If Paul Ryan Were an Atlas Shrugged Character He’d Be a Villain

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Conor Friedersdorf
The Atlantic
August 13, 2012

The strangest detail in Rep. Paul Ryan’s biography is a 2005 speech he gave at The Atlas Society, where he extolled author and philosopher Ayn Rand, particularly her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. What liberals always seize on is his statement, “I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are.” That doesn’t bother me in the least, for when I was 11 or 12, I plucked Atlas Shrugged off the family book shelf, where it sat beside The Lord of the Rings, Trinity, Tai-Pan, and Watership Down, and it taught me quite a bit, by which I mean that I gleaned useful insights from it, not that I took its every word as gospel. Too many Ayn Rand critics react to the mention of her name in the way that John Birch Society members react to an academic citing Karl Marx. (Ayn Rand sycophants and her most vociferous critics are the two groups in the world who think that the controversial author’s ideas must be embraced or rejected in their entirety.)

So I don’t mind the idea that the Russian emigre’s books shaped Ryan’s word view. I just think he wasn’t a very discerning reader. The first clue came in that same 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 said. There is a term for characters in Rand novels that proclaim a desire to spend their lives serving the public. They are villains. Or as she put it in one of her works of nonfiction:

Since there is no such entity as “the public,” since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that “the public interest” supersedes private interests and rights, can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others. If so, then all men and all private groups have to fight to the death for the privilege of being regarded as “the public.”

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This article was posted: Monday, August 13, 2012 at 7:50 am

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