Voters might be most interested in Paul Ryan’s workout plan. But the Republican vice presidential nominee has another interest dating back to high school, one that sheds a little more light on his economic plans: the philosopher and author Ayn Rand.
Ryan has referenced Rand repeatedly over the course of her career, saying her writings got him into economics and policy. Ryan told the New Yorker recently that he has been reading Rand since high school; it was “Atlas Shrugged” that got him interested in economics. In March of 2003, Ryan told the Weekly Standard he was still a huge fan.
“I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it,” he said. “Well... I try to make my interns read it.”
If you’re behind on your mid-century philosophy, Rand invented Objectivism, a philosophy which holds that laissez-faire capitalism is the ideal economic system and that all people should pursue their own rational self-interest, not the good of others.
She laid out her theories in two novels, “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”, which have long been popular on the ideological right. While Rand is influential among libertarians and conservatives, she saw both groups as insufficiently wedded to capitalism. Still, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas are Rand fans; Barry Goldwater was one too.
Ryan spoke to the Atlas Society, a Rand-devoted group, in 2005, telling the group that Rand was “the reason I got involved in public service, by and large.” He cited two excerpts from “Atlas Shrugged” that he goes back to frequently: “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech ... on money” and “the 64-page John Galt speech.”
The Galt speech is a summary of Objectivism (here’s an Atlas Society outline).Slate’s Dave Weigel has a deep dive into the other speech, in which a copper mine owner rails against the end of the gold standard and the use of paper money to help “legal looters.”
And in a 2009 video series, Ryan added: “I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”
But Ryan has distanced himself from Rand in recent years, for obvious reasons. While she provides a sweeping justification for capitalism and the free market, many of her positions give Republicans pause. Rand supported abortion, opposed religion and was for the most part anti-war. She hated the idea of “duty.” She did not like Ronald Reagan.
“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” he told National Review earlier this year. But, Ryan added: “I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy.”
In his New Yorker interview, Ryan emphasized that he rejected Rand’s atheism; presumably that includes all her social views. Whether he rejects any of her economic philosophy is still unclear.