It has once again become fashionable to quote Ayn Rand.1 United States presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently announced his running mate to be Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan is the United States Representative for Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district who has his staff read this quote: “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”2 It would seem that, in his mind, it is okay to ask someone else to live by his philosophy but not “for the sake of him.” Other notable Rand statements include the statement that “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men;”3 and, in an aptly titled book of essays, collectively called, The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand says, “It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.”4 All three of these quotes point in an individualistic and uncaring direction.
Rand, Ryan, and Romney believe in the “on your own” economy. They believe that we are best served if everyone takes care of themselves and looks to no one else for help. In as far as this reminds us that the world does not owe us a living, it may be a good corrective; but as a philosophy of life it is cold, callous, and lonely. Leon Wieseltier puts it this way,
“I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” That is how John Galt concludes his testament, which Paul Ryan demands that his staffers in Congress read. What a frail sense of self it is that feels so imperiled by the existence of others! This monadic ideal is not heroic, it is cowardly. It is also dangerous, because it honors only itself. In his Roadmap, the intellectual on the Republican ticket lectures that “the Founders saw [Adam] Smith not only as an economic thinker, but as a moral philosopher whose other great work was The Theory of Moral Sentiments.” . . . Has Ryan ever opened The Theory of Moral Sentiments? Has he ever read its very first sentence on its very first page? “How selfish soever man may be supposed,” Smith begins, “there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” That is the least Galt-like, least Rand-like, least Ryan-like sentence ever written. And from there the conservatives’ deity launches into a profound analysis of “mutual sympathy.” So much for Ryan’s fiction of the isolato with a platinum card! If there is anything that Adam Smith stands for, it is the reconcilability of capitalism with fellow feeling, of market economics with social decency. But Ryan is a dismal student of Smith, because he likes his capitalism cruel.
I am no student of democracy and I would not claim to understand American politics, but I have spent a good deal of time studying and promoting community. It is quite the opposite of what is being promoted by Ayn Rand and those who would follow her.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11 New American Standard Bible
2 Atlas Shrugged, published 1957.
3 The Fountainhead, published 1943.
4 “The Ethics of Emergencies,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 44.