The Catholic Right's Ayn Rand Economics
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 02:03:29 PM EST
GOP Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has been playing up his Catholicism on issues such as abortion and stem cell research while seeming to throw his economic hero, Ayn Rand, under the bus.

His effort to be part-Randian, part-Catholic, while pretending not to be,  has worn thinner and thinner as the election campaign has worn on.

If we compare the Ryan of 2005 when he more openly embraced Rand, to the Ryan of 2012, after his recent denunciation of the notorious atheist author it is clear that he still embraces much of her core economic outlook, which can be summarized, in her words, "This god, this one word:  I."

Speaking before the Atlas Society in 2005. (as recently exposed in America magazine), Paul Ryan said:

It's so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand's vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are. I always go back to, you know, Francisco d'Anconia's speech (at Bill Taggart's wedding) on money when I think about monetary policy. And then I go to the 64-page John Galt speech, you know, on the radio at the end, and go back to a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure that I can check my premises so that I know that what I'm believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism...

But in an August 14, 2012 interview with Fox News, he declared,

"Later in life I discovered what her philosophy was; it's called Objectivism.  It's something I completely disagree with; it's an atheistic philosophy."

If, as he claims, Ryan has been reading Rand since he was a teenager, he couldn't miss the atheism. The line in Atlas Shrugged  for example: "...the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind."

But atheism is not all there is to Objectivism. The Atlas Society says Objectivism "rejects the ethics of self-sacrifice and renunciation."  That is also a rejection of Catholic economic principles.

What Ryan calls "later in life" may be translated as political visibility, as the author of the Republican budget plan. As recently as three years ago Ryan praised Rand's economic "morality."   But as much as the Ryan of 2012 would like to, it is difficult to separate  Rand's "moral philosophy" from her particular variety of atheism, which is integral to Rand's phrase, "This god, this one word: I."

Rand's sect of self  eschews commonly held values of altruism which are also shared by many non-believers. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Ayn Rand equates any notion of commonality with the authoritarian and lopsided collectivist vision of the old Soviet Union.  Rand and her fellow Objectivists ignore that among the tenets of  liberal economics is that the component of personality is preserved by the realization of private property with the further understanding that even everyday workers require a sturdy government that will protect their ability to acquire property in a meritorious way. Rand's view is atomistic, arrogant and unattractively selfish.

Consider Paul Ryan's 2012 GOP convention speech:

None of us have to settle for the best this administration offers -- a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.

Such a view echoes Rand:
"The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap."

This echoes the aforementioned 64 page rant by  Atlas Shrugged's John Galt:

This much is true:  the most selfish of all things is the independent mind that recognizes no authority higher than its own and no value higher than its judgment of truth. You are asked to sacrifice your intellectual integrity, your logic, your reason, your standard of truth-in favor of becoming a prostitute whose standard is the greatest good for the greatest number.

Ryan and Galt share a disdain for those who believe in a system where they receive the benefits that maintain the quality of life - especially towards the end or while enduring disability when the means to support oneself - often becomes difficult. It is not just "I" as "god;" it is "I the superior human, made so by wealth" who would be "god."  It is a ruthlessly cold calculation.

While Atlas Shrugged is sometimes described as part science fiction, it is also in at least equal parts, also economic fiction, if not outright historical revisionism disguised as fiction. The book describes a middle-twentieth century world that never was. For example, although part of the American Marshall Plan was intended to help rebuild the industrial base of post World War II Europe, this is a far cry from making Europe dependent upon it foreign aid. Nor was the profit motive ever banished; it was just made more equitable - at least for a few decades.

That is not the only  way in which fiction substitutes for history in the self regarding mind of Ayn Rand, who once wrote,

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."  
This idea, which we see drawn upon by Ryan and others on the Catholic Right, reveals much about the Randian economic fallacy.

What's more, the very idea of redistribution as a means of achieving justice comes not originally from Marx, but from Rand's own hero-philosopher, Aristotle.

Putting aside Rand's avoidance of Aristotle's teachings on distributive justice, she also missed one of Aristotle's ultimate ends of justice: a good quality of life for a society's citizens. Indeed, when the wealthiest hoard a share of profits beyond their contribution, provided skills and taken risk, that may trigger the ancient thinker's other concern: Rectificatory Justice.

Rectificatory justice is the preventing or correcting injustices within transactions. It comes into play whether the transaction is mutually agreeable or forced.

It becomes an object of contention when seemingly voluntary transactions are in fact, forced -- such as when one side consistently holds the upper hand, and therefore able to extract greater value than what has been given in return.

This is also evidenced in much of Catholic neoconservatism -- such as Michael Novak's excuse for deregulation, that capitalism is "for sinners."

This is illustrated in Atlas Shrugged when John Galt was a asked how to fix the economy and he said simply, "Get the hell out of my way."

This view assumes that parties all come to a negotiation of their own free will, free, ready to deal fairly and squarely. But that is rarely the case, because the laissez-faire version of capitalism contains no beforehand mechanisms for preventing fraud or malfeasance -- nor for rectifying such injustices afterwards. It is much like claiming that football games would be more efficient without the rulebook and referees.

But Ryan and Novak are not the only Catholic Right characters who have embraced Randian buccaneer capitalism.  Novak , who equates taxation with confiscation, for example, joins Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute who bemoans a positive role for government and Robert P. George who share's Ayn Rand's goldbuggery and zombie economics.

The Randian notion of the primacy of "the producers" finds its way into neocon George Weigel's dismissal of the 2009 papal encyclical "Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) when he complained that there is "...more in the encyclical about the redistribution of wealth than about wealth-creation ...".

Even Rand's use of the terms "moochers" and "parasites" - at one time used only by her closest devotees, has found its way into the lexicon of such Catholic Republican operatives as Mary Matalin.

Paul Ryan in his speech at the GOP convention in Tampa said, "...even presidents need reminding, that our rights come from nature and God, not from government."  Joseph McShane, S.J., the Jesuit biographer of Monsignor John A. Ryan provides the best retort to such an insufficient thought. He reminded us, as well as Paul Ryan, about the influential the American Catholic economic philosopher's view of such things, and what our own Declaration of Independence acknowledges, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

Catholics of Paul Ryan's political persuasion tend ignore that inconvenient detail - as did Ayn Rand.  Her "morality" is devoid of equity or, as it is known in Christian theology epikia. Beyond that, whether it be called Objectivism or miscast as representative of the Church's doctrine of subsidiarity, it is hardly Catholic. Writing recently in the Jesuit journal America, theologian Vincent Miller described Ryan's Objectivist-tinged vision:

This philosophy leaves no room for Catholic notions of Government in service to the common good, there is no room for a social conception of the human person.  Rejection of Rand's atheism notwithstanding, Ryan's policies are based on a political philosophy completely at odds with the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine.  "Prudence" is an insufficient measure of his proposals and the threat this philosophy poses to the Catholic faithful.

Like Paul Ryan, the many Randians on the Catholic Right have learned to reject Rand's atheism as a cover for heartily embracing her narrow definition of liberty as the right to make money. And in so doing, they have replaced the cross with the dollar sign.




Display:
It makes sense. Far more innocent people have been crucified on the dollar sign than on the cross.

by Rey Mohammed on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 08:59:53 AM EST
I could envision Ryan prostrating himself in worship before the all-powerful statue of the dollar sign. We've been down this road before, and the results are ugly.

by khughes1963 on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 12:51:00 PM EST
Parent


It's deeds that matter.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 04:26:46 PM EST

This is another fine explanation of the flaws in the Randians' thinking. Bill Lindsey also notes another perspective in his comments on Phyllis Zagano's article about the duty to care for the "least of these." Bill notes the GOP is in thrall to the individualistic evangelical faith that warps Calvinism to view personal wealth as a sign of salvation, and poverty as a sign of condemnation. As Bill notes, it's a form of Christianity that doesn't at all see a need to help one's neighbor, and he notes the bishops are going to deeply regret their involvement with it for the sake of political power. As I commented above to Rey Mohammed, I could see Paul Ryan (and the Randians in general) prostrating themselves before a giant statue of a dollar sign.

by khughes1963 on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 12:55:18 PM EST


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