Editors' Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute. -- Ayn Rand, Appendix to Atlas Shrugged
Like the perennial question, "Who is John Galt," reflective of the heroic character of Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged, which people of all walks of life asked, similarly we may ask "Who is Ayn Rand Paul Ryan?" While actually three separate individuals, Ayn Rand, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan promote and advance the philosophy of "objectivism" (or rational individualism in which proponents assert there are objective standards of truth) articulated by Ayn Rand in her novels and non-fiction works.
Ayn Rand, who has become intellectual center for the economic/political/social philosophy of Libertarianism, constructs a bifurcated world of one-dimensional characters in her novels. On one side, she presents the noble, rational, intelligent, creative, inventive, self-reliant heroes of industry, music and the arts, science, commerce, and banking who wage a noble battle for dignity, integrity, personal, and economic freedom, and for the profits of their labors within an unregulated "free market" Capitalist system.
On the other side, she portrays the "looters" represented by the followers, the led, the irrational, unintelligent, misguided, misinformed, the corrupt government bureaucrats who regulate and manipulate the economy to justify nationalizing the means of economic production, who confiscate personal property, who dole out welfare to the unentitled, the lazy, and in so doing, destroy personal incentive and motivation resulting in dependency. Welfare Ayn Rand terms "unearned rewards," while she argues for a system of laissey-faire Capitalism separating economics and state.
Ayn Rand bristles against the notion of collectivism, of shared sacrifice and shared rewards. Rather, she argues that individuals are not and should not be their brothers' and sisters' keepers; that one must only do unto oneself; that one must walk only in one's own shoes and not attempt to know the other by metaphorically walking in another's shoes; that personal happiness is paramount; and that one's greatest good is what is good for oneself rather than for the greatest number of people.
In other words, Ayn Rand paints a world in which the evil and misguided takers wage war against the noble and heroic makers.
So, how are Rand Paul and Paul Ryan constructed in Ayn Rand's world? I ask this since both of these characters in the Libertarian project base much their political and economic philosophies on objectivism as illustrated by their muse and inspiration, Ayn Rand.
Kentucky Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul said recently that extending unemployment benefits past what the U.S. federal government has already paid would be a "disservice" to workers.
"I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," he said, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," December 8, 2013. "When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really - while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you're trying to help."
On a YouTube video, Rand Paul told his followers: "I am a big fan of Ayn Rand, and I've read all of her novels....I cut my teeth on Ayn Rand in high school....I read a lot of the different free market Austrian economists who were sort of fellow travelers of Ayn Rand." Refuting rumors that his parents named him after Ayn Rand, he stated that his given name is Randal, but after he married, his wife shortened it to "Rand." He continued, "I was not named after Ayn Rand, though I have a lot of respect for her."
Current House of Representatives Budget Committee Chair and former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) seemed to blame men "in the inner city" on their "real culture problem" for their higher rates of unemployment during his appearance March 12, 2014 on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" program: "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."
Though he claimed the next day that he might have been inarticulate in his wording after controversy swirled, while speaking on Bennett's radio program, Paul Ryan continued: "Your buddy Charles Murray or Bob Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this."
The Southern Poverty Law Center terms Charles Murray, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, as a white nationalist who uses "racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by genetic inferiority," Murray argued that "when we know the complete genetic story, it will turn out that the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line. This is not unimaginable. It is almost certainly true." (Deeper into the Brain, National Review, 2000.)
Paul Ryan spoke in 2011 at The American Spectator's Robert L. Bartley Gala Dinner in which he referenced the "30 percent" who desire the welfare state to take care of them, and he continued that, "Before too long we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers."
Paul Ryan claimed that he read Ayn Rand growing up, and "it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are," he told members of the Atlas Society, an organization devoted to Any Rand in a 2005 speech. "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," he went on to say. "And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism."
Paul Ryan, though, rejects outright Ayn Rand's atheism.
The Doublespeak of "Liberty" & "Freedom"
The so-called "Libertarian" battle cry of "liberty" and "freedom" through "personal responsibility" sounds wonderful on the surface, but we have to ask ourselves as individuals and as a nation, what do they really mean by and what are the costs of this alleged "liberty" and "freedom"?
We must, first, cut through the coded xenophobic, racialized, and classist language, for often when politicians use the words "poor," "welfare," "inner city," "food stamps," "entitlements," "bad neighborhoods," "foreign," they tap into many White people's anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color. Though white people comprise the largest percentage of current food stamp recipients, 34 percent, the common perception and societal stereotype depicts Black people and Latino/as as abusing the system. In addition, the buzz words, "personal responsibility" now have become the catch phrase to justify cutting benefits from people with disabilities, older people, and those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.
Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and yes, Ayn Rand would rather blame poverty within our communities and low achievement in our schools on the "cultures" of those suffering from the social inequities. This "cultural deficit model" detracts and undermines us from interrogating and truly addressing the enormous structural inequities pervasive throughout our society, which these "Libertarians" would have us multiply if we were to follow their lead.
So-called "social issues" become wedge issues to attract people to a particular candidate. In the final analysis, though, when middle and working class people vote for these candidates, they essentially vote against their own economic self-interests.
Most government workers, in reality, are not the one-dimensional, corrupt, self-serving, hypocrites (advocates for "the people" while actually being ruthless manipulators), and "looters" of industry, art, and enterprise as Ayn Rand Paul Ryan would have us believe. In addition, so-called "laizzez-faire" (free, uninhibited, unencumbered, and unregulated) Capitalism is not the bromide for a prosperous economy, and freedom and liberty for the individual as Ayn Rand Paul Ryan argues.
Ragnar Danneskjöld, Ayn Rand's so-called moral crusading pirate and symbol for "justice" in Atlas Shrugged, quite tellingly expresses Ayn Rand's true purpose when she puts these words in the pirate's mouth: "I've chosen a special mission of my own. I'm after a man whom I want to destroy. He died many centuries ago, but until the last trace of him is wiped out of men's minds, we will not have a decent world to live in."
Hank Rearden, one of Ayn Rand's "righteous" industrialists asks: "What man."
Danneskjöld replies: "Robin Hood....He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I'm the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich - or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich." (126.96.36.199-97)