With the choice of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney adds more to the Republican ticket than youth, vigor, and the possibility of carrying Wisconsin—he also adds the ghostly presence of the controversial Russian émigré philosopher and writer Ayn Rand.
Although she died thirty years ago, Rand’s influence appears on the rise on the right. As my colleague Ryan Lizza noted in his terrific biographical Profile of Ryan, Rand’s works were an early and important influence on him, shaping his thinking as far back as high school. Later, as a Congressman, Ryan not only tried to get all of the interns in his congressional office to read Rand’s writing, he also gave copies of her novel “Atlas Shrugged” to his staff as Christmas presents, as he told the Weekly Standard in 2003.
Two years later, in 2005, Ryan paid fealty to Rand in a speech he gave to the Atlas Society, the Washington-based think tank devoted to keeping Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy alive. He credited her with inspiring his interest in public service, saying, “[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” (One of the trustees of the Atlas Society, Clifford Asness, the co-founder of AQR Capital Management, a twenty-billion-dollar hedge fund, is one of the many outspoken Wall Street financiers who has shifted political sides, denouncing Obama, whom he supported in 2008, for interfering with capitalism by bailing out Chrysler, and by imposing tighter financial regulations after the 2008 economic collapse).
Three years ago, as Tim Mak reports today at Politico, Ryan described America’s political challenge as coming straight out of Rand’s work—saying, “what’s unique about what’s happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now. I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”
More recently, however, Ryan distanced himself from Rand, whose atheism is something of a philosophical wedge issue on the right, dividing religious conservatives from free-market libertarians. This year, with his political profile rising, Ryan stressed not only that he had differences with Rand’s atheism—a point he had made as far back as 2003—but went so far as to denounce her whole system of beliefs, describing his early attraction to her writing as little more than a youthful dalliance. He admitted that he had “enjoyed her novels,” but, as Mak notes, he stressed that, “I reject her philosophy. 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.”
Ryan’s sidestep from Rand was politically essential. As a Mormon, the last thing Romney needs is to alienate the Christian Right further by putting an acolyte of an atheist on the ticket. So it was not surprising that Romney made a point of stressing Ryan’s Catholicism during his announcement of Ryan today, introducing him as, “A faithful Catholic” who “believes in the dignity and worth of every life.”
While Ryan may be distancing himself from Rand now, the Democrats will surely argue that her views on the virtues of selfishness have left a more lasting legacy in the policies that he and Romney embrace. In his début today, Ryan stressed that “We promise equal opportunity—not equal outcomes”—a philosophy that telegraphed a tough message to those who are worst off. Ryan also signalled a Rand-like celebration of the winners, and dismissed complaints from the losers, saying, “We look at one another’s success with pride, not resentment.” Rand’s language was tougher still. She used words such as “refuse” and “parasites” to describe the poor, while celebrating millionaire businessmen as heroes. She abhorred government social programs, such as Social Security, at least until she reached the age of eligibility, and reportedly signed on for both its benefits and those of Medicare.
Ryan won’t be the first Rand fan to grace the Vice-Presidential ticket. Jack Kemp, who was Ryan’s mentor in politics, also described himself as influenced by her writing. In some ways, the Romney-Ryan ticket resembles the Dole-Kemp one, in pairing a Presidential candidate short on charisma and conservative credentials with a younger, more ideologically fiery sidekick. Kemp, however, was famously optimistic in his outlook. Ryan has a sterner countenance. Either way, though, while the G.O.P. may be behind when it comes to attracting female voters, in picking Ryan, who like Kemp was deeply influenced by Rand, it has added at least the imprint of an extra woman to the ticket.
For more on Romney, Ryan, and the rest of the campaign, bookmark The Political Scene, our hub for coverage of the 2012 election.
Photograph by Brendan Hoffman/Getty
The Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism, commonly known as the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), is a 501(c)(3)nonprofitthink tank in Irvine, California that promotes Objectivism, the philosophy developed by Ayn Rand. Its stated goal is to "spearhead a cultural renaissance that will reverse the anti-reason, anti-individualism, anti-freedom, anti-capitalist trends in today's culture". The organization was established in 1985, three years after Rand's death, by Ed Snider and Leonard Peikoff, Rand's legal heir. Jim Brown is the CEO of ARI, succeeding Yaron Brook as its operational executive in January 2017.
ARI has several educational and outreach programs, which include providing intellectuals for public appearances, supporting Objectivist campus clubs, supplying Rand's writings to schools and professors, assisting overseas Objectivist institutions, organizing annual conferences, and running the Objectivist Academic Center.
During her lifetime, Rand helped establish The Foundation for the New Intellectual to promote Objectivist ideas. The Foundation was dissolved some 15 years after her death, having been made redundant by the Ayn Rand Institute. Although Rand objected to Objectivism becoming an organized movement, she supported like-minded individuals working toward a common goal. Peikoff, her legal heir, was convinced to start the organization after businessman Ed Snider organized a meeting of possible financial supporters in New York in the fall of 1983. Peikoff also agreed to be the first chairman of the organization's board of directors.
In 1983, a group of Objectivists, including George Reisman, organized the Jefferson School of Philosophy, Economics, and Politics. The Jefferson School held a two week-long conference at the University of California, San Diego later that year, a conference which continued to occur every two years and is the predecessor of ARI's current annual Objectivist Conference.
ARI began operations on February 1, 1985, three years after Rand's death, in Marina del Rey, California. The first board of directors included Snider and psychologist Edith Packer. Snider was also one of the founding donors for the organization, along with educational entrepreneur Carl Barney. Its first executive director was Michael Berliner, who was previously the chairman of the Department of Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education at California State University, Northridge. ARI also established a board of governors, which initially included Harry Binswanger, Robert Hessen, Edwin Locke, Arthur Mode, George Reisman, Jay Snider, and Mary Ann Sures, with Peter Schwartz as its chairman. M. Northrup Buechner and George Walsh joined the board of advisors shortly thereafter.
ARI's first two projects were aimed at students. One was developing a network of college clubs to study Objectivism. The other was a college scholarship contest for high-school students based on writing an essay about Rand's novel The Fountainhead. Later, additional essay contests were added based on Anthem, We the Living, and Atlas Shrugged. In 1988, ARI began publishing Impact, a newsletter for contributors.
In 1989, a philosophical dispute resulted in ARI ending its association with philosopher David Kelley. Some members of the board of advisors agreed with Kelley and also left, including George Walsh. Kelley subsequently founded his own competing institute now known as The Atlas Society, which remains critical of ARI's stance on loyalty.
In 1994, ARI launched the Objectivist Graduate Center, which offered both distance-learning and in-person courses.
In January 2000, Berliner retired as executive director, replaced by Yaron Brook, then an assistant professor of finance at Santa Clara University. Onkar Ghate began working for ARI later that year, and ARI launched the Objectivist Academic Center.
In 2002, ARI moved from Marina del Rey to larger offices in Irvine, California.
In 2003, ARI launched the Anthem Fellowship for the Study of Objectivism, a fellowship that financially supports universities who have Objectivist professors.
Charity Navigator, which rates charitable and educational organizations to inform potential donors, gives ARI three out of four stars. According to the latest data from Charity Navigator, ARI spends 85.1% of its expenses on programs, 9.5% on fundraising, and 5.3% on administration. As of September 2016[update], ARI's board of directors consists of Brook; Berliner (co-chair); Arline Mann (co-chair), retired attorney, formerly of Goldman, Sachs & Co.; Carl Barney, CEO of several private colleges; Harry Binswanger, long-time associate of Ayn Rand; Peter LePort, a surgeon in private practice; Tara Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin; and John Allison, CEO of the Cato Institute and former CEO of BB&T.
Peikoff retains a cooperative and influential relationship with ARI. In 2006, he remarked that he approved of the work ARI has done and in November 2010 that the executive director "has done a splendid job." Peikoff was a featured speaker at the 2007 and 2010 Objectivist Conferences. In August 2010, he demanded a change to ARI's board of directors, resulting in the resignation of John McCaskey.
In 2008, ARI established the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights in Washington, D.C.; however, the center is no longer in operation.
A central goal for ARI throughout the 2010s has been to spread Objectivism globally. ARI helped establish the Ayn Rand Center Israel in 2012, the Ayn Rand Institute Europe in 2015, and the Ayn Rand Center Japan in 2017. Each of these organizations are separate legal entities from the U.S.-based ARI but are affiliated with ARI.
In January 2017, ARI announced Jim Brown as its CEO, succeeding Yaron Brook as its operational executive.
ARI runs a variety of programs, many of which are aimed at students. It sends free books to schools, sponsors student essay contests and campus clubs, and offers financial assistance to students applying to graduate school. It also has an online bookstore, offers internships for current and recently graduated college students, and provides speakers for public lectures and media appearances.
ARI organizes a week-long Objectivist Conference (OCON) each summer in a different city throughout the United States. OCON primarily consists of lectures, social events, and professional mentoring. Speakers have included ARI-affiliated Objectivists as well as like-minded intellectuals, such as Flemming Rose and Dave Rubin.
ARI also hosts a three-day Ayn Rand Student Conference (AynRandCon) each fall, aimed at college and graduate school students.
Objectivist Academic Center
The Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) is an educational program that conducts online classes on Objectivism and related fields. Entry to the program requires admission after application, which requires college transcripts and admission essays. OAC does not offer college credits and is rather intended as a supplement to a college education.
In recent years, the Ayn Rand Institute has made a concerted effort to promote Objectivism globally. Institutions affiliated with ARI in countries outside the United States are separate legal entities.
In October 2012, ARI helped establish the Ayn Rand Center Israel (ARCI) to promote Objectivism in Israel and the Middle East. Its current director is Boaz Arad. In 2016, ARCI launched the Atlas Award for the Best Israeli Start-up, presented annually at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Judges for the award include Yaron Brook and Shlomo Kalish.Moovit was the first recipient of the award in 2016, and Zebra Medical Vision won the award in 2017.
In April 2015, ARI helped establish the Ayn Rand Institute Europe to promote Objectivism in Europe. The current chairman of ARI Europe is Lars Seir Christensen, CEO and co-founder of Saxo Bank. In February 2017, ARI helped establish the Ayn Rand Center Japan. ARI has also helped establish Objectivist clubs at schools throughout the world, including in Mexico, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, India, and China.
ARI has also helped guide the independent Spain-based Objetivismo Internacional, which seeks to spread Objectivism in the Spanish-speaking world.
ARI promotes Objectivism, the philosophy developed by Ayn Rand. ARI sponsors writers and speakers who apply Objectivism to contemporary issues, including religion, politics, and art.
Since Objectivism advocates atheism, ARI promotes the separation of church and state, and its writers argue that the religious right poses a threat to individual rights. They have argued against displaying religious symbols, such as the Ten Commandments, in government facilities and against faith-based initiatives. ARI intellectuals argue that religion is incompatible with American ideals and opposes the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools.
ARI is strongly supportive of free speech and opposes all forms of censorship, including laws that ban obscenity and hate speech. In response to the Muhammad cartoons controversy, ARI started a Free Speech Campaign in 2006. Steve Simpson, director of legal studies at ARI, has argued that campaign finance is a free speech issue and that laws that limit it are thus a violation of the First Amendment. Accordingly, Simpson and ARI strongly supports Citizens United.
ARI has taken many controversial positions with respect to the Muslim world. They hold that the motivation for Islamic terrorism comes from their religiosity, not poverty or a reaction to Western policies. They have urged that the U.S. use overwhelming, retaliatory force to "end states who sponsor terrorism", using whatever means are necessary to end the threat. In his article "End States Who Sponsor Terrorism", which was published as a full page ad in The New York Times, Peikoff wrote, "The choice today is mass death in the United States or mass death in the terrorist nations. Our Commander-In-Chief must decide whether it is his duty to save Americans or the governments who conspire to kill them." Although some at ARI initially supported the invasion of Iraq, it has criticized how the Iraq War was handled. Since October 2, 2001, ARI has held that Iran should be the primary target in the war against "Islamic totalitarianism".
ARI is generally supportive of Israel. Of Zionism, Yaron Brook writes, "Zionism fused a valid concern – self-preservation amid a storm of hostility – with a toxic premise – ethnically based collectivism and religion."
ARI is highly critical of environmentalism and animal rights, arguing that they are destructive to human well-being. ARI is also highly critical of diversity and affirmative action programs, as well as multiculturalism, arguing that they are based on racist premises that ignore the commonality of a shared humanity.
ARI supports women's right to choose abortion, voluntary euthanasia, and assisted suicide.
ARI denounces neoconservatism in general. For example, C. Bradley Thompson wrote an article entitled "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism", which was later turned into the book, with Yaron Brook, Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea.
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