It’s likely that John Galt, the iconic hero of Ayn Rand’s paean to selfish one percent-ism, Atlas Shrugged, would’ve welcomed Jesus’ crucifixion. Curiously, though, Rand’s apostle of radical egotism and Christianity’s cherished exemplar of righteous self-abnegation are both venerated by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
About Ryan’s devotion to Rand there is no doubt. His embrace of the Randian creed supposedly occurred in the wake of his father’s death when the future vice presidential candidate was just 16. “I concluded I’ve got to either sink or swim in life,” he told Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker.
And swim he did, demonstrating the sort of drive of Rand’s celebrated übermenschen embodied by John Galt, who, in the apotheosis of Atlas Shrugged, delivers a 70-page sermon expressing Rand’s gospel. “You are your own highest value Galt intones. “As a man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul.” No wonder, then, that Ryan, cast as an exemplar of entrepreneurial pluck, credits Rand with teaching him “quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are.” Ryan even requires that his congressional staff read Rand.
Never mind that the Ryan hails from a prominent family whose fortune was made building federal highways and airports, or that his university expenses were partly paid for by Social Security survivor benefits, or that he has spent his entire career in government on the public dole, or that he has secured millions in taxpayer-funded earmarks for his district during his time in Congress. In his own mind he’s a “maker,” not a “taker,” or the pathetic 47 percent of Americans who in Mitt Romney’s words don’t take “personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Ryan’s budget plan, A Roadmap for America’s Future, bears out The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier observation that “the ideal of self-reliance in America has always been attended by a corollary of indifference to others, or nastiness.” The plan’s preamble is haltingly Galtesque: “Dependency drains individual character, which in turn weakens American Society. The process suffocates individual initiative and transforms self-reliance into a vice and government dependency into a virtue.”
To combat parasitic moocherism, the Roadmap slashes Medicaid and food stamps and turns Medicare into a voucher, while simultaneously cutting taxes for large corporations and the wealthy, or the “job creators” in conservative argot. The Washington Post’s Matt Miller points out that the plan would add $62 trillion to the national debt before balancing the budget in a half century. If the legislation sounds catastrophically misguided and immoral in the extreme, it’s only because you’re a wastrel. Read Ayn Rand. And get a job!
The Roadmap may be many things but original it’s not. The powerful few have embraced a feudal-like ethos to justify exploiting the powerless many from time immemorial. Ryan’s Rand-inspired legislation merely gussies up the haves common disdain for the unwashed masses. Nothing new there.
On the other side of the struggle for social justice are those of good conscience, and perhaps nobody better personifies moral righteousness than Jesus Christ, a proto-communist who, according to the Bible, died fighting the Randian worldview exalting cupidity. Jesus’ gospel remains strikingly revolutionary to this day. In Mathew 19:24, he says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Throughout the Gospels, he preaches the importance of loving thy neighbor and caring for the less fortunate, a message repeated throughout the New Testament. Liberal Christian author and theologian Jim Wallis notes that the Bible contains 2,500 verses about the poor.
John Galt would not approve of Jesus’ communitarian message. Yet somehow the Rand-loving Ryan, a practicing Catholic who participates in a weekly prayer group on Capitol Hill and flies home on Thursday nights so he can take his children to their Catholic school the following morning, reveres the Bible. His youth ministry lessons might have really paid off for him to show such ardent devotion to the church and God.
This paradox isn’t limited to Ryan, but rather is a microcosm of the peculiar amalgamation of laissez-faire fundamentalists and evangelical Christians that inhabit the same GOP tent. Of course, the market Jihadis, who generally hold the reigns of power in the Republican Party, tend to ignore the evangelicals, while the evangelicals tend to ignore Jesus’ teachings, but it’s a messy arrangement nevertheless.
But who says that consistency is all that important anyway? Ayn Rand collected Social Security and Medicare benefits while Christ was supposedly born of a virgin. Seen in this light, Paul Ryan isn’t unusually ass-backwards; he’s about average for a Republican. What, then, is one to do? For those with a high tolerance for gobsmacking inconsistency, do as Atlas does according to one of Rand’s characters, just shrug. The rest should vote Democratic.
A typical “looter” wrote the above. Jesus told us to share but not to allow others to rob us. Some see the difference others don’t. Never vote Democrats or you will end up working hard for the looters all your life..
Sebastian Bennett says
The brilliance of Ayn Rand is that every single one of her readers – every one! – believes to the bone that he or she is one of those rarefied few who, like John Galt, propel civilization forward through the dint of their genius. Nobody, that is, reads Atlas Shrugged and says, well, yes, I’m must admit that I’m a model of mediocrity or, worse, a looter. Doesn’t happen. It’s called conformation bias.
Do you receive medicare? Did you go to public school? Did you drive on a paved road today? Did you not encounter an actual looter at the grocery store because police patrol the streets? Do you rely on the Army and Navy and Marines and Air Force and Coast Guard to guarantee your national security? Were you confident that your chicken sandwich was in a fact a chicken sandwich and not sewer rat the last time you ate out? Did you take drugs whose development was financed by basic research from the NIH? Was that dispute you had with a colleague settled in court. Was you patent protected? Were emergency services rendered the last time your community was hit by flooding? Did the fire department come when your house was on fire? Did the car manufacturer have to build cars with working brakes because of the last settlement they made with the Justice Department?
To the admirer of Ayn Rand, the questions above are unwelcome, as they raise the prospect that one isn’t that rarefied genius being held back by lousy looters, but rather a member of a society that requires public services. Far nicer to believe that one is a John Galt awaiting discovery.
Each one of those “public services” you mentioned is consistent with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism – that the job of the government is to protect people’s individual rights. The police protect individuals from attackers and robbers, the army and navy protect the country (and the individuals who reside in it) from invasion, patent protection protects an individual’s rights to his intellectual property, the justice department protects an individual’s rights against irresponsible manufacturing, etc etc.
Even the existence of emergency services like the fire department is consistent with Objectivism. As Rand stated in “Journals of Ayn Rand”, when people are hit by calamities they deserve all the help we can give them.
Then you agree that to provide all those services, we require taxation. Otherwise, the people using those services are doing so without paying for them. I believe we call that “stealing”.
B Tisnen says
Lets not forget the country is some 18 Trillion Dollars in debt paying for these services. The government is no better than a bunch of looters.
Sebastian Bennett says
Actually, the public services cited above aren’t consistent with Objectivism. Critically, Ayn Rand thought taxes should be discretionary, so it’s unclear how any government initiative whatsoever, to include the military or firefighters, would be financed. Moreover, she didn’t believe that public education was a right, and she compared Medicare, which she received herself – oh, the irony – to “a ‘hoodlum’ who robs and kills to acquire a yacht and champagne.”
As for the government’s debt, the question is: from where does it derive? Debt in and of itself is not necessarily bad. If, for example, government borrows to build a bridge or construct a road that increases productivity, then it might well be a good investment that pays off handsomely. Similarly, if monies are borrowed to fund basic scientific research that eventually yields to the curing of diseases, then, once again, this may be wise.
However, if elected leaders borrow billions of dollars to finance tax cuts that primarily go into the hands of the most prosperous, or those who need it least, or to finance wars that are utterly and completely unnecessary, then, indeed, this is simply looting public coffers. I suspect, though, that Rand’s acolytes tend to see the former as bad while neglecting the latter. This has got things precisely backwards.
Right on Sebastian. Try not to wear yourself out on the willfully obtuse.