I promised to expound on Paul Ryan and the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and what I think are some of the serious problems with trying to run a country in accordance with Rand's views.*
For a while now, Andrew Sullivan has been doing a series of small pieces about Objectivism (he's not a fan), and this post with one of his readers' responses had some really good insights. Specifically,
Rand believes in the perfectability of genius. To her, to be a genius is to be incapable of making an error.
They never overestimate their expertise in fields outside of their own ability, they are never uninformed or cling to outdated beliefs. This is why Rand's heroes never listen to other people. To be a genius is to be correct. If someone else is a genius, then they must agree with you. If they disagree with you, obviously they are not a genius and they must be ignored.
This echoes my own thoughts on Rand's philosophy. When I was in high school, I read The Fountainhead and wrote an essay to the Rand cult (er, "Foundation") for their scholarship, figuring "What the hell? I need money to pay for college." Of course, being an idiot, I didn't bury my distaste for the novel or its main character, Howard Roark, very well. Mind you, I didn't write what I actually thought and still think, which is that Roark is a terrorist, and the novel itself is the product of an infantile author damaged by her experience of the Bolshevik Revolution and much too enthusiastic about 1920's ideas about social Darwinism, the corrupt understanding of Friedrich Nietzsche promoted by Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth after he was overtaken first by madness and then by death**, and not a well-written one, either. But I did write that it simply was not possible for Roark to possess all knowledge required to design a functioning building (electricity, plumbing, structural concerns, safety, etc.) by himself without any input from others, as Rand insisted. In the book, Roark is not only capable of being completely infallible, but his design is so artistically brilliant that he blows up his own building when some inconsiderate jerk dares to alter his design. And is acquitted in court. Who can take such stuff seriously?
But this philosophy is extremely dangerous when applied to politics. Rand divides the world, ultimately, into the worthy and the unworthy. The worthy are the geniuses, who must all think alike, and must never, ever be questioned or imposed upon in any way by the unworthy. They are captains of industry, gods among men, etc., etc. Religion is evil because it wants these men to be ashamed of their success.*** The unworthy are mere insects to be squashed the moment they get in the way of Rand's heroes. They are a barrier to the worthy reaching their full potential. They are, fundamentally, less than human.
Terrible as I think this philosophy is, it's truly disastrous when people thinking this way get into power. Why? Because thinking that way, the Great Depression really wasn't that bad. So the rich and powerful made unwise economic choices that crashed the global economy and lead to more than a decade of poverty and suffering and war****, but that's just the cost of doing business. This kind of thinking simply does not and cannot acknowledge that Person B has every right to be upset when Person A swings his or her arm and impacts Person B's nose, no matter what the class or intellect of Persons A and B. According to Rand, if Person A is a genius, than he can do whatever he or she wishes. The wider Person A swings his arm, the more power he has, and the greater he becomes. Mowing down swathes of people with his arm simply demonstrates his status as powerful. Governments cannot stand on that proposition. A line has to be drawn for arm-swinging, and governments and laws are instituted precisely for the purpose of regulating what happens when your arm intersects with my nose.
Rand perfectly explains Paul Ryan's budget plan. It doesn't really balance the budget at all, but it sure does give lots of goodies to the rich and powerful, while making some very well-aimed slashes to the social safety net.***** Who cares about the little people? All that matters is that the worthy have ample room to succeed and be powerful. Never mind that those captains of industry need someone to whom to sell their goods, and that market really won't be very large if the economy goes down the tubes because Paul Ryan and company were too busy making life comfortable for the wealthy.
In fact, one can almost look at the budget as the building in The Fountainhead. The GOP are Roark. They've built a pretty massive deficit under Reagan and George W. Bush (Clinton actually balanced the budget, remember) and now there's a Democratic president who dares to change their design.
Solution: Blow it up!
*Not to mention the hypocrisy of Ryan and the entire GOP for passing a massive entitlement expansion when they were in power (Medicare Part-D), and yet proudly declaring (or at least implying) that we should be entirely without entitlements at all now, and proposing a budget plan that effectively ends Medicare.
**Nietzsche's sister deliberately pandered to the Nazis, among other things. No one who has seriously read Nietzsche could doubt that he would never have approved of anything the Nazi Party had in mind.
***For the record, I'll just briefly summarize that I think religion is bad because on a basic level it wants us all to die, and wants to bring about the end of the world and the coming of a celestial dictatorship (not to mention that I see no evidence to conclude that any gods exist) - but that is the subject of another post. Stay tuned, I'm working on an essay on Christian eschatology to demonstrate what I mean.
****Is there any doubt that Hitler would never have risen to power in Germany without the depression wrecking the German economy? Look at Nazi Party percentages in elections and rally attendance before and after 1929 and tell me I'm wrong.
*****I bet those folks with the idiotic "Keep government out of my Medicare!" signs at Tea Party rallies will just love it when they find out a non-inflation-adjusting voucher to buy private insurance is going to replace their precious non-government Medicare under Ryan's plan.