The selection of Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential candidate has brought to the surface the prominence of Ayn Rand as the idealist of a prominent group of U.S. political figures.
Ryan has remarked, “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. And the fight we are in here … is a fight between individualism versus collectivism.”
Interestingly, Alan Greenspan, our previous chairman of the Federal Reserve System, wrote in his recent book “Ayn Rand became a stabilizing force in my life. … By the time … Nixon campaigned for the presidency in 1968 … I had decided to … advance free-market capitalism as an insider, rather than as a critical pamphleteer.”
Ayn Rand literally stood beside him as he took the oath of office as chairman of the Nixon Council of Economic Advisors. Ayn Rand was his model. Greenspan was one of the leaders who led the movement to deregulate banks and other businesses, and thus contributed to our present recession.
And apparently, according to his 2009 public statements, Ayn Rand is Paul Ryan’s idealist mentor for shaping public policy. It has become rather common knowledge that Grover Norquist, the pusher of no tax increase pledges in Congress, is committed to the same idealist philosopher.
And it is obvious that the so-called Tea Party, supporting Paul Ryan, is inspired by the Ayn Rand idealism. Other national figures who are devotees of Ayn Rand include Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas and his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Tennessee.
History is replete with idealist philosophers promoting revolution in politics and government. Everyone is acquainted with Karl Marx’s lengthy and rambling writings that Lenin and Stalin of Russia and Mao of China were guided by in establishing new political and economic systems.
Marx even predicted the fading of government organization, as his ideals came into play. However, in both Russia and China, cruel, vicious political systems came into existence that destroyed millions of lives and imposed hardships on the general population.
Or, one can reflect on the Nazi system in Germany based on Mein Kampf, or the Fascist system in Italy. Attempts at putting idealist systems in place have been very costly, even deadly, to general populations.
Are we facing another idealist effort that could be extremely costly to the general population of the United States? Let’s examine the Ayn Rand idealist philosophy that through her writings and organized efforts have influenced a large number of Americans.
Ayn Rand was not a communist, nor was she a fascist. Her writings, which have been prominent since 1943, are still popular — unusually so.
Rand migrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union in 1926, after graduating from the University of Petrograd, where she studied philosophy and history. She had witnessed the terrible violence and disarray of the Communist revolution in Russia, and her parents had lost their business.
Early in her life she decided to be a philosopher and author. She became quite accomplished writing fiction (Fountainhead, 1943, and Atlas Shrugged, 1957) philosophical works in the 1930s and after.
She died in 1982, but her works are very much alive in promoting her philosophy of objectivism.
Rand’s concept of reality is that it “exists independent of man’s consciousness, independent of any observer’s knowledge, beliefs, feeling, desires or fears. This means … that facts are facts …and that the task of man’s consciousness is to perceive reality, not to create or invent it.”
Objectivism does not permit man to believe in any supernatural being or to create his own reality. Officials of Paul Ryan’s church have scolded him for placing a greater emphasis on the teachings of Ayn Rand than on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Rand argues that man is rational and is fully capable of understanding reality. “… the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character” is determined by reason.
No other forces considered beyond our control — such as religion, fate, rearing, genetics or economic conditions that we live in — are acceptable. Reason only is the force of understanding reality. Ayn Rand and her thinking are uncompromising.
No person or organized institution has the right to seek value from any individual by physical force; and physical force against another is permissible only in self-defense.
Individuals can exchange value only in trade that is free and done by mutual consent.
“The only social system that bars physical force from human relationships is laissez-faire capitalism.” This is the only system that gives life to individual rights; and the only function of government is to protect individual rights.
“Statism — in fact and in principle — is nothing more than gang rule.”
Her ideal of “objectivism” rejects the so-called “mixed-economy” and rejects any regulation of or any redistribution of wealth in the economy. Government should not even collect taxes. People of means, she says, will make the contributions needed to support any needed limited government. (Alan Greenspan had some difficulties with this concept.)
She writes much more, but for our purposes this is enough to examine the usefulness (or lack thereof) of objectivism in our society today.
In keeping with the Rand philosophy, it is not difficult to understand Grover Norquist’s position on raising no taxes, or the expressed arguments opposing public safety nets for the poor, aged and persons who face unfortunate calamities such as the loss of everything in a fire or a storm.
Ayn Rand argues that there is no place for altruism in the ideal society she would create and predicts will be established.
In an Ayn Rand system of society every activity except government capabilities for protecting the individual from criminals, foreign invaders, and the settlement of disputes, would be private.
There would be no public education, libraries, medical research, scientific research, weather forecasting, social security, medicare or assistance to those facing natural calamities such as storms, floods or lightning-started fires.
Everyone would create his or her own security and happiness and would only be protected by government from criminals and foreign invaders.
It is even argued that there would be no depressions, recessions or corruption in the business community. Natural reality fully understood by man would serve all mankind — she proclaimed.
Several who broke relations or receded from Ayn Rand over time realized the unrealistic idealism of her philosophy — including Alan Greenspan, who receded.
Paul Ryan’s thoughts reflected in his budget, which Mitt Romney has stated is “marvelous,” suggest that he has not discovered the idealistic fallacies of Ayn Rand, though he has rejected her atheism.
Attempts to put her ideal system in place, in my judgment, could lead to the demise of the middle class and the establishment of a plutocratic dictatorship.
It could result in much human misery and disaster for our great nation.
Our constitutional democratic system has its faults and failures, but it reflects the realities of a complex society, made up of many different and valuable communities, who seek equality of opportunity, justice and human compassion.
Let’s be truly realistic and politically powerful, but compassionate and responsive to human needs, and work toward flexible and pragmatic democratic ideals!
Let’s not get lured away by the sirens of radical systems like historically the Russians, Chinese and Germans did.
HAROLD SARE is a regents service professor, emeritus, political science, at Oklahoma State University.