Anne C. Heller: What Paul Ryan Learned From Ayn Rand

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Anne C. Heller is the author of the critically acclaimed Ayn Rand and the World She Made.

“It is true that fiction is a much more powerful weapon to sell ideas than nonfiction,” Rand wrote when she was just beginning to construct the plot of her capitalist blockbuster Atlas Shrugged. Fiction, she added, “arouses the public to an emotional as well as intellectual response to our cause. Call it a sugarcoating—although I don’t like to say that. It works.”
It worked for Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, just as it has worked for tens of thousands of Rand adherents and acolytes over the last half century, including Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Ron Paul, and Bob Barr. Like many of them, the chair of the House Budget Committee and this year’s Republican candidate for vice president first encountered Rand’s novels of heroic individualism and swashbuckling capitalism in adolescence. “I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are,” the congressman told a convention of Rand followers in 2005. Rand was “the reason I got involved in public service.” A passionate convert to her black-and-white, apocalyptic worldview, Ryan also became a missionary for her ideology. He required his congressional staff to read her novels as an introduction to real-world, free-market, and monetary theory. “We start with Atlas Shrugged,” he said in 2005.  “Then we move on, and we require [Austrian economists Ludwig] von Mises and [Friedrich von] Hayek as well.”
Recently, with increasing national attention and some grumbling from the Conference of Catholic Bishops, it seems that Ryan, a Roman Catholic, has backed off from the atheist Rand and muffled his claims that every battle in government is a contest between the forces of Randian good and evil, or individualism and collectivism. But if Rand taught Ryan “quite a bit” about who he is, Ryan’s romance with Rand can also teach us about who he remains...

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