Friday, April 27, 2012

Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, and conservatives' love for Atlas Shrugged

I read Atlas Shrugged a few years ago, in 2009. It had been recommended to me many times by my late grandfather, and was on my list anyway. I knew the book was considered a pillar of the modern conservative movement. With the Tea Party resurgence the nation was experiencing, I felt it was a perfect time to finally read the book. Of course, I loved the book as an entertaining piece of political fiction. To live in a world of absolutes, of ideological purity, refusal to compromise with liars and corrupt cowards and ultimately triumphing over them; Atlas Shrugged is satisfying.

Ever since reading Atlas Shrugged, there was one particular contradiction that I couldn't get over.  Its been in the back of my mind ever since. I suppose I never really brought it up because I didn't believe my observation would be acknowledged by its objects.  As it turns out, just this week, Paul Ryan, the budgetary guru of the Republican Party, nailed my contradiction square on the head:

“I reject her [Rand's] 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.

Bingo.  There is no question - Atlas Shrugged is, without a doubt, an extremely anti-Christian book. The protagonists don't explicitly declare that they are anti-Christian, but their philosophy is clearly anti-religion. They despise people who operate on anything other than reason, evidence, and logic. The protagonists despise those who lecture about charity, social responsibility, and living and working through others. They openly profess that their sole motivating force is greed and money, which is about as contrary to what Christ taught as anything could be.  Remember how much the protagonists hated Robin Hood?  Yet, who among us remembers Robin Hood to be a dastardly, despicable fellow?  Not me, anyway.

We live in a country where we have a Republican Party that is created somehow through the fusion of pure idolization of free market forces and the pursuit of one's selfish interests with Christian theology that is, in theory anyway, opposed to those things. Now of course, I recognize that part of this is a phenomenon of the whole political process of coalition building. Some Americans are motivated mainly by Christian instincts; the evangelicals who want abortion banned and gay marriage outlawed.  Other Americans are motivated by financial concerns, and want less taxes, less regulation, and smaller government. The two groups agree to form a coalition so they can both get some of what they want.  I get that the former don't have to share the latter's economic views and the latter group isn't necessarily religious.

Still, who could honestly look at today's Republican Party and say a huge percent, if not the outright majority of supporters, are not in fact adherents to both philosophies? Look no further than the Tea Party: radically Christianist, but also economically as Randian as one can claim to be. Its a total contradiction.  Read Atlas Shrugged and pay attention to what John Galt says.  The modern American politician that he describes with hatred more accurately than any other is, in fact, Sarah Palin.  And yet, the Tea Party, the most powerful force in the modern Republican Party, idolizes both Ayn Rand and Sarah Palin.  The two women philosophically despise one another! 

I'm glad Paul Ryan finally put this out there.  One has to wonder, when observing such widespread inconsistencies of has to question whether they are living in the twilight zone, or whether they are actually the one who is crazy and everyone else is sane.  Yep, its not me - it really is the Republican Party.  That's a relief.

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