Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand

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Let us savor the irony of the New York Times complaining that Paul Ryan is an unworthy disciple of Ayn Rand. The irony was on display yesterday on the paper’s op-ed page, which ran out a column headlined “Atlas Spurned.” It’s by a history professor, Jennifer Burns, who reckons that Mr. Ryan has betrayed the ideas of the author of “Atlas Shrugged” by believing in God and a strong defense in the war against terror. “As a woman in a man’s world, a Jewish atheist in a country dominated by Christianity and a refugee from a totalitarian state, Rand knew it was not enough to promote individual freedom in the economic realm alone,” writes Professor Burns. “If Mr. Ryan becomes the next vice president, it wouldn’t be her dream come true, but her nightmare.”

This is almost touching. It’s probably the first time the Gray Lady has put the creator of John Galt up as a model to be emulated. When “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, the Times ran out a review by Granville Hicks that complained the novel “howls in the reader’s ear” and asserted: “Loudly as Miss Rand proclaims her love of life, it seems clear that the book is written out of hate. … Perhaps most of us have moments when we feel that it might be a good idea if the whole human race, except for us and the few nice people we know, were wiped out; but one wonders about a person who sustains such a mood through the writing of 1,168 pages and some fourteen years of work.”*

Nor was Hicks’ tirade anything but typical for the Times. In 1961, it issued a review by Sidney Hook of her “For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.” The Great Hook complained that Rand “makes the rational man sound like a calculating monster or a perpetual trader, even in the realm of the spirit.” He wrote that her “conception of free enterprise is so extreme that it is safe to predict she will be a serious embarrassment to many of its defenders.” Her book, he concluded, “is the way philosophy is written in the Soviet Union.” In a “free culture,” Hook noted, “there must always be room for vigorous polemic and controversy but civility of mind is integral to the concept of a civilized society.”

In 1997 David Brooks, reviewing Rand’s journals, remarked that “many people remember their youthful passion for Ayn Rand the way they remember teen-age make-out parties. It seemed daring at the time, but now the memory of it just makes you feel queasy.” The central lesson of her journals, he wrote, “is that one should never underestimate the importance of pomposity.” He observed that she failed to “confront the central paradox of her career, that a doctrine designed to celebrate the few has in fact been avidly consumed by so many” and that “a philosophy glorifying the untrammeled individual has attracted numerous unthinking followers.” Yet now all of a sudden the Times is out with a piece kvelling about Miss Rand and complaining that the Republican nominee for vice president fails to measure up.

It’s not our purpose here to quarrel with either Ayn Rand or her critics. Our own home base is Sinai and our modern political heroes are the founders of America and Israel who worked in Sinai’s light. Our suspicion is that Sinai illuminated more of the ground for Ayn Rand than she either could see or cared to acknowledge. We say that not to gainsay the achievement of her novels but merely to note that she was mortal. That Paul Ryan figured all this out long ago is but another indication of the sureness of step with which he’s picked his own course — a sureness of step that is the mark of a leader. He’s right as rain to comprehend that we are at one of those moments when freedom is threatened by the state. He’s right in sensing the importance of the political moment today, however much the Times may shrug.


* Hicks’s review was, we were reminded by the Daily Beast, answered at the time by a future chairman of the Federal Reserve board, Alan Greenspan, who sent a letter to the Times that said: “‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should. Mr. Hicks suspiciously wonders ‘about a person who sustains such a mood through the writing of 1,168 pages and some fourteen years of work.’ This reader wonders about a person who finds unrelenting justice personally disturbing.”

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