Paul Ryan Can Be a Catholic and Still Worship Ayn Rand

August 22, 2012 | By
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Pope Benedict XVI, Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand (Credit: AP/Salon)

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket, has said that Ayn Rand, the author of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” lit the inner fire that led him to public service.

Rand’s individualistic, free-market philosophy “taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a 2005 speech to a group of Rand’s devotees.

Trouble is, Rand was a staunch atheist, and Ryan is a conservative Roman Catholic. When a few of Rand’s incendiary comments about religion were lobbed his way, he repudiated her aggressive secularism. “I reject her philosophy,” Ryan said in an interview this year. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas. Don’t give me Ayn Rand.”

So if Rand is really so bad, how did she manage to work her way into his personal pantheon? Ryan would ban abortion; Rand held that “abortion is a moral right.” Ryan aims to save the welfare state by putting it on a sound fiscal footing; Rand would have eliminated it altogether. Why didn’t his robust Catholicism reject all of objectivism — Rand’s name for her philosophy — as a virulent strain of heresy?

Compatible Ethics

The truth is that the ethical philosophies of Rand and Aquinas, the titan of medieval Catholic philosophy, are more simpatico than one might imagine. It’s telling that Ryan, in his statement rejecting Rand’s philosophy, chose to draw a contrast between Aquinas’s and Rand’s epistemologies — their theories of knowledge — but not between their ethics. The former is where the sharper difference lies.

This difference, naturally enough, does find expression in their moral philosophies. As the philosopher Douglas Rasmussen, a St. John’s University scholar of both Rand and Aquinas, told me, “Ultimately, they differ in that Aquinas holds that the ultimate good is God and that human beings cannot find fulfillment in this world but only the next. Thus, Aquinas requires that theological virtues must transform the natural moral virtues.” Aquinas held (and Rand most certainly did not) that without divine revelation, we fall short of ultimate truth.

That said, atheist and saint both build from the blueprint of Aristotle’s virtue ethics, and thus the contours of their moral philosophies are much the same. “Both Rand and Aquinas believe that the key to understanding the moral good and moral obligation is to be found in terms of what will be self-actualizing,” Rasmussen says. “Both think that self-actualization is to be understood in terms of human nature.”

Read the whole story:  Bloomberg


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