– L. Arthalia Cravin
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. You may also have heard that Ryan is a “cerebral,” supposedly intellectual, conservative Republican who “suckles at the breasts” of Ayn Rand, or more particularly her book entitled “Atlas Shrugged.” So just who is Ayn Rand and what does this say about who Paul Ryan is?
I would venture to guess that 99.99 percent of Americans have never heard of Ayn Rand. If you pronounce her first name “Ann” then everybody knows that you have no idea who she is. It’s pronounced A-ENN and rhymes with “line.” Why would Paul Ryan be so devoted to this woman’s philosophy?
Rand was born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum to a bourgeois Jewish family in St. Petersburg, Russia,on February 2, 1905. She died on March 6, 1982 in New York City. Rand was educated in Russia, graduated from the University of Petrograd in 1924 having majored in history and philosophy. She moved to New York in 1926 whereupon she changed her name to Ayn Rand. She worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and had a play produced on Broadway in 1935–1936. In 1957, she published her best-known work, “Atlas Shrugged.” In her lifetime she wrote five books, “For the New Intellectual,” “We the Living,” “Anthem,” “The Fountainhead,” and “Atlas Shrugged.” After the 1957 publication of “Atlas Shrugged” Rand turned to nonfiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own magazines and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982.
I am not a student of Ayn Rand, but I have a copy of “Atlas Shrugged.” I’m sure the book is among my left-over required readings from some college course going back 40 years. I took it off the shelf upon hearing of Ryan’s vp pick and tried to wade through some of the 1168 pages. The book begins with the sentence, “Who is John Galt?” The character John Galt does not speak in any meaningful way until page 1000. The book is hard to describe. It reads like a novel with typical characters, themes, subthemes, plots and subplots. Some people described Rand as a “schlock writer” whose books were repeatedly rejected by publishers. It would take someone with a PhD in literature and economics to truly explain what this book is really about. The characters unfold within a wider “captains of industry” context of oil, coal, and railroad magnates. It is best summed up as an attempt by Rand to explain her belief that man can control his own destiny with his mind. Rand explains her core belief in this sentence that appear at the end of “Atlas Shrugged:” “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, within his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute. “
So whuld Paul Ryan be such a devoted lover and follower of Ayn Rand? Well, Rand’s philosophy is something called “objectivism,” which she called “a philosophy for living on earth.” Ayn Rand was an atheist who denied the existence of God. She believed that man could control his own destiny and the destiny of others with his mind. She did not believe that governments should be involved in the affairs of men except to preserve capitalism. So what about this “Atlas Shrugged” book that Paul Ryan has studied religiously—and apparently requires his staff to read? What does the title mean? Well, the title comes from a reference to the Greek character “Atlas” who held the world on his shoulders. The explanation goes this way: “If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier he world bore down on his shoulders – what would you tell him to do?” “I… don’t know. What… could he do? What would you tell him?” Answer: “To shrug.” Thus the title, “Atlas Shrugged.”
Beyond the esoteric title of her book, Ayn Rand’s philosophy has deeper meaning for human relations. And how Paul Ryan has incorporated his love of Rand into his own value system goes to the heart of the question, “Who is Paul Ryan?” Does Paul Ryan, like Rand, believe that all wealthy people are per se moral and entitled to set moral standards of behaviors for us “lesser minds.” If so, how does he explain the lies, deceit and greed of the “smartest guys in the room” who ran Enron? Does Ryan believe that the only role of the government is to stay out of the way of “the wealth builders?” If so, was there no role for government intervention to deal with the “cerebral” financiers who created tremendous personal wealth from instruments such as “credit default swaps” that brought the entire world’s economy to the brink of total collapse in 2008? What does it say for Paul Ryan’s moral value system when his own proposed budget would reduce social programs by 91 percent but increase the defense budget by billions? Does this mindset strongly suggest that Ryan believes that the enormous wealth created for a select few from the military industrial complex trumps all concerns for societal collective concern for the “less fortunate?” Does he believe that above all else that capitalist “market forces” should be totally unfettered in their ways and means of human exploitation?
When Paul Ryan was named as Romney’s vp pick, the pundits immediately characterized has as the intellectual force that would define and push the conservative Republican ideology. I’m not impressed with characterizations of “intelligence” since it was a very intelligent man who booby trapped his own apartment with numerous explosive devices, put on a red wig, entered a theater, orchestrated a fake call to himself, left the theater, propped open the theater door, then returned with an array of guns and ammunition and proceeded to kill, main and slaughter scores of innocent movie goers. No one doubts that James Holmes was a “very smart man.” But to what useful human good did he put his intelligence? I remember the 1976 movie “The Omen” in which the primary character was named Damien. Damien controlled horrific, blood-curdling, chillingly murderous events across time with the force of his mind. The movie had two ending. The ending chosen was the one in which Damien was left alive to continue to wreak havoc into the future of the most tragic sort imaginable? In this era of campaign mug slinging, especially the filth tossed at President Obama, I have a campaign ad of my own. Could the Romney/Ryan ticket, the so-called “R & R” duo, be better described as “D & D” meaning Dufus and Damien? Any devoted follower of Ayn Rand deserves just such a label.
Copyright 2012 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.