Paul Ryan: “Ayn who?”
At Georgetown on Thursday, Congressman Paul Ryan gave his much-anticipated talk about the Republican budget he designed and that he has defended as embodying the Catholic social justice principle of subsidiarity — something more than a few Catholics, including the U.S. hierarchy, have found hard to believe.
Several good things have emerged from this episode, it seems to me: One is that a Catholic university was once again an arena for a vigorous debate on contested issues, and I suspect a lot of folks have learned a good deal about Catholic social teaching that we didn’t know before — something to keep in mind when folks start clamoring for certain speakers to be barred from Catholic campuses.
Another good thing: Ryan himself seemed to alter some of his rhetoric, being careful to add words like “solidarity” to his rather “lobotomized” version of subsidiarity. Though as Michael Sean Winters notes, matching deeds to his words would be the important next step.
And perhaps best of all, Ryan seemed to discover the humility of prudential judgment, noting: “What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day.”
This seems critical, and it’s good to see Ryan’s comrades taking up this line. “Let’s stop the easy moralistic posturing,” as First Things’ Joseph Knippenberg advised the bishops. Indeed. Especially since we need to use that easy moral posturing for the opposition to health care reform, the contraception mandate, and of course the incipient Nazi and Stalinist terror that is set to descend upon us from the White House at any moment.
My favorite development, however, is that this whole saga gave Rep. Ryan a chance to debunk that noxious myth that he is a disciple of the goddess of all things libertarian and irreligious, Ayn Rand. As he told National Review this week, it’s an “urban legend”:
“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “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.”
Knippenberg is glad that we can finally be rid of that “canard,” and at MOJ Rick Garnett rips into those who have associated Ryan with Rand. At the scrupulously non-partisan Catholic Vote site, Joshua Mercer takes Ryan’s critics to task:
I earnestly hope that Father Reese and others will now stopping pushing this urban legend now that Paul Ryan has categorically rejected it. Trying to paint Paul Ryan as a bloodthirsty capitalist with no mercy or compassion for the poor might be effective propaganda, but we as Catholics have a responsibility to not bear false witness.
And that’s in addition to these gems that ThinkProgress helpfully gathered:
“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”
“I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well… I try to make my interns read it.” — a 2003 interview with The Weekly Standard.
So maybe Ryan and his allies embrace Orwell more than Ayn Rand?
PS: The Aquinas hug is nice, too. But as Esquire’s Charles Pierce notes, Saint Thomas may not provide Ryan much cover.