Ayn Rand (Paul Ryan’s Moral Heroine) Instructs Johnny Carson on the Virtue of Selfishness, 1967

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.

Related content:

Stephen Colbert on Ayn Rand

Mike Wallace Interviews Ayn Rand (1959)

William F. Buckley Flogged Himself to Get Through Atlas Shrugged

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Comments (25)
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  • Steven says:

    Espouse your political beliefs much? Next time please just post the video and leave your rants to yourself thank you very much.

  • Brian says:

    Boy! @Steve get out much? You are going to tell a website how to present a topic! At one time I would have told you to change the channel but in this day and time maybe you would prefer a different website. Ha! The nerve.

  • Sean says:

    I think it’s an error to say that Paul Ryan’s moral heroine is Ayn Rand. He makes no secret of his admiration for her stand on freedom, capitalism and individualism. But, what Ryan objects to is the rhetoric of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy and the Russian writer’s aggressive atheism. There is a great difference between healthy self interest and selfishness.

  • Dolina Cawley says:

    Look! look! It’s Orly Taights! Crazy Bat Sheet.

  • Mike Springer says:

    Sean, if you doubt that Ryan admires Rand on moral grounds, perhaps you should spend a few minutes watching a video on YouTube titled “Paul Ryan – Ayn Rand’s Relevance in 2009” and count how many times he says the word “morality.”

  • Richard Van Ingram says:

    Thank you for this. The comments of professional Ayn Rand worshipers who monitor the web to defend their goddess at all costs aside, this is an excellent source; and the commentary you provide is equally useful. Paul Ryan is an Objectivist, just not an “orthodox” one — he isn’t ideologically pure as he’s mixed the economic libertarianism and moral selfishness of Rand with the Roman Catholic opposition to birth control and stances on women’s issues: it makes him a more viable candidate and, I’m sure, in his own soul and mind, he is confused, split in his beliefs.

    But we judge people, or ought, by their actions, not their words, and Ryan’s positions reflect far more influence from Rand than from his religion’s theology and morality — the conservative bishops of his own church rejected his budget as immoral.

    Rand’s own problem, ethically, is that she was caught up in a false dilemma: one is either selfish and believes in freedom or one is altruistic and believes in slavery. There are other alternatives, among them the Stoic idea that one serves neither self nor others, but seeks to live up to the ideal of the virtues — that one is just, courageous, temperant, has practical wisdom, is merciful, generous, is detached from slavery to external things outside one’s control — because these have value in and of themselves. As a consequence or by-product, sometimes one’s actions benefit one’s self; sometimes they benefit others — including those not born in the future whom one will never know; but they always serve the good and make one a good person, good at being a person, regardless.

    Rand and Ryan are superficial and, therefore, dangerous; and, for the moment, their attitudes hold sway over our country.

  • Steven says:

    @Brian, @Dan I just think any purveyor of a website such as this should present a topic and let the followers direct the nature of the discussion, rather than at the outset steer it in a manner that supports their own already held beliefs. Sure, its all free speech, doesn’t mean I can’t call it out either.

  • Sean says:

    Take it from the horses mouth and FF to the final minute or two of this recent interview with Ryan by Brit Hume. He says that he is a fan of her novels, but not her atheistic philosophy. In another interview he says that his philosophy would more appropriately be associated with Aquinas, which is consistent with his Catholic beliefs. http://newsninja2012.com/fox-exclusive-interview-brit-hume-sits-down-with-paul-ryan-in-1st-one-on-one/

  • Kim says:

    I’m with Sean. Just report the facts and skip the editorial.

  • Mike Springer says:

    Sean, have you even read Ayn Rand’s novels? My guess is you have not, or you would know that her “philosophy” is inseparable from her novels. In fact, Rand herself stated that her philosophical views would be best understood by reading her novel, Atlas Shrugged.

    As for Ryan’s recent backpedaling, he made his comment about being more in agreement with the “epistemology” of Thomas Aquinas a little over a week after Catholic bishops publicly condemned his budget proposal as failing a “basic moral test.” Did I write anything about epistemology? Did I write anything about atheism?

    I wrote about Ryan’s stated source of moral inspiration. Did you watch the video that I suggested? In it, Ryan does not say that Ayn Rand wrote wonderful escapist fiction. He states over and over that Rand made a moral case–one that he agreed with.

  • Paul Tatara says:

    Why, exactly, does anybody accept this horse shit, outside of making it more acceptable to step on other people? I have zero respect for Rand and her (not very complicated) “philosophy.” Any asshole on the street – or in a prison – could have taken the same approach to life without reading her ridiculous, boring books.

  • MG says:

    I think Open Culture just shut the door on any possibility of hosting a technically accurate and open-minded/open-hearted discussion about the fiscal challenges facing this country and the limits of the welfare state. I suspect this is about the only way Ayn Rand would show up here: as a marginally relevant (but more likely, totally irrelevant) red-herring used to distract and tar. If you wanted to understand why proponents of freedom are as interested and as sincerely motivated in societal progress as collectivist progressives are, you could link try listening to any one of Ryan’s many speeches — almost every prestigious think tank has hosted him. Listen to him as a man, not a stereotype. Perhaps you could also read (and I will keep the list to the most temporally topical one) Arthur Brooks’ recent book (or link to his lectures) “The Road to Freedom”. Brooks, Hayek, Aquinas, are far more relevant guides to anyone who is trying to understand where Ryan is coming from, not stereotyping into submission. I am more surprised as to your economic editorializing. Anyone trying to grapple with the serious challenges facing our nation must concede there are no easy solutions, and may have to agreed (as Europe so clearly shows) that there are limits to how much nations can support ever-growing entitlements by simply redistributing wealth. Your editorializing is simplistic and sermonizing. You owe it to yourself to better understand the details of Ryan’s reforms, which he has had the courage to propose, debate, and modify as needed. I think peddling misinformation will not work this time around. The President already discovered this from Ryan himself. (There are numerous links on youTube on this.) When even CNN won’t go for it ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5NJF5Fcvmg&feature=player_embedded) you know you are going to do better.

  • Mike Springer says:

    MG, what makes you think I don’t know the details of Ryan’s “reforms”?

    This is a focused piece about the moral influence of Ayn Rand on Paul Ryan–about her influence on his “value systems,” as Ryan himself put it. If focusing on this makes you uncomfortable, I’m glad.

  • Kelly Cowan says:

    Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand have divorced, he will, however, be keeping her as a mistress!

  • Rand is the most misrepresented author on Earth right now. She wanted a world of freedom and prosperity – at a time when everyone knew, from inside academe and outside, that the only way to go was authoritarian control. She helped make the world a better place – as by ending the draft, via Martin Anderson, who convinced Nixon to include ending the draft in his ‘687 platform.

  • Everyman says:

    Atlas Shrugged Part 2 will be in theaters October 12th, 2012.

  • Sean says:

    To assume, Mike, makes an as….. I have read The Fountainhead and Atlas, saw the movies and read the Cliff notes. I’ve enjoyed them as novels, not as political or philosophical treatise. Since when do you have to accept the entire world view of an author that you read. I can’t think of any authors of fiction in which I agree with every philosophical notion that they incorporate into their stories. I am currently reading Patricia Highsmith and I’m willing to bet their isn’t one aspect of agreement between her world view and mine. Now, without a doubt this is a political hit piece and that is their prerogative and I’m fine with that. I know that whoever runs this site has a modern day liberal slant and that’s fine too. The article claims to be defining Paul Ryans moral character by associating Ryan with Rand and assuming that Ryan agrees with Rand on just about everything when he has already said he doesn’t and he tells you where he disagrees. Then the article cherry picks ‘selfishness’ from Rand’s philosophy and attributes it to Ryan. I don’t know what Ryan gives to charity, but I’m pretty sure it would be more in line with what Romney gives, 16%, than what Obama, 1%, and Biden, less than 1%, give. Although, I must admit Obama and Biden are very generous when it comes to giving away taxpayers money. Anyway, this is a terrific site where I come to enjoy stories and film clips about culture and the arts and I realize politics is part of the arts and culture, so the site cannot become apolitical. I just hope this piece does not become the trend for Open Culture’s future.

  • Mike Springer says:


    Where do I state that a person has to accept the “entire world view” of an author he or she reads?

    Where do I state that Ryan agrees with Rand “on just about everything”?

    Having read Rand yourself, how is it that you think a person has to “cherry pick” to find a theme of selfishness running through her work? (Have you read the Cliff notes to her anthology, The Virtue of Selfishness?)

    And lastly, are you even willing to acknowledge what the specific focus of my short piece is? It isn’t atheism, epistemology or the “Objectivist philosophy.” (Those are the topics on which Ryan has recently said he disagrees with Rand.) Let me try one last time to be clear: The piece is specifically about Rand’s conception of morality, in her own words, and about Ryan’s professed admiration of (and identification with) Rand’s conception of morality, in his own words.

    It was good of you to say what you did at the end, and I hope that whatever I might work on next will be of interest to you.

    Best wishes,


  • Raven says:

    She’s crazy. And she’s putting me to sleep… Jesus Christ is she for real? She talks like a confused parrot. Most of it is BS

  • Hanoch says:

    I think most Americans who are not infected with the hyper-partisan political bug will have enough common sense to see past this type of demagoguery which, unfortunately, seems to substitute for rational discourse more and more these days. If the author truly believed in this type of guilt-by-association argumentation, presumably he would be equally concerned that our current President chose a pastor with a proclivity for engaging in anti-American, racist, and anti-semitic rants. If Paul Ryan’s policy prescriptions for fixing an obviously distressed economy and bloated national debt are troubling, as a wise man once said, just “argue with the substance of the material.”

  • Mike Springer says:

    Guilt by association, Hanoch? That’s your value judgement. A Randian would call it virtue. Anyway, the piece is not about association. It’s about inspiration. It’s about the source of Ryan’s moral inspiration as publicly stated by Ryan on multiple occasions. You’re not interested in learning about a candidate’s moral values? Well then, carry on.

  • On the Pulse says:

    Humm. All this Liberal interest in Ayn Rand and her effect on Ryan but not one shred of curiosity of Rev. Wright’s influence on Obama or his Communist father or other bomb throwers.

    Obviously Ryan as a believer certainly isn’t follower of Rand’s totaphilosophyhy.

  • TryonInCanada says:

    Thick accent, thicker head.

  • Sil says:

    Quit whining. So what if Ayn Rand influenced Paul Ryan? There’s a lot of wisdom in her writings. For instance her basic principles on capitalism are fantastic while her philosophy on human relationships leaves a bit to be desired. As for the fact she was an atheist… who the hell cares. Many of my professors in college were atheists so does that mean I should ignore everything they taught me since I’m not? This post is ridiculous and tries to showcase a problem that DOES NOT EXIST!!

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