“Show, don’t tell” is an admonition often given to writers. Usually it applies to fiction, but it works with non-fiction as well. If you make an assertion about someone’s beliefs, it is generally good form to provide evidence supporting your argument, at least if you want to be taken seriously. It is true that the blogopshere doesn’t necessarily allow for extended treatises, yet it’s still possible within the confines of a few hundred words or more to demonstrate credible evidence of your assertions.
When it comes to Paul Ryan and his evil Randian ways, however, such worries are cast aside. Already his critics are harping on how the influence of Ayn Rand on Paul Ryan calls his judgment into question. And it’s not just the usual suspects making these arguments, though of course they certainly are too. Indeed even some on the right are attacking Paul Ryan. Lisa Graas, in particular, has written several posts on the issue, insisting Paul Ryan’s economic platform is completely incompatible with Catholic social teaching. She disregards the fact that his economic philosophy is barely distinguishable from Rick Santorum’s – whom both of us loudly supported – and maintains that Ryan’s political thought is further removed from authentic Catholic teaching than Santorum’s.
For example, Lisa doesn’t think that Ryan is much the follower of Thomas Aquinas that he claims to be. She quotes Aquinas at length:
As stated above (Article 1), in distributive justice something is given to a private individual, in so far as what belongs to the whole is due to the part, and in a quantity that is proportionate to the importance of the position of that part in respect of the whole. Consequently in distributive justice a person receives all the more of the common goods, according as he holds a more prominent position in the community. This prominence in an aristocratic community is gauged according to virtue, in an oligarchy according to wealth, in a democracy according to liberty, and in various ways according to various forms of community. Hence in distributive justice the mean is observed, not according to equality between thing and thing, but according to proportion between things and persons: in such a way that even as one person surpasses another, so that which is given to one person surpasses that which is allotted to another.
And how does Ryan failt to live up to this directive? Well, according to Lisa, Ryan and many others in the GOP see this as “evil.” (A direct quote.) Citing nothing that Ryan has said or done to suggest such an opinion, Graas explains that Ryan’s economic platform is truly awful:
I only demand that my government not be evil. When I heard Rick Santorum talking about his economic plan, I got goosebumps thinking about how wonderful it would be for America. When I hear Paul Ryan talking about economic matters, it is just as disgusting to me as it is when I hear Barack Obama talking about economic matters.
Well there are certainly some Santorum supporters who would suggest that Santorum’s budget vision is indeed far superior. After all, Santorum wanted to cut the budget deeper and quicker.
Santorum’s own plan calls for $5 trillion in cuts over five years. And he has said he believes Ryan would not move quickly enough on Medicare reform.Ryan’s plan raises the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and caps spending on those who turn 65 after 2023, offering them a set amount with which to purchase private health insurance on newly created federal exchanges. He would also offer seniors traditional Medicare as an option, though it could cost them more than the cheaper private plans.
Santorum has said Medicare changes must be implemented immediately and not be imposed only on future retirees.
In the radio interview with Beck, Santorum said he spoke to Ryan about the budget last week. He offered general praise of its concepts, which include deep cuts to Medicaid and other domestic programs paired with a tax overhaul that would reduce the top rates on individuals and businesses to 25 percent
“He’s put forward a great blueprint for people to campaign upon and shows clearly progress dramatic progress in the direction of shrinking the size of government, and liberating the economy through lower taxes and less regulations,” he told Beck.
But of entitlement reform, Santorum said, “we need to move forward quicker” and he called for faster spending cuts.
Or is that not exactly what Lisa had in mind?
To be fair, Lisa does quote Ryan waxing poetic about Rand.
“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.
Well, this was not her only post on Paul Ryan. Perhaps she offers more concrete proof of his absolutist Randian philosophy here.
By failing to reflect shared sacrifice in his budget, Ryan sets up the situation for resentment from the poor that the Democrats use for class warfare. He then bemoans the fact that Democrats participate in class warfare. Certainly, the Democrats are wrong to capitalize on this resentment (they are truly capitalists in that sense, aren’t they?) and pit the poor against the Republican Party, but it is Paul Ryan who gives them their ammunition by handing them the resentment on a silver platter. He gives them the reasoning for the resentment because he does not look at America’s debt problem as being an American debt problem. Ryan sees it, rather, as a problem that is primarily caused by those Americans who happen to be poor.
Paul Ryan blames the poor for America’s debt problems? Does he?
Serious problems like those we face today require charitable conversation. Civil public dialogue goes to the heart of solidarity, the virtue that does not divide society into classes and groups but builds up the common good of all.
The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt.
This doesn’t really sound like Ryan is blaming the poor at all. Graas makes much hay of the fact that Ryan emphasizes our growing debt as America’s greatest problem, and claims that this signifies that his priorities are out of whack. First of all, Rick Santorum among others have discussed the problem with our monumental debt, and Santorum made budget cutting one of the centerpieces of his campaign. Second, the budget debt and our economic woes are not entirely unrelated. It’s true that we have had large deficits during boom economic times, but the staggering size of our current debt, along with the growing burden of our long-term unfunded liabilities, could have horrible repercussions down the line and could stop any potential growth before it happens. Ultimately it seems Lisa is oddly emphasizing certain turns of phrase in an effort to distinguish Ryan from Santorum. Ryan may emphasize budget deficits to a greater degree than Santorum, but ultimately little separates the two when it comes to developing a practical political platform.
Well, maybe Lisa fared better in this post.
It is said that Paul Ryan is a Catholic Christian, but clearly he has adopted Ayn Rand’s philosophy with his budget and has even praised her philosophy as “the morality of capitalism,” a view that is condemned by the Catholic Church with the same force that socialism is condemned.
First, she completely distorted what Paul Ryan actually said (“Ayn Rand does a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism). Second, other than saying that Ryan “clearly” adopted Rand’s philosophy, she offers no evidence that Ryan has in any meaningful way emulated Rand.
Oddly enough Kyle Cupp at Vox Nova offers a somewhat fairer assessment. He acknowledges that Paul hasn’t adopted the objectivist philosophy, but nonetheless the Randian influence has warped Ryan’s outlook.
Conscious that Rand’s extreme individualism doesn’t sit well with most voters or cohere with the social and political theology of his Catholicism, Congressman Ryan has recently (and smartly) argued for his path to prosperity in the language of social justice, emphasizing the nation’s debt as harmful to the poor. His terminology, however, bears more than traces of Randian individualism, despite his pulling some of it from papal social encyclicals. He speaks of subsidiarity, but confuses it with small government and the efforts of individual communities. He invokes the principle of solidarity, but conflates it with competing and co-operating in an open market, climbing the social ladder, and keeping the fruits of one’s efforts. Ryan now says he rejects Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but his own philosophy hasn’t changed as a result.
You don’t hear him talk about distributive justice or the universal destination of goods. Instead, he frames the current policy debates in such a way as to exclude third ways and other alternatives: equal opportunity versus equal outcomes, individualism versus collectivism, incentivizing responsibility versus exploiting fear and envy, empowering patients versusempowering bureaucrats, and social mobility versus redistribution. Ryan denounces class warfare while setting up his own warring simplistic binary oppositions.
Does any of this matter? I think so. It matters if you want to understand the philosophies and theologies that have at least nominally informed the congressman’s worldview. It matters if you’re either a devotee of Rand or of Catholic social teaching who believes Ryan is wholly on your team—he isn’t. It matters if you find the Path to Prosperity and Ryan’s overall vision for the United States either beneficial or harmful for the country or for you personally.
That’s all well and good, but I don’t think Kyle really offers anything more substantive than Lisa. He implies (though of course doesn’t just come out and say) that Paul Ryan shifted his terminology solely to appeal to a Catholic audience, and not because it is how he genuinely feels. Then, like Lisa, he concentrates on points of emphasis rather than the totality of Ryan’s economic platform. Does it really matter if Paul Ryan doesn’t ape Catholic theology students word for word if the end product is something is properly within Church teaching on economic matters? He makes much of Ryan’s supposed binary outlook, yet doesn’t seem heavily invested in analyzing beyond the soundbites in an effort to more fully engage with Ryan’s economic thinking.
Neither Lisa or Kyle really do much to show that Paul Ryan has been heavily influenced by Ayn Rand, or that his philosophy in any way emulates hers in any substantive way. As someone whose primary academic concern has been points of similarity between Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson, I am perfectly aware that one doesn’t need to quote someone else verbatim in order to still largely echo that other person. But I don’t hear even much of an echo, let alone something indicating he is a fervent disciple. It’s fair to suggest that Ryan has picked up on some of the positive elements of Rand’s work (and speaking as someone who loathes her philosophy, there are some elements that are somewhat meritorious), but there is nothing at all in his body of work that indicates he has swallowed the Rand philosophy whole.
Now if I turn on the television one day and Paul Ryan is on every channel delivering a ten hour monologue on the “takers,” then that’s a different story.