I must confess that I, too, was smitten with author Ayn Rand when I was in high school. “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” were mind-blowing reads. I entered an essay in a competition held by the Ayn Rand Institute.
In “The Fountainhead,” an architect named Howard Roark refuses to compromise when it comes to his work. He believes buildings should be designed to suit its function and location, although the rest of the world wanted buildings that stuck to historic conventions. “Atlas Shrugged” was about the railroad industry and the failure of collectivism, or a world that values the wisdom of the masses over the individual.
“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,” Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan said in a 2005 speech, according to this AP story.
If Rand were still alive, she would have hated crowdsourcing, but worshiped Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Her philosophy was that if everyone in society pursues their self-interests, society will benefit from the genius of individuals. Check out this News & Observer story about the role Rand has played as a hero to conservatives.
This leaves little room for people to take care of others. Rand would have idolized the early Bill Gates who co-founded Microsoft, but probably abhorred the one who founded the Gates Foundation.
Rand’s objectivism, pure freedom appealed to me because as a 14 year old, I assumed the world was a level playing field. The reality is that institutional barriers exist that keep individuals from reaching their full potential. Howard Roark was never denied a job or housing because he wore a turban.
Rand is the opposite of compassionate conservatism, which is what the Republican party needs now after the firestorm over Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape.”
I can’t fault Paul Ryan for going through a Rand phase. Many people did. Most of them outgrew it when they got real. Ryan hasn’t and it’s troubling. If I had never let go of my 14 year old beliefs, I would still be listening to Poison and Skid Row. That’s terrifying.