Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, H. P. Lovecraft, and Catholic Nuns
What led to my fascination with Ayn Rand was the 1949 film version of her novel “The Fountainhead” starring Gary Cooper and one of my all-time favorites, Patricia Neal. The movie, the screenplay of which was written by Ayn Rand herself, is overly melodramatic at times, but that’s one of the things I love about truly classic movies from that era (like the 1945 versions of “Mildred Pierce” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray”). I found myself admiring the integrity and philosophical consistency of Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) and Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal), even when I disagreed with them. (Barbara Stanwyck, another classic movie actress I love, had originally brought the novel to studio head Jack Warner, but she was passed over in favor of Patricia Neal to play Dominique. I can’t help but wonder how different the movie might have been if Stanwyck, who loved the novel and agreed with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, had been the star instead of Patricia Neal.)
So watching the movie led to reading the novel, which led to reading other works by and about Ayn Rand. In some ways my fascination with Ayn Rand parallels my fascination with the classic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Both were somewhat mediocre writers who nevertheless could tell a good story at times. Both led tragically self-centered lives that alienated them from others. Both were militant atheists who wrote essays denigrating those of us who believe in God. Both lashed out in anger and sometimes hatred at people who disagreed with them. Both were driven by ideologies I find reprehensible (Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” and Lovecraft’s vehement anti-Semitism and bigotry). And both were hugely influential in their respective fields.
Ayn Rand is in the news again because of Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan to be his presidential running mate. Paul Ryan has been open about his admiration of Ayn Rand in the past, as seen in these quotes from a 2005 lecture he gave to The Atlas Society, a group devoted to the philosophy of Ayn Rand:
The Atlantic: Audio Surfaces of Paul Ryan’s Effusive Love of Ayn Rand
More recently, though, Paul Ryan has been distancing himself from Ayn Rand, probably because he knows his fellow conservative Catholics are extremely uncomfortable with Rand’s atheism and her strong support of abortion.
CNN: Is Paul Ryan for or against Ayn Rand?
National Review: Ryan Shrugged
Paul Ryan seems to be contradicting himself, or at least his 2012 self is contradicting his 2005 statements about the huge influence Ayn Rand has had on him. Or perhaps over the last seven years he has genuinely changed his position on her philosophy; maybe he really does now prefer Thomas Aquinas to Ayn Rand, as he said to National Review in the link above. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But by referencing the Catholic principle of subsidiarity as an influence on his thinking, Ryan has opened himself up to criticism from the priests and nuns who are far better acquainted with Catholic social teaching than he is (and than I am). And even if he now renounces Ayn Rand, the influence of her philosophy is still clearly seen in his budget proposals and his overall political philosophy.
Unlike some on the left, I do not feel the need to demonize Paul Ryan for his political views, although I disagree strongly with most of them. Any critiques of Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney that I post between now and November will be out of genuine concern that their policies, if enacted, may damage us as a nation (just as I’ve posted critiques and even angry rants about some of Obama’s actions that have eroded our constitutional rights as individuals and as a nation).
The NETWORK Catholic social justice group has invited Mitt Romney to join a group of Catholic nuns for one day to learn about the plight of the poor:
Nuns Challenge Romney To Spend A Day With Them To Learn About Plight Of America’s Poor
I do hope Romney accepts the invitation, and I hope Paul Ryan accompanies him. For that matter, I think President Obama would do well to step out of the White House and spend a day with nuns who are actually feeding the poor and ministering to those in need, rather than pontificating about it from behind a guarded fence.