Paul Ryan, "Second-Hander"

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Paul Ryan, "Second-Hander"

So we learn this week from an interview with National Review's Robert Costa that Paul Ryan laughs off his identification as a big fan of Ayn Rand as an "urban legend," based on little more than his youthful enjoyment of (and later, philosophical "bantering" about) her "dusty novels." No, he sternly asserts, he rejects Rand's "atheist philosophy;" give him St. Thomas Aquinas any old day!

Costa does not report that in this interview Ryan specifically denies the actual foundation for the "urban legend" associating him conspicuously with Rand: his remark in 2005, when he was hardly a callow teenager, that Rand inspired his entire career in public service, or his habit of giving copies of Atlas Shrugged, Rand's militant magnum opus, to his congressional interns in 2003.

Now is this just a tempest in a teapot? Am I, as Ross Douthat complained of Jonathan Chait, blowing this taste for a controversial novelist and thinker way out of proportion?

I don't think so. The thing about Ayn Rand, as anyone who has actually read her works can attest, is that she offered readers an all-or-nothing proposition. She didn't entertain, she instructed. This was most evident in Atlas Shrugged, whose centerpiece was an endless didactic "radio broadcast" by her hero John Galt, identifying all human misery with the "mysticism of the mind" (supernatural religion) and the "mysticism of the muscle" (socialism, or more accurately, the rejection of the strictist laissez-faire capitalism), and with the ethics of altruism both reflected. In a devastating review of the novel in--you guessed it--National Review,

After penning Atlas Shrugged, Rand spent most of the rest of her life making sure everyone understood that her philosophy was a comprehensive system that rose or fell as a whole. As Whittaker Chambers said in a famous review of the novel that appeared in--you guessed it!--National Review:

Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal....Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!”