August 29, 2012 Leave a comment
The discussion about the face of modern conservatism during this week’s Republican National Convention will inevitably avoid the looming problem of Ayn Rand. The vice presidential nominee, up until his consideration for that position, praised Ayn Rand. He credited her ideology with spurring him into politics and required his staff to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
Curiously, it seems Rand’s masterpiece has a habit of drawing in younger conservatives, as it did for Paul Ryan. Like communism for college liberals, Rand’s trumpeting prose comes off as revelatory. This message often appeals to misguided anarchists and conservatives trying to find real answers that America’s two parties fail to provide. Yet, in drawing in such audiences, Rand devotees often put themselves in danger of obvious conflicts of interest.
When Randist-Republicans like Paul Ryan abandon Rand’s atheism and her contempt for America’s two parties, they make a mockery of what Rand’s brand of conservatism really embodied. Rand summed it up like this: “There is no party, are no voice that offer a pro-capitalism, laissez-faire, economic freedom and individualism [sic].”
One philosophy Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand considered evil to her system of politics and economics was altruism. The one redeeming value of Christianity is its message of love, charity, forgiveness and its inescapable message of caring for the poor. Rand was crystal clear in Atlas Shrugged that Christian ethics had no place in her society. Modern Republican interpretations opportunistically shift this outright rejection of altruism towards an argument against legislating altruism: food stamps, subsidized healthcare, and so on. But in her words, Rand hates even the private act of giving where the motive is not self-interest, or to be less circuitous, one’s own personal monetary gain.
The RNC is missing the opportunity to have a debate about whether we as a people will continue to care for our poor. Does the Republican Party want to stand with altruism? It seems problematic for Ryan, a Christian, to advocate abandoning state-sponsored altruism. Imagine a Catholic trying to make that argument to the American people. This might not be a problem if Ryan was not a member of the flock of Christians who have ignored the American tradition of keeping religion and politics separate – which his views on the female body indicate.
It seems like a fatal case of cognitive dissonance. Christ was nothing if not an altruist. Yet Ryan’s budget relies on heavy reductions in altruism. I assume Ryan has America’s Christianity in mind based on his record. Yet, he’s either lost himself in his mutually contradictory views or is utterly insincere about either his Randian conservatism or his Catholicism. But, his proposed budget gives him an alibi for his sincere attachment to Ayn Rand and his social views do the same for his Catholicism.
Attempts for Randists like Ryan to hold on to their Christianity have already led to embarrassing exposes of this fatal cognitive dissonance. During an early Republican debate, fellow Randist and Christian Ron Paul, when asked what the role of the state was for an uninsured man dying in a hospital, was essentially to let the man die.
Ayn Rand was and will continue to be an albatross in the Republican Party. She had no place in either party and she knew it. Yet, in their desperation, the Republican candidates are setting themselves up for more embarrassing examples of their utter insincerity, or worse, their blatant idiocy.