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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