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Atlas Shrugged away The Fountainhead Anthem

by on October 26, 2012

President Obama has had some choice words recently to describe Paul Ryan, the vice-presidential running-mate of shape-shifting Mitt Romney.  There is no doubt that Paul Ryan’s career and life have been influenced by Ayn Rand, current posthumous darling of the Tea Party Radicals; he’ll tell you so himself.  So, about Ryan’s choice of influences, Obama said

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we’re considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that’s a pretty narrow vision. It’s not one that, I think, describes what’s best in America. Unfortunately, it does seem as if sometimes that vision of a “you’re on your own” society has consumed a big chunk of the Republican Party.

The exact question President Obama was asked was “What do you think Paul Ryan’s obsession with her work would mean if he were vice president?”  Obama implies a couple of things: (1) That Paul Ryan has not grown up, and (2) That we pick up Ayn Rand because we feel misunderstood.  If growing up is what Obama describes it as (“we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else [is a world in which we are getting older but not growing up]), in which we’re considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity”) is correct, then Paul Ryan has not grown up, by his own happy admissions.

But do we pick up Ayn Rand necessarily because we feel misunderstood?  Well, personally, having read Atlas Shrugged, I have to say that’s not true.  Of course, being 17 or 18, as the president mentions, or being in that general age range, feeling misunderstood might be a natural feeling for people; picking up Ayn Rand is not  necessarily a consequence of those feelings.  No, I picked up Atlas Shrugged because it is a rightly considered a classic fictional – fiction! – novel.

Atlas Shrugged is a great read, and provides some insight into an America I don’t think much about (mid-20th Century manufacturing in America).  There’s arguable one long chapter toward the end that could be considered political doctrine; the rest is pure novel.

Crime and Punishment is a great read too, though.  So is the whole A Song of Ice and Fire series (also known as Game of Thrones).  I wouldn’t use either of those to create a serious political doctrine.

The fact that Paul Ryan is running for office – for Vice-Presidency! (and to succeed the president should disaster ever happen) – happily citing a work of fiction that proclaims selfishness as virtuous to be his greatest influence is a sad state of affairs.

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