The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

August 18, 2012

Jesus or Ayn Rand? Who guides the tea party’s intellectual soul?

FRANKFORT — FRANKFORT — It’s not the tea party which has captured the intellectual soul of the modern Republican Party — it’s Ayn Rand.

Rand, the Russian-born author and champion of individualism and unfettered capitalism, wrote “The Fountainhead,” “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Virtue of Selfishness” and developed the philosophy she termed Objectivism.

She explained Objectivism this way: Reality exists as an objective fact; reason is man’s only means of perceiving reality; every man is an end in himself, owing nothing to others; the pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

I was briefly seduced by Rand in my 20s. Her novels are seductive. Her protagonists Howard Roark and John Galt are heroic, charismatic Atlases standing astride a mundane and banal collectivist society in which only a few are creators and producers while the rest are “moochers.” The reader is seduced because of course he sees himself as a producer and not a moocher.

But man is only an “end in himself” whose “rational self-interest [and] happiness [are] the highest moral purpose of his life” if there is nothing greater than himself. Her entire philosophy and its every tenet rest fundamentally upon her atheism. It is intellectually defensible only if one believes there is no God. That’s fine — if you are an atheist.

That’s why it intrigues me that so many conservative Republicans are so enamored of Rand.

In 2003, while running for governor Ernie Fletcher, a deeply religious man and lay preacher, told John David Dyche, the op-ed contributor of The Courier-Journal, that his two favorite books are the Bible and “Atlas Shrugged.”

Rand Paul, who grew up as Randy Paul, says his wife began calling him Rand. But on the morning after Paul defeated Trey Grayson for the 2010 Republican nomination of the U.S. Senate, he demonstrated an uncommon knowledge of Rand and her personal life, including her profound influence on Alan Greenspan and her habit of excluding from her circle anyone who professed a belief in Christianity, which she described as “the best kindergarten of communism possible.”

The latest example, of course, is Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican U.S. Representative and budget wonk who now is Mitt Romney’s running mate.

For years the devout Catholic told anyone who asked that Rand was his intellectual mentor and reason he chose to study economics. He used to require his congressional interns to read “Atlas Shrugged.” Lately Ryan has publicly distanced himself from Rand. Like Fletcher, he rejects her atheism.

“I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy,” he told Politico last week.

Matters of conscience are just that, and whether it’s Paul Ryan or Barack Obama I’ve always believed one must accept another’s profession of faith because no one can see into another’s heart and mind. Nor am I condemning non-believers.

I have hard enough time worrying about my own soul without presuming I can save someone else’s. As a professed Christian, I read the words of Jesus to say it’s not for me to judge others.

But when I read Paul Ryan’s budget proposals I still wonder — like the Catholic bishops who criticized it as a moral failing — how he can justify what it does to the poor and weak in light of the Sermon on the Mount?

I wonder sometimes if the rank-and-file tea partiers realize the logical implications of some of their stated beliefs.

And I wonder how so many of today’s conservative Republicans can profess faith in both Christ and Ayn Rand.

As professed Christians they surely believe no man can serve two masters.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/

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