Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Inspiration For Paul Ryan's Profoundly And Explicitly Anti-Christian Budget

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Thursday Wisconsin's nihilistic governor, Scott Walker, wrote a glowing paean to political ally Paul Ryan for Time Magazine's top 100 people of the year contest:

Paul Ryan, 41, came of age down the road from me. Although we didn't know each other at the time, it's clear now that growing up in south-central Wisconsin during the Reagan years had a lasting impact on both our political philosophies. Like our 40th President, Paul has always stuck to his core beliefs: in limited, effective government; individual liberty; and making the hard decisions so our children will inherit a country at least as great as the one we did. Overnight, his economic plan has redefined the nation's conversation about public spending.

It has been said that there are two types of people in politics: those who want to be somebody great and those who want to do something great. Paul Ryan is the latter, and our country is better off because of that.

What is the great cause for which Ryan wants to devote his political life? Unkind critics point to the unprecedented-- at least in Wisconsin politics-- gushers of money Ryan has solicited from the Wall Street sector and detect a correlation between the bribes he takes and the policies he espouses. And since there is nothing that holds his voting record-- huge, unjustifiable bailouts for Wall Street banks coupled with the dismantling of Medicare and unconscionable tax breaks for the richest Americans coupled with privatization of Social Security-- other than obeisance to a garden variety Big Business agenda, this interpretation has become widespread. What people may be missing, however, is a parallel influence on Ryan-- one not unrelated, but not identical either: his devotion to the adolescent philosophy of Ayn Rand: "the virtue of selfishness," a more direct-- if somewhat off-putting to non-beleivers-- description of a philosophy known as "Objectivism." Like Ron Johnson, Wisconsin's new senator and Ron and Rand Paul (as well as Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Alan Greenspan), Ryan has embraced Ayn Rand's anti-Christian doctrines as a replacement for religion. Inverted Christianity-- and inverted Marxism-- is the best way to describe a political philosophy that stopped growing somewhere in Ryan's sophomore or junior year of college.
The April 18 edition of Newsweek carried an interesting article. According to author Jonathan Chait, it explains “How the GOP came to view the poor as parasites and the rich as our rightful rulers.”

Regarding novelist Ayn Rand, Chait wrote “her novel Atlas Shrugged, expressed Rand’s inverted Marxism... In 2009 Rand began popping up all over the tea party movement.”

Congressman Paul Ryan has been a fan of Rand’s philosophy for a long time. According to Chait, “Ryan once appeared at a gathering to honor her philosophy, where he announced ‘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.’ He continues to view Rand as a lodestar, requiring staffers to digest her creepy tracts.”

Chait also mentions that part of Ryan’s budget proposal about Medicare includes “imposing huge cuts on anybody who retires starting in 2022.”

We know how Ryan wants to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs for the middle class and the poor. Perhaps now we know why.

Reading Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead will help you understand the deep cheap level of attraction for Rand by the intellectual lightweights of the far right.
The philosophy, such as it was, which Rand laid out in her novels and essays was a frightful concoction of hyper-egotism, power-worship and anarcho-capitalism. She opposed all forms of welfare, unemployment insurance, support for the poor and middle-class, regulation of industry and government provision for roads or other infrastructure. She also insisted that law enforcement, defense and the courts were the only appropriate arenas for government, and that all taxation should be purely voluntary. Her view of economics starkly divided the world into a contest between "moochers" and "producers," with the small group making up the latter generally composed of the spectacularly wealthy, the successful, and the titans of industry. The "moochers" were more or less everyone else, leading TNR's Jonathan Chait to describe Rand's thinking as a kind of inverted Marxism. Marx considered wealth creation to result solely from the labor of the masses, and viewed the owners of capital and the economic elite to be parasites feeding off that labor. Rand simply reversed that value judgment, applying the role of "parasite" to everyday working people instead. On the level of personal behavior, the heroes in Rand's novels commit borderline rape, blow up buildings, and dynamite oil fields -- actions which Rand portrays as admirable and virtuous fulfillments of the characters' personal will and desires. Her early diaries gush with admiration for William Hickman, a serial killer who raped and murdered a young girl. Hickman showed no understanding of "the necessity, meaning or importance of other people," a trait Rand apparently found quite admirable. For good measure, Rand dismissed the feminist movement as "false" and "phony," denigrated both Arabs and Native Americans as "savages" (going so far as to say the latter had no rights and that Europeans were right to take North American lands by force) and expressed horror that taxpayer money was being spent on government programs aimed at educating "subnormal children" and helping the handicapped. Needless to say, when Rand told Mike Wallace in 1953 that altruism was evil, that selfishness is a virtue, and that anyone who succumbs to weakness or frailty is unworthy of love, she meant it.

PAUL RYAN'S AYN RAND BUDGET: Given that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is the lead architect of the GOP's 2012 budget plan, his own devotion to the ideas of Atlas Shrugged and its author are worth noting. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat has dismissed the connection as Ryan merely saying some "kind words about Ayn Rand," which simply isn't a plausible characterization given what we know: Ryan was a speaker at the Ayn Rand Centenary Conference in 2005, where he described Social Security as a "collectivist system" and cited Rand as his primary inspiration for entering public service. He has at least two videos on his Facebook page in which he heaps praise on the author. "Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism," he says. All of which reflects a rather more serious devotion than a few mere kind words. So it should come as no surprise that Ryan's plan comports almost perfectly with Rand's world view. He guts Medicare, Medicaid, and a whole host of housing, food, and educational support programs, leaving the country's middle-class and most vulnerable citizens with far less support. Then he uses approximately half of the money freed by those cuts to reduce taxes on the most wealthy Americans. By transforming Medicare into a system of vouchers whose value increases at the rate of inflation, he undoes Medicare's most humane feature -- the shouldering of risk at the social level -- and leaves individuals a nd seniors to shoulder ever greater amounts of risk on their own. But if your intellectual and moral lodestar is a woman who railed against altruism as "evil" and considered the small pockets of highly successful individuals to be morally superior, it's a perfectly logical plan to put forward.

Yesterday, Ryan's hometown newspaper, the Janesville Gazette ran a review by Michael Gerson of the FreedomWorks' propaganda film based on Atlas Shrugged, calling it Ayn Rand's adult-onset adolsecence. They should save it for when they decide on whether or not to endorse Ryan's reelection bid in 2012. "A work that lectures us endlessly on the moral superiority of heroic achievement is itself a model of mediocrity. In this, the film perfectly reflects both the novel and the mind behind it." Sounds like Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman describing Paul Ryan's relationship to economics. Gerson notes that "None of the characters express a hint of sympathetic human emotion-- which is precisely the point."

Rand’s novels are vehicles for a system of thought known as Objectivism. Rand developed this philosophy at the length of Tolstoy, with the intellectual pretensions of Hegel, but it can be summarized on a napkin. Reason is everything. Religion is a fraud. Selfishness is a virtue. Altruism is a crime against human excellence. Self-sacrifice is weakness. Weakness is contemptible.

“The Objectivist ethics, in essence,” said Rand, “hold that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.”

If Objectivism seems familiar, it is because most people know it under another name: adolescence. Many of us experienced a few unfortunate years of invincible self-involvement, testing moral boundaries and prone to stormy egotism and hero worship. Usually one grows out of it, eventually discovering that the quality of our lives is tied to the benefit of others. Rand’s achievement was to turn a phase into a philosophy, as attractive as an outbreak of acne.

The appeal of Ayn Rand to conservatives is both considerable and inexplicable. Modern conservatism was largely defined by Ronald Reagan’s faith in the people instead of elites. Rand regarded the people as “looters” and “parasites.” She was a strenuous advocate for class warfare, except that she took the side of a mythical class of capitalist supermen. Rand, in fact, pronounced herself “profoundly opposed” to Reagan’s presidential candidacy because he did not meet her exacting ideological standards.

Rand cherished a particular disdain for Christianity. The cross, she said, is “the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. … It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture.”

Yet some conservatives marked Holy Week by attending and embracing “Atlas Shrugged.” Reaction to Rand draws a line in political theory. Some believe with Rand that all government is coercion and theft—the tearing down of the strong for the benefit of the undeserving. Others believe that government has a limited but noble role in helping the most vulnerable in society-- not motivated by egalitarianism, which is destructive, but by compassion, which is human. And some root this duty in God’s particular concern for the vulnerable and undeserving, which eventually includes us all. This is the message of Easter, and it is inconsistent with the gospel of Rand.

Many libertarians trace their inspiration to Rand’s novels, while sometimes distancing themselves from Objectivism. But both libertarians and Objectivists are moved by the mania of a single idea-- a freedom indistinguishable from selfishness. This unbalanced emphasis on one element of political theory-- at the expense of other public goals such as justice and equal opportunity-- is the evidence of a rigid ideology. Socialists take a similar path, embracing equality as an absolute value. Both ideologies have led good people into supporting policies with serious human costs.

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23 Comments:

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Barry Brenesal said...

Nicely done, Howie.

 
At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Second that Barry.

FYI imo it is possible to read Rand and not join the brain dead.

In my next lifetime I am definitely going to do the Howard Roark architect and particularly Dominique thang:)

"Howard Roark: I am an architect. I know what is to come by the principle on which it is built. We are approaching a world in which I cannot permit myself to live. My ideas are my property. They were taken from me by force, by breach of contract. No appeal was left to me. It was believed that my work belonged to others, to do with as they pleased. They had a claim upon me without my consent. That is was my duty to serve them without choice or reward. Now you know why I dynamited Cortlandt. I designed Cortlandt, I made it possible, I destroyed it. I agreed to design it for the purpose of seeing it built as I wished. That was the price I set for my work. I was not paid. My building was disfigured at the whim of others who took all the benefits of my work and gave me nothing in return. I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy, nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing. I came here to be heard. In the name of every man of independence still left in the world. I wanted to state my terms. I do not care to work or live on any others. My terms are a man's right to exist for his own sake."

 
At 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now those are some serious psychopaths.

 
At 4:27 PM, Blogger Stephen Kriz said...

What I find amusing (and more than a little appalling) is that many conservatives worship Ayn Rand AND consider themselves to be Christians. Christ said when someone asks for your cloak, give them your coat also. Christ told the rich man he should give everything away if he wanted to get into Heaven. Christianity is the antithesis of Randism.

 
At 5:03 PM, Blogger Paul said...

It may not mean much, but as long as they're in public life, every time Scott Walker or Paul Ryan eats in a restaurant or diner, and is recognized, they can be sure that some working person in that kitchen has spit in their food

 
At 5:42 PM, Anonymous Ep3 said...

Why are we wasting so much time and energy tearing down this Ryan guy? Why aren't we focusing on protecting SS and Medicare through public information?
To me, this just sounds like the left falling into the he said she said form of news reporting. And that tells me we are being misled by the bloggers that are supposedly bringing our ideals and beliefs to the table.
This Ryan guy is up for reelection every two years. Why can't we get someone elected that is more fit to our ideals than for him to continue to get a seat at the table?

 
At 6:26 PM, Blogger HoneyBearKelly said...

Paul Ryan requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged.
So once again, Ross Douthat is a fool.

 
At 6:41 PM, Anonymous cmhmd said...

I was thinking (again) about just how amoral these people are over Easter, and came up with a new "Oath of Office for the Randers over at dkos:

http://dailykos.com/story/2011/04/21/969062/-Do-you-reject-Jesus-(The-new-oath-of-office)?detail=hide

 
At 6:44 PM, Anonymous cmhmd said...

Bill, I prefer Cleese over Roarke:

"...I see. Well, of course, this is just the sort of blinkered philistine pig-ignorance I've come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker's cuss for the struggling artist. You excrement, you whining hypocritical toadies with your colour TV sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding masonic secret handshakes. You wouldn't let me join, would you, you blackballing bastards. Well I wouldn't become a Freemason now if you went down on your lousy stinking knees and begged me."

 
At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul Ryan is the Anti-Christ

 
At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ayn Rand had a thing for her "young minions". Think Greenspan at her feet.

I can see her now saying, "please me now, I come first,
the hell with your sadisfaction.
My satisfaction is the only important thing in life" picture her using whips and chains to enforce her de-mans.

 
At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Servoshell said...

If it takes Nixon to go to China, so be it. The liberals had half a century to liberate the country from Christianity and they just sat on their hands waiting for someone to do it for them.

 
At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Tom Sullivan said...

That dovetails with what I've said about Rand for years: Lots of people read "Atlas Shrugged" in high school. Most of them grow up.

But on Easter (following up on cmhmd) I recall what Jesus said: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other."

Christian conservative, choose.

 
At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rand believed that real love is impossible unless one first loves oneself. IOW altruism that serves the givers emotional need is weakness not real giving; if I help someone in order to make myself feel better, than I'm not really giving.

I'm no fan of Rand or her "philosophy", but one can understand how people can be attracted to her ideas. That is, when they're properly presented.

 
At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The age old cry of the adolescent "I am sooo misunderstood"

 
At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Atlanta Roofing said...

It is hard to underestimate how passe her theories are. And she is a dreadful writer.
The mathematics of being nice
Using mathematics to tackle some of biology’s biggest questions, Martin Nowak has concluded that an ability to cooperate is the secret of humanity’s success. He talks to Michael Marshall about drawing fire from Richard Dawkins, the perils of punishment, and devising the mathematical equivalent of the rules of religion.

 
At 9:34 PM, Anonymous LosGatosCA said...

It's not hard for people to believe in two different, even diametrically opposed philosophies so long as two constraints are met:

1. The philosophies both provide a comfort or fulfill an emotional need for the believer, and,
2. It's not required to deal with the contradictions directly.

How Rand's Objectivism and Christianity can work for religious conservatives in this model is pretty easy to understand if you think of Rand as simply providing the tools that an Old Testament vengeful god would use to punish the undeserving, those who He wouldn't help because they aren't helping themselves. So for the 'producers' the 'parasites' are not entitled to anything better than they have or any help due to their inherent inadequacy, fully witnessed by their god afflicting rather than blessing them.

Christ promises them the after life, which they fully feel they deserve and if they even understand that Rand is an atheist, which itself is highly doubtful, she has no direct connection to Christ in their consciousness, only to the vengeful Old Testament God.
It's like a self contained, repetitive game of telephone in their own minds: Greedy selfish mind says there's a philosophy that provides an intellectual basis for my lack of compassion or caring and then passes the message to the judgmental mind that says God sent pestilence and floods to non-believers, just like He sends his chosen people to land of milk and honey. I'm doing well, I must be doing God's work. The believer in Christ portion of the brain, which differentiates them as the only people who will make it to heaven, says I'm born again, good deeds don't matter so I'm not perfect nobody is, render unto Caesar, etc. and I'm safe.

New information that is received is just passed to the part of the mind best equipped to maintain their comfort level.

Poor people need healthcare - they are undeserving God himself has afflicted them.

Rich people need tax cuts - of course, it's a fact that tax revenues go up when this happens and even if they don't I am rich/might be rich and that means God has/will favor me due to my hard work/inherent goodness.

But being selfish, not sharing your blessings, not helping those less fortunate may have adverse consequences - not possible, I'm born again and good acts don't matter. And as my other minds tell me they aren't even good acts because they encourage sloth and dependency when encouraging them in becoming a producer and helping themselves is really a better act anyway.

It's seamless, self-rationalizing, and completely logical from their viewpoint. And it's not a random event, these types of constructs have been developed by humans everywhere for all of time to help them do what they want (own slaves, start wars, torture innocents, etc.) without making it a strictly personal act of conscience with direct adverse consequences for themselves.

 
At 3:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not so long ago, we'd read Camus about redemption from adolescent selfishness

 
At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may not mean much, but as long as they're in public life, every time Scott Walker or Paul Ryan eats in a restaurant or diner, and is recognized, they can be sure that some working person in that kitchen has spit in their food

Puul,

I would hope that they don' stop with spit, they deserve something a little stronger.

 
At 12:24 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Anonymous @1:02 has it right.

Objectivism = psychopathology

 
At 5:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the very least, it will be most interesting to see how this Randite wing of the GOP pup-tent, with its emphasis on selfishness in the extreme merges with the Evangelical wing of the same party, which at least on the surface pays some heed to a Leader and His writings which are, ahem, a bit different from the values advocated by Rand. At the most, maybe the clash between these two contrasting strands will shatter the Repubs. I would at least be happy if the organized denominations denounced this Rand worship for the graven-image-worship that it is and bailed on the GOP-ers. One can hope.

 
At 8:04 AM, Anonymous mal said...

Being from Madison, I still am mystified that Ryan is not found out.

This may change now.

Anyway, an excellent piece of writing!

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger JC said...

@LosGatosCA

that was an wxcellent and eloquent explanation of the disparate thoughts. you should expand and publish that in a more prominant place. may I suggest a title?; "ModCon Doublethink"

 

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