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Catholic Randians and Prudential Judgments

Just to stir the pot a little... Catholic conservatives frequently distinguish between disagreeing with the Church's views on abortion/gay marriage/stem cell research and a departing from the Church's views on the death penalty/torture/war/economic justice. The idea, as then Cardinal Ratzinger laid out in his July 2004 letter on receiving communion, is that the former are intrinsically evil, whereas the evil of the latter positions depends on some degree of prudential judgment:

For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

There are lots of questions about this distinction that have been raised here and elsewhere. I don't want to get into those again in this post. My question is a different one. What are we to do when a Catholic politician seems to reject the principle underlying the prudential judgment? For example, there may be "legitimate diversity of opinion" about waging THIS particular war or applying the death penalty in THIS particular case. But what if the politician rejects the broader exhortation to "seek peace, not war"? Surely -- in the magisterium's view -- there is no room for legitimate diversity of opinion on that more general matter of principle. Similarly, while there may be a great deal of legitimate diversity of opinion concerning how best to promote the well being of the poorest, surely (on the magisterium's view of its own authority) there is no legitimate diversity of opinion concerning the mandate to structure social policy toward that end. Thus, a Catholic politician who said that he was structuring social policy precisely because government has no obligation towards the poorest, could not be said to differ from the Church on a matter of mere prudential judgment.I take it no one would disagree with the foregoing. Perhaps my next assertion will be more controversial.

I think it is fair to hold political figures to some standard of plausibility in the empirical assertions underlying their prudential judgments. And where their empirical claims are utterly lacking in empirical foundation, then it is fair to say that they are likely lying when they claim that their prudential judgments represent an effort to conform their reasoning to certain moral principles. I assume, for example, that if a Catholic pro-choice politician says that he accepts the Church's teaching on abortion but that he believes that legally prohibiting abortion will increase the abortion rate and so opposes legal prohibition for that reason, pro-life Catholics would argue that he is acting within the boundaries of a "legitimate diversity of opinion." At a minimum, I think they would require some significant empirical support to back up his claim before they would concede the good faith of his prudential judgment.On similar grounds, it seems to me that the Ryan plan -- and Ryan himself -- can plausibly be accused of simply disregarding basic principles of Catholic social thought, not just prudential judgments about how best to achieve those principles. At the most basic level, the structure of his plan -- cutting taxes for the wealthiest and for corporations while slashing benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable -- does not square with the Church's mandate to structure social policy in a way that is fundamentally focused on the well-being of the poorest, a kind of maximin principle. Still, the argument might go, this sort of restructuring of government's operations could be reconciled with Catholic principle if it were the case that massively cutting taxes for the rich and increasing the economic burdens on the poor would stimulate the economy to such a degree that the resulting prosperity would create a rising tide that would lift all boats. This was, I assume, the purpose of citing to the Heritage Foundation study predicting that the Ryan plan tax cuts would increase revenue and would produce incredibly low levels of unemployment. Now that the Heritage study has been pretty universally rejected, however, what is the case for structuring a debt reduction plan along the lines of the Ryan plan? Can the debunked supply-side logic of self-funding tax cuts and the associated trickle-down prosperity justify Catholic support for a plan with the features of the Ryan Plan as consistent with the preferential option for the poor? It seems to me that that can be the case only if we impose absolutely no burden of plausibility on the empirical assumptions underlying prudential application of those principles. [In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we should simply interpret the plan as intending to do what it does: improve the situation of the best off and then making up for that (and, in addition, reducing the debt over the long term) at the almost exclusive expense of some of the most vulnerable. And such an intent runs contrary to the principles of Catholic social teaching -- it does not reflect the prudential application of those principles.]And, frankly, as for Ryan himself, I don't see why we should give him the benefit of the doubt. As is well documented, the man is a ardent admirer or Ayn Rand. He requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. And he has credited Rand with his decision to enter public service. Rand's objectivist philosophy rejects the notion that the government has any obligation to help the poorest. Rather, its purpose is to protect rights of private property and enforce market transactions in order to unleash the most creative and gifted among us.In trying to interpret Ryan's motives, we have a couple of choices. On the one hand, we can say that he's trying to help the poorest, notwithstanding any empirical evidence that his plan will do that. On the other hand, we can say that he's implementing Rand's anti-Christian objectivist philosophy, which he has credited with motivating him to enter public service. [He's either blinded to empirical reality by his ideological commitments and actually believes we make the help the poor by handing money to the rich and cutting health care for the poor, or he's intending to do what his plan straightforwardly seems designed to do -- reduce state-imposed burdens on the rich and let the poor fend for themselves.] It seems to me that, given the evidence about his admiration for Rand, the most plausible interpretation is the latter. There's no question that his plan, if implemented, would dismantle two of the pillars of the post-War welfare state (Medicare and Medicaid) while putting more money in the pockets of the wealthy. But if Ryan's purpose is to move us closer to the objectivist ideal espoused by Rand, then it seems to me that he is beyond the boundaries of legitimate prudential disagreement. He is applying principles that directly contradict those of Catholic social teaching.[I've updated the post slightly, with the substantive changes in brackets.]


Commenting Guidelines

Edouardo,Note: Maritain pointed out that in a democracy people with differing, even opposed principles can sometimes come to the same conclusion about what should or should not be done, and this is one of the reasons that a democracy can work even when people disagree about general matters.YOu ask, "What are we to do when a political party or politician seems to reject the principle underlying the prudential judgment?"Following Maritain, I don't think that we need agree with a politicians principles (e.g., Ryan's) to agree that his bill should be passed. The practical question should simply be: will this be a good law or a bad one? In other words, in politics prudential judgments are not about motives but about actions and ends. To over-simplify, the issue concerns the difference between a good will and a good deed. Politics is not about approving or disapproving others' moral principles and virtues. It's about doing good as we see it. On the other hand, if the question is about electing a candidate with objectionable principles, then his moral principles do, of course, become relevant because the reasonable assumption is that he will mainly vote according to them.. But sometimes our choices are between two equally immoral candidates or between candidates who talk one way but often vote another. So, again, prudence doesn't allow a hard and fast generalization.

I have a simpler explanation. Most politicians get their persona/values from movie characters... politics and role playing are cousins.. . Reagan played himself in that he would only play heroes. He morphed from a Democrat to Republican.. Paul Ryan, I would guess is just playing out the Gary Cooper role in Rand's Fountainhead. Tall, strong, all American look. If the TP sinks the GOP watch for a morph.

Thanks, Anne. I was very sloppy in how I framed up the question in the first paragraph. I was more interested in the question of the Catholic politician himself, not in support for his political program by voters (although, as I think the argument makes clear, they are not wholly separate). I agree with you that the motive of the particular politician is not decisive for assessing whether it is permissible to support his program. I've cleaned it up a bit to make the question more clear.

I take it no one would disagree with the foregoing.____________________Well, I disagree with part of the foregoing, which led me to not bother with the rest.Your premise is flawed, in part, and mischaracterizes the views of those you hold to be your opponents.In speaking of "Catholic conservatives," I assume you mean Catholics who happen to be POLITCAL conservatives, and I further assume that you mean the Republican Party, which many conservatives might align themselves with, but are not necessarily members of. Even so, to the extent that such political conservatives who are Catholic support the Republican Party (setting aside capital punishment perhaps), they do so with the good faith belief that the party does NOT depart "from the Churchs views on . . . torture/war/economic justice."It is a fallacy at best, and an intentional malicious lie at worst, to suggest that conservatives and the Republican Party are pro-torture or pro-war or anti-economic justice or otherwise want women and minorities and children to suffer and die.And by firing that broadside at the onset, in typical hyper-partisan fashion, it is pointless to continue any further discussion.

Bender -- I don't think anything in the post as originally written called for your interpretation -- I was just recounting arguments that have been frequently made, including by Cardinal Ratzinger as quoted. It's hardly hyper-partisan to just describe the distinction that has been made over and over by Catholic conservatives. In any event, in response to Anne's more charitable comment above, I reworded the opening paragraph to make more precise the point I was raising.

There is nothing sadder than a Catholic conservative who derides Catholic liberals as being "cafeteria Catholics." "Prudential judgement" is conservativese for "pick and choose."

" --- it is pointless to continue any further discussion."Does that mean that you are picking up your ball and glove and going home?

I think Rand's philosophy is completely at odds with a Catholic sensibility. While I am a fan of Nietzsche (influential for Rand), I am not blind to the consequences of some of his thinking and would have to qualify a lot of his thought to square with a Catholic approach.I am surprised that Ryan, a Catholic, passes out Rand to his staff. This is a consequence of poor Catholic education I think.Gilson argued that there is a distinctively Catholic philosophy (not necessarily Thomistic either) but a particular style appropriate for the Catholic faith.This was his position and not Church teaching. However, it is important, I think, that we consider that carefully in light of FR K's quotation from St. Augustine about "guardians".

And, frankly, as for Ryan himself, I dont see why we should give him the benefit of the doubt.Because he is a human being created in God's image.

"I am surprised that Ryan, a Catholic, passes out Rand to his staff" (GD)Absolutely. (But then, I'm also surprised when someone not a 17-year-old boy screamo fan claims Rand as a primary influence.) I'm quite curious how he rationalizes it. It's like a Scientologist handing out copies of "The Ego and the I'd" to his staff. Has anyone been able to find statements where Ryan explains how he squares his love for Rand with being Catholic? For me, this is important not because I need him to adhere to a particular religion, but because if he doesn't get there's a profound inconsistency and/or can't resolve it, then it raises questions about his intellectual character.

Drat that auto-correct. I'd is Id.

Or it raises questions about his ability to empathize with those who suffer.

That, too. We know altruism's off the table, if he's a good Randite.

The point of the post (if my umpteenth reading of it is correct, and frankly I have no idea) seems to be that, if the far left somehow can delegitimize Rep. Ryan, then it won't have to debate the merits of his ideas or defend the status quo.At the risk of repeating myself (though I don't mind if I do), Rep. Ryan's plan should be held to the same standard as any other. Defenders of the status quo have the same burden of plausibility. And there's no room for Hippocratic do-no-harm. We have an affirmative duty to do the best we can for posterity, and at the very least Rep. Ryan deserves credit for stimulating that discussion.By all means let's use empiricism. There's no dearth of empirical evidence that freedom works and socialism stinks. And there is zero empirical evidence that Jesus is losing any sleep over whether pointy-headed federal bureaucrats get to spend 21 percent of GDP or 22.

Mary@7:38pm -- Brava! The Rand fanatics creep me out, and I think that feeling is in fact something that unites many on the Christian (religious) left and right, from my readings. One salient fact that undermines Ryan's credibility (and deeply) are his votes for so many of the initiatives that helped sink the country into debt, such as Medicare D and the Bush tax cuts. How does that square with his sudden embrace of the principle of fiscal conservatism?

How does that square with his sudden embrace of...Gee, something tells me you're infinitely more forgiving of Senior Lecturer Obama's countless flip-flops in his very brief career, from the debt limit to public campaign financing to Gitmo to the Patriot Act to the War Powers Act to military tribunals to signing statements to offshore drilling to filibustering judicial nominees to health care mandates to the "public option" to manned space exploration to blah blah blah blah blah... He's been on all sides of every issue except for protecting the abortion industry.

Sheesh. Coulda saved a whole lotta typing if you'd just put, "I know you are, but what am I?" or "I am Rubber! You are Glue!" Same diff.

Rep. Ryan must be winning, because the attacks keep getting loonier and more desperate.

NPR:Ryan is often touted as the Republican with ideas. President Obama praised his road map for deficit reduction from the podium at January's Republican retreat in Baltimore. Ryan has been quoted in the past as admiring the objectivist philosophies of Ayn Rand, but, he says, he doesn't believe in a purely laissez-faire system. "I do believe you have to have a safety net in society," he says."The problem we have is the safety net itself is going bankrupt. What I do in this bill is repair the holes in the safety net." of another part of the plan might counteract the lurid scenarios currently under construction: the highest marginal tax rates in Ryans plan are higher than the Simpson-Bowles recommendations which were not savaged by the moderate left as give-aways to the rich. In any fair presentation its obvious that both Ryan and Simpson-Bowles close loopholes used by high income people and their plans achieve revenue neutrality or are revenue positive. They clearly adopt long-standing proposals which are widely popular across a good deal of the political spectrum to broaden the tax base, lower marginal rates for everyone, and increase efficiency by rooting out tax gimmicks.

Maureen Dowd chimes in on Ryan and Rand. in Sunday NYT"Nevertheless, Rand is blazing back as an icon of the Tea Party, which overlooks her atheism, amorality in romance and vigorous support for abortion." But it's great for the top 1.5%.Ryan's $15k vouchers for seniors Medicare won't take effect until I'm gone. But my children will have to make due w/$15k voucher a year after what age 65-68? [no carryover either.. year to year, unlike the cell phone business] So when they finally get ill Ryan 'guarantees' about 6 weeks of coverage. Anyone remember the dying rooms in the Italian documentary Mondo Cane?? They are on their way back. The only upside I see is the vigil candle lighting in Church will spring an uptick.

While, as Pealver says, a particular prudential judgment must be able to withstand scrutiny, nevertheless it is possible to lay out general principles regarding the limits of prudential judgment in this debate.- The appropriate level of taxes and spending always is a prudential judgment. Taxes and spending are not ends in themselves. There is no requirement that government consume any more of our productive output than is absolutely necessary to achieve legitimate ends. If an end can be achieved at lower public cost, that is to the good.- The appropriate balance of power between the United States and the several states always is a prudential judgment. Federalism is consistent with the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. There is no absolute requirement to apply a single solution in precisely the same way in all 50 states. Indeed, to the contrary there is a requirement to leave as much freedom as possible to the people of the several states to innovate and to devise solutions best suited to their populations.- The appropriate scope of a social safety net always is a prudential judgment. There is no requirement to transfer public resources to individuals irrespective of actual need. Indeed, it is a scandal to transfer resources to those who are relatively better off from the less well off and from future generations.- The appropriate mechanism for providing a social safety net always is a prudential judgment. There is no requirement for massive centralized bureaucracy. There is no requirement that solutions from long ago be perpetuated forever without reform. There is no Catholic position on vouchers or block grants, except to the extent that the principles of human dignity and subsidiarity dictate the maximum possible degree of self-determination.

Really, Ryan passes out Rand to his staff. This magazine finds the "good" parts of Marx. What's the difference?

There is a lot to chew on in this post, and gives a useful analysis. I have 3 quick responses:1. I still remain surprised and a little taken aback at just how much opponents of the plan seem to going after Ryan personally. I know I've been called out for being "thin-skinned" before, but I am amazed that it seems acceptable for liberals to call Ryan a "liar" or "disingenous" because of certain assumptions he's made. I just don't think such characterizations are useful in creating meaningful dialogue, and I continue to think they're unbecoming of a Catholic publication. Ryan (like Pres. Obama) is primarily a politician; thankfully (IMHO) they are more wonky than the usual politician, but that means they're BOTH still going to: A) make certain assumptions and "game" the numbers to make their side look better (the President does the same thing with his own numbers) and B) are going to make IDEOLOGICAL claims. Mr. Penlaver makes the statement to the effect that perhaps Mr. Ryan's "ideology" blinds him to empirical facts. Perhaps it does, but if the intent of this statement is to imply that Pres. Obama's plan is wholly free of ideology and based solely on "facts", that is, it seems to me, woefully inaccurate. It is true, as Luke Hill and I have discussed, that BOTH plans for controlling health care costs rely on ideological, and not factual claims: one, whether creating a market and subjecting health care to such market forces will "bend the curve", or whether an independnt board of physicians and economists can make all the rational decisions and "bend the curve." There is simply no factual evidence on EITHER side to make such a decision, it is an ideological leap in both cases. 2. As I said in the beginning, I appreciate the framework Mr. Penalver is working with. But I continue to believe that he allows his political commitments to unduly color his "description" of Ryan's plan. He makes it sound as if Ryan, and I assume by proxy Ryan's supporters and the Republican party, just doesn't give a damn about the poor, i.e. he is ignoring a basic tenet of Catholic teaching. I simply disagree with the descriptions of Ryan's plan. First of all, he himself has said his goal is to SAVE the social safety net for the most vulnerable. He has said this again and again and again. So I suppose if you've convinced yourself that Ryan is a liar, it makes sense not to take him at his word, but I happen to think Ryan means what he says: reform the entitlement programs in order to save them from certain financial ruin. Secondly, Ryan's proposal contains some (arguably) PRO-poor items: means-testing, for example. His medicare proposal also requries RICH old people to pay more for their health care; I see nothing wrong with this. I also think that a closer look at Ryan's tax plan shows that it is NOT just premised on cutting rich people's taxes, but reforming the code and BROADENING the tax base. I would think liberals would be in favor of such a proposal. Finally, Ryan's plan is aimed primarily at MIDDLE CLASS entitlements, which are driving up costs, not (primarily) programs for the poor.So while I find this post useful, I am unclear about its purpose: to the extent its gives Catholics a framework for analyzing issues it seems useful. But parts of this seem intended, again, to discredit Ryan's plan by discrediting RYAN personally. I cringe when the right tries to do it again the President, and I cringe at these efforts. I have no idea (does anyone) how seriously Ryan takes his Catholic faith; it sounds like he is a serious Randian, and I agree that is troubling. Unfortunately, CST seems a woefully ignored framework by politicians in BOTH parties. Maybe that's the best place to end - where I started. We are dealing with politicians.

The big difference between Rand and Marx is that Rand had no sympathy for the suffering nor any notion that we have obligations to them while Marx had tremendous sympathy for them. So who was closer to Jesus Christ? Sean, an assumption in your comment seems to be that to agree with a part of a philosophy is to agree with all of it, which is simplistic thinking in the extreme. If that is not your intention, then what is your objection to agreeing with just part of Marx?

Oops -- Marx both had sympathey for those who suffer and thought we have obligations towards them.

" assumption in your comment seems to be that to agree with a part of a philosophy is to agree with all of it, which is simplistic thinking in the extreme."Well, that pretty well rebuts Pealver's post, which is that we must discredit Ryan because he read a book (and encourages reading). Ryan clearly does not subscribe to the totality of Rand's thinking. For one thing, he repeatedly, explicitly and prominently supports the concept of a social safety net. And there is zero credible basis to believe that Rand would embrace Ryan's plan.Come to think of it, I believe the colloquialism for Pealver's post is red herring.

"For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion."-----------We should not assume that we know when or if we are "at odds with the Holy Father". He and his fellow bishops are under no obligation to let us know their real positions on anything, and they often/usually don't. E.g., we were told Rome was opposed to the Iraq war, but Rome's instructions/views on that were delivered to Bush in Pio Laghi's diplomatic pouch. How do we know what Rome really said? (Given Laghi's history in Argentina, why would we assume anything?) Would anyone make a decision about receiving Communion based on what s/he thought Rome wanted Bush to do or not do in Iraq?

It sure makes sense not to be with the pope when he ordered the Crusades and, especially, when he asserted that it was alright to kill to regain the Holy Land. So was it a prudential judgment on the pope's part or those who disagreed. The problem was, for those who lived at the turn of the millenium, that they might have their head cut off if the disagreed that to retake Jerusalem was more important than not killing someone. Gregory VII and Urban II, were monks who showed that taking a vow of poverty did not make one poor, were the first two popes to get the Crusades going. Finding justification in Augustine, who, I dare say, was not as crasy as these two. But, hey, prudential judgments covers a multitude of sins. The Crusades, of course , are the great promoter of that other Christian superstition---Pilgrimages. Which allow one to visit and enrich holy places by being promised a quick trip to heaven. We have the over INDULGENT hierarchy to thank for granting indulgences so that one could steal heaven rather than get their the right way, by living the gospel, or perish the thought, follow Christ Crucified. But we need to cease endless babbling and get some concrete plans going. To wit:1. Bar all Catholics from the Holy Land. This will save countless lives. 2. Strip all Catholics of weapons. Ditto.3. Get rid of all Cardinal and Episcopal apparel. This will facilitate humility.4. Get real jobs for all bishops and clergy. This will bolster the economy and health care. 5. Add to this list.

This whole Rand/Ryan thing strikes me as a sidebar at best. I have a copy of "Anthem," a dystopian novel I admire despite it's drippy love story, and nobody would call me any type of political conservative.The fact is that Ryan has offered a proposal to cut government that must be judged on whether it would fairly and effectively put spending on the right track.BTW, has anyone seen the new movie, "Atlas Shrugged"? Didn't know this was even in the works.

Lest people forget to read this in their eagerness to solemnize Ayn Rand's screeds and selfishness: was ancient history when I was a pup.

David Mills at First Things cites Buckley and Chambers on Rand:

Whatever you do, don't miss the review of Atlas Shrugged that David Gibson referred to above. The post at First Things includes a link to the review and a devastating excerpt from it. I'm tempted to reproduce the excerpt here, but that might be a breach of blog etiquette. So, go read it yourselves.

Ann,You say, "an assumption in your comment seems to be that to agree with a part of a philosophy is to agree with all of it." No, in fact I am saying the opposite. Eduardo seems to be saying it.I am not a "Randian" but I think many of her ideas have great merit. For example, that using the power of the state to control people's economic behavior can be destructive and disrespectful of human dignity. That you are more likely to acheive the common good (materially and pschologically) when free people are allowed autonomy than when the state imposes "fairness." Rand was reacting in part to Marx, who's "sympathy for those who suffer" when joined with the power of the state as a governing philosophy resulted in the slaughter of 10's of millions and the enslavement of 100's of millions more. As a Catholic, I would rather carry the baggage of agreeing with some of Ayn Rand's philosophy than Karl Marx's any day of the week.

Of course we'd all agree that one can admire aspects of a philosopher's work--we should, in Kenneth Burke's terms, "use all that is there to use." It is not that Ryan likes parts of some of Rand's work, it's that he calls her his primary influence and requires his staff to read her (as opposed to making them read any other book he could have chosen). He's not just carrying her baggage, he's rifled through her trunks and is walking around in her trench coat.

An interesting thread! Thanks, Prof. Penalver, for sparking it.As Stephen Colbert regularly jokes, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias". This was true of George W. Bush's fiscal plans in the 2000 election. It was true of the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. It was true of the 2005 proposal to privatize Social Security. It's true of the House Republican budget proposal for FY 2012. (YMMV.)@ Jeff Landry (10:54 am) Since Jeff brought me into this thread (and Jeff, that's fine with me), I want to restate, or perhaps clarify, my views on a couple of things he mentioned:*I don't agree that "BOTH plans for controlling health care costs rely on ideological, and not factual claims". The Democrats' claim that their plan, as embodied in the new Affordable Care Act, will control health care costs is supported by the nonpartisan number-crunchers at the Congressional Budget Office---and the CBO has something of a track record, built up over the past two decades, for erring on the conservative side when it comes to the budgetary implications of health care legislation. (We could say that the CBO has a "technocratic" ideology, and that may well be so. However, that's different than having a "liberal" or "conservative" ideology in the sense that we have been discussing Chairman Ryan's proposal (and President Obama's response) over the past several days.)Ryan's proposal, as in earlier threads, has not yet been turned into legislative language and submitted to the CBO for a formal "scoring". The budgetary analysis on which Ryan's proposal was based was done by the Heritage Foundation. First, the Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank with a track record of producing analysis that supports right-wing initiatives---analysis that has a track record of not holding up to independent scrutiny. Second, in this case Heritage's analysis has already been criticized as "flawed and contrived" by a firm like Macroeconomic Advisers (which makes its money as a consultant to businesses, not to politicians).*"Ryans plan is aimed primarily at MIDDLE CLASS entitlements, which are driving up costs, not (primarily) programs for the poor." I think there are a couple of things wrong with this sentence:1 - There's general agreement that rising health care costs (not middle class entitlements) are the primary domestic budgetary problem---for governments and for corporations. Medicare (which primarily benefits the middle and working classes) is a just a subset of the larger health care picture. 2 - Medicaid (which benefits the poor and disabled) is also a subset of the larger health care picture, and Ryan proposes major cuts in Medicaid---as well as food stamps and other programs that primarily serve the poor. The bulk of the savings from cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs in Ryan's proposal are used for tax cuts (which apparently will primarily benefit the affluent), not for deficit reduction.*It may well be true that Chairman Ryan "has said his goal is to SAVE the social safety net for the most vulnerable" and that "he has said this again and again and again." I think, however, it's accurate to say that most observers see Ryan's proposals to end Medicare, slash Medicaid, and cut food stamps in order to cut taxes to their lowest levels since the 1920s as further weakening the social safety net---both for the poor and for the middle class.I'm increasingly curious about what kind of debates are going on these days between "Randian" conservatives and "Burkean" conservatives. Can anyone shed some light on that (beyond the reviews of "Atlas Shrugged" linked above)?

If Ryan were a whole-hearted Randian wouldnt he be an atheist? No one is making that claim (but just wait). At worst, he is a cafeteria Randian, picking and choosing.This post reminds me of the kerfuffle of a few months ago. Some on the right argued that Obamas views derived from an un-American and African anti-imperialist mindset. The sensible response, IMHO, was that everything in Obamas program could be found in the academic hothouses of the American Left. The simple application of Ockhams Razor would discredit the exotic claims of Dinesh DSouza and others about the sources of Obamas philosophy.In like measure there is nothing in Ryans plan that cannot be found in dozens of (non-Randian) conservative policy papers in the last decade, and even in some liberal papers. What is distinctively Randian in the Ryan plan? Unfortunately the extreme Left and extreme Right are inclined to use the same tactics to cast their opponents out of the mainstream. If we want to play by those rules, lets expect to hear much more about Obamas Marxist views re sharing the wealth. There are some blood-curdling quotes from Marx about the need for redistribution. But why attribute 100% Marxism to Obama or 100% Randism to Ryan? If both Obama and Ryan were to disappear from the scene and if Marx and Rand had never lived we would be having the same debates over principles.

Patrick,It is one thing for people on the right to call Obama a socialist or a Marxist. Obama has never sung the praises of Marx or handed out The Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital to his staff. However, many on the right are avowed followers of Ayn Rand. If Obama called himself a Marxist, it would be more than fair for his enemies to call him a Marxist. However, Obama is not a Marxist, but many on the right, especially from the Tea Party, are self-declared followers of Rand. An example:

Conservatives with ties to the tea party are hoping a new movie version of a 1957 novel will help fuel their 21st century political movement.Tonight, the Heritage Foundation has scheduled a special screening of Atlas Shrugged, a film version of the Ayn Rand cult classic that made the late novelist a heroine to conservativesespecially, libertarian conservatives. . . ,FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, has undertaken a massive campaign to push the movie into as many theaters as possible. So far, theyve lined up 63 for opening day in major cities nationwide; FreedomWorks hopes to push that number to 300.In a lot of ways this project reflects the ethos of the tea party, said FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe. You had both Republicans and Democrats who felt rejected by the establishment, and the same process is going to happen with Atlas Shrugged: Were going to build a constituency of people who believe in limited government and individual liberty.The Rand novel, about a dystopian state and the martyred industrialist who battles the degenerate government that controls it, already has a big fan base in the tea party. The opening line of Atlas ShruggedWho is John Galt?appears on signs and T-shirts at tea party events nationwide, and posters of Rand decorate FreedomWorks Capitol Hill offices. . . .

The movie of Atlas Shrugged is getting terrible reviews.

Patrick --You talk as if Marx were the only socialist, and that to agree with any part of his his philosophy is to become a total "Marxist". If the Founding Fathers hadn't picked and chosen ideas from among the sometimes radical thinkers of their day we wouldn't have the Constitution.

Just for fun, here's a thought experiment:What would have been the reaction if in, say, 1965, Time magazine published a profile of House Ways & Means chairman Wilbur Mills in which he revealed that reading the works of Karl Marx was the single greatest influence on his decision to enter politics and that he required his staffers to read "Capital"?This question occurred to me in reflecting on our conversations here. Doesn't Ayn Rand bear roughly the same connection to traditional conservative thought (Burke, Buckley, Chesterton, et al) that Marx does to traditional liberal/social democratic thought? (Note: This is a "talk to me like I'm stupid" type of question. I really don't know. All answers gratefully accepted.)

"Unfortunately the extreme Left and extreme Right are inclined to use the same tactics to cast their opponents out of the mainstream. If we want to play by those rules, lets expect to hear much more about Obamas Marxist views re sharing the wealth. There are some blood-curdling quotes from Marx about the need for redistribution. But why attribute 100% Marxism to Obama or 100% Randism to Ryan?"I agree with this entirely; as I said in my earlier comment, this post provides some useful analysis, but its overall intent seems to be trying to de-legitimize Ryan personally, as well as his plan. Again, I find this sort of thing just as distasteful when used against Pres. Obama for his Kenyan, anti-colonialist views or whatnot, as against Republicans. At this point, let's assume Ryan is a committed Randian (as is Alan Greenspan; but I don't see liberals rejecting his views on the Bush tax cuts because of his Randian commitments - but I digress), and I have no idea what Ryan thinks about Catholic social teaching, or about Catholicism at all. I give him (some) credit for not trying to torture his views into Catholic thought a la Nancy Pelosi on abortion.A more interesting question using the analysis set forth above is whether a Catholic voter inclined to support Ryan's plan can do so within CST? I am on record (for what little that's worth) as saying that while Ryan's plan is FAR from perfect (even from a conservative point of view), that his overall framework re: the necessary changes required to SAVE the safety net is convincing to me, and given that framework, that I find his proposals within the range of possible prudential judgments allowable under Catholic social teaching. I fear that if the argument is that CST requires Catholics to be committed to the CURRENT configuration of the welfare state, and rely ONLY on tax increases on "the rich", then CST as interpreted by progressive Democrats faces an existential challenge of a fundamental order given the impending fiscal challenges to some of these entitlements. I understand and fully agree that a Catholic thinking seriously about fiscal policy can come to believe that the New Deal/Great Society programs are required to aid the poor and create greater equality; but is that the ONLY possible outcome? Can another Catholic, equally serious about his/her faith, not also conclude that given the evidence of injury to equality and poor people of lifetime dependence on government programs and woeful public housing and education programs, not come to believe that programs with different incentives and limited benefits pass muster under Catholic social teaching? Or that taxation at 23% of GDP that slows economic activity that inhibits job creation be problematic? I think when you begin to consider these questions, Card. Ratzinger's view is sustained.A query for Commonweal editors: would you consider reaching out to Ross Douthat of the NY Times to write a piece on his views of Catholic social teaching and the welfare state? He is not only a heavy weight conservative opinion-maker, but a very serious Catholic.

William F. Buckley on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged.

David,Do we really want to go down this road again? Need we discuss Obamas many less than wholesome connections with the Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, etc.? If you are interested in Obamas connections with Marxism and socialism, see Stanley Kurtzs Radical-in-Chief, a more respectable treatment than that of DSouza. says he entered political life because of Rand. Hillary Clinton did so because of Goldwater. Its not impossible to believe that both have evolved in their views. Ryan, it is said, wants his staff to read Rand. Perhaps he wants them to read the Bible as well. I doubt if anyone on his staff was ever quizzed on either text. Surely his staff knows he identifies himself as a Catholic. Do they receive instructions on how to handle conflicts between Rand and the NT? Has anyone ever been fired for insufficient Randism? Do you automatically classify anyone who recommends reading Rand as an opponent of Catholic social thought? Might he not be saying that there is something to learn from Rand, just as there is something to be learned from Marx, as we are continually reminded, even on dotCom.BTW, do you see any distinctively Randian elements in the Ryan plan? I would expect you to agree that it's much more productive to debate the specifics of the plan rather than engage in heresy hunting.Ann - I agree that Marx is certainly not the only socialist. My argument was that Rand is not the only conservative. Why attribute influence to either Marx or Rand when it is so much simpler to find the sources of the current debate in so many other places right in front of us? My answer: it's easier to demonize Marx and Rand.

@Jeff Landry (11:22 am) Speaking just for myself, of course faithful Catholics using the Church's teaching can come to varying conclusions about how best those teachings should be implemented in any given society. Again speaking just for myself, I've never thought that "CST requires Catholics to be committed to the CURRENT configuration of the welfare state, and rely ONLY on tax increases on 'the rich'"; if I've given that impression, please forgive me.I admire your willing to express your doubts about Chairman Ryan's proposal, and the influence Catholic social teaching has had in raising some of those doubts. For me, one of the great benefits of the Church's teaching and history is the humility it enforces on my tendencies to be rigid and dogmatic in my views.For what it's worth, I endorse your suggestion that Commonweal publish a piece by Ross Douthat on this topic---perhaps paired with a piece by E. J. Dionne as part of an issue devoted to the topic.[An aside: Much as I often enjoy reading Douthat, I find columns like today's( ) exasperating. First, as economist Dean Baker caustically observes ( ), Douthat makes an elementary mathematical error that undermines his premise. Median family income (in 2009) for a family of four was $75,700...not $94,900. (Another example of reality's "well known liberal bias".) Second, he argues that a scenario in which a darker-skinned workforce in the 2030s pays higher taxes to benefit a mostly white retired population will "polarize the country along racial as well as generational lines". Wouldn't it promote social solidarity if that workforce knew that Social Security and Medicare would exist for them as it did for previous generations?]

"What are we to do when a Catholic politician seems to reject the principle underlying the prudential judgment? "It's already been pointed out, and worth reiterating, that Rep. Ryan, by his own statements, seems to accept the principles of Catholic social teaching that would seem to be applicable here, i.e. the preferential option for the poor. He has stated repeatedly that the purpose of his plan is to preserve the social safety net. That is not to say that his proposal is flawless, but I don't believe his intentions are open to question. Up until last week, I would have made a similar claim about progressives, btw: that their disregard for the health and stability of the government was so wanton that it is difficult or impossible to square with Catholic social teaching - essentially, that their profligacy was gravely sinful. Now that the President has been maneuvered (and shamed) into making a gesture toward fiscal responsibility, he has bought some time for progressives to demonstrate a genuine commitment to Christian stewardship. We have yet to see whether or not this commitment extends beyond a single broad, vague speech. My bet is, it doesn't extend as far as Democrats in Congress.

Here's another piece of the fact-based puzzle (as it were): Ten years ago Rep. Ryan was concerned that federal budget surpluses were too high:

@Jim Pauwels (12:02 pm) Looking back over the past generation, what evidence leads you to conclude that progressives' "disregard for the health and stability of the government was so wanton that it is difficult or impossible to square with Catholic social teaching essentially, that their profligacy was gravely sinful." As evidence against that conclusion I would cite:*the bipartisan Social Security fix of 1983;*the bipartisan Bradley-Gephardt tax code reform of 1986;*the Bush-Mitchell 1991 budget compromise;*the 1993 Clinton budget (passed without a single Republican vote);*the mid-1990s Clinton-Gingrich budgets;*the 2010 Affordable Care Act.These measures (among other things) cut spending and benefits, raised taxes, simplified the tax code, led to budget surpluses and reduced deficits. What's absent (to my knowledge) over the past generation is any deficit reduction effort undertaken by Republicans when they controlled the executive and legislative branches.

Do we really want to go down this road againPatrick,Whatever road it is, I am sure I don't want to go down it. But certainly you must acknowledge that to call people followers of Ayn Rand when they call themselves followers of Ayn Rand is quite different from calling people Marxists because you claim to detect elements of Marxism in their political stances. While you may be able to find things in Ayn Rand that don't contradict CST, her overall philosophy is about as antithetical to Catholicism as it is possible to be. If there were still an index of forbidden books (which thankfully, there isn't), her books would be very likely candidates to be on it. Speaking of National Review, read Whittaker Chambers' assessment of Atlas Shrugged there.

Is anyone aware of the original citation for Ryan saying this: "Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism"? I run across the quote often, but never a cite.

Who are the true Randians? Heres Ayn Rand on abortion rights:An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).Abortion is a moral rightwhich should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body? pro-life votes hardly conform to Rands views. In fact its clearly the case that Obamas views on abortion rights are much closer to those of the esteemed woman who is supposedly the devil incarnate. And his views do not differ from the mainstream of the Democratic Party.And of course views on abortiion like Rands are even found among liberal religious circles. They apparently condemn some of Rands views but warmly embrace others.



About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.