Since Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan may soon be only a heartbeat away from the presidency of the United States, it might be good to pause for a moment and consider the man’s values. In particular, it might make sense to get acquainted with his stated source of moral inspiration.
“The reason I got involved in public service,” Ryan said in 2005, “by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”
The Russian émigré writer and philosopher Ayn Rand believed that self-interest was the greatest good and that altruism was unspeakably wicked. “Altruism is a monstrous notion,” she said in 1981. “It is the morality of cannibals devouring one another. It is a theory of profound hatred for man, for reason, for achievement, for any form of human success and happiness on earth.”
Ryan was deeply impressed when he first read Rand’s books as a youngster. “I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are,” Rand told The Atlas Society in 2005. “It inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all interns and my staff.”
Rand called the United States a “nation of money,” and she meant it as a compliment. “The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality,” she wrote in a famous passage in her 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged. In Rand’s hierarchy of virtue the American industrialist is “the highest type of human being” and the needy are rabble. “Parasites, moochers, looters, brutes and thugs can be of no value to a human being,” Rand wrote in 1963. “Nor can he gain any benefit from living in a society geared to their needs, demands and protection, a society that treats him as a sacrificial animal and penalizes him for his virtues in order to reward them for their vices, which means: a society based on the ethics of altruism.”
If Rand taught Ryan “quite a bit” about who he is and what his value systems are, then perhaps Rand’s statement above should tell us something about Ryan’s current budget proposal, which would slash $3.3 trillion from programs for low-income earners over the next decade while providing a windfall for the wealthy in the form of tax cuts that would net an average $265,000 a year for those with incomes greater than $1 million–over and above the $129,000 they would already receive from Ryan’s extension of the Bush tax cuts. In Ryan’s budget the rich are released from their unjust burden as “sacrificial animals” while the “parasites,” “moochers” and “looters”–i.e. the elderly, the disabled and the poor–are taught a lesson in virtue.
For a quick primer on Rand’s philosophy–straight from the horse’s mouth–watch her 1967 appearance (above) on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.