare-bones subsidies for the poorest, but the overwhelming thrust in every way is to liberate the lucky and successful to enjoy their good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens.” A USA Today piece from last week quotes author Jay Richards calling Ryan a “cafeteria Randian”, saying “I suspect the progressive Christians are confusing that point. You can agree with Rand’s critique of collectivism as enervating and soul-destroying without adhering to her overarching philosophy.” However, the article also cites Rand biographer responding “Certainly you can believe that the state can’t do everything for everybody, but if you are a practicing Christian, you also believe that it is our duty to take care of the least among us. And we know perfectly well from history that churches and individuals can’t do that job alone.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Not all conservatives, Republicans or Tea Partiers are so fond of Ayn Rand. Chuck Colson, former Watergate conspirator and current evangelical leader, has issues with the praise heaped upon Rand by many these days. He warns us to beware of Rand’s ” idolatry of self and selfishness” and says “I am no fan of big government, but there are far better ways to critique it than Rand’s godless nonsense, especially for Christians”. While I agree with sentiment, I’m not so thrilled with the presentation. But, as I rarely find myself in the same book as people like Colson, much less the same page, I’ll take what I can get.
Ryan claims that he doesn’t see a conflict between his Catholic beliefs and Rand’s philosophy. Which makes me wonder just how much he truly understands about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, which was formulated by a secular Russian Jew who rejected even the idea of the existence of God. She also rejected the idea of ethical altruism, the idea that people have a moral obligation to help others, but that’s a lesson Ryan seems to have absorbed at a molecular level. If Ryan were to sit down with his mentor, I suspect he’d be surprised at her reaction to his idea that religion and Randian philosophy aren’t contradictory. That disconnect runs through current conservative thought in general and Tea Party philosophy in particular. As I said in Jesus Didn’t Shrug, this line of thought is distinctly incompatible with the message of Christ which was that we are most definitely our brother’s keeper.