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A Tragic Shortage of Truth

Mr. Macintosh says to Charlie in one of my favorite moments of The West Wing, “If they’re shooting at you, you must be doing something right.”

Paul Ryan must be doing something really, really right if the vitriol coming from the fellas at Patrol are any indication.

David Sessions recent shot at Ryan claims that Randian philosophy is his “publicly admitted economic worldview” and dubiously associates Ryan with the “religious right” in an attempt to brand both Republicans and religious conservatives as enemies of the weak. I’m less interested in the attempts of a few disgruntled “post-evangelicals” to discredit a serious national leader like Ryan by perpetuating a lie than I am in the increasing number of blogs and pieces in (formerly?) mainstream media outlets like Newsweek attempting to label anyone who ever read Rand as a sadistic enemy of the weak.

Rand has enjoyed a resurgence of interest, perhaps due to the same factors that have inspired near ubiquitous frustration with America’s current pattern of government spending. Attend a “Tea Party” event and you are likely to see images of Rand or the famous phrase “Who is John Galt?” on posters and t-shirts. My awareness of Rand came to a head last fall at a dinner with AEI president Arthur Brooks, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and the administration of Wheaton College when the topic of conversation quickly turned to The Fountainhead. I realized it was time I read Atlas Shrugged for myself.

My friend Kate loaned me a copy, noting sincerely “This is my all-time favorite book.”

I was surprised by her devotion. Kate runs a small marketing/design firm whose clientele includes primarily ministries and non-profit organizations. She edits a magazine dedicated to sustainable development in urban contexts and operates a craft business modeled after 10,000 Villages. Kate has a nose ring and listens to Fleet Foxes. She is not a birther.

When I told her that she didn’t strike me as a typical “Randian” Kate sighed and said, “Well it’s not all good, but so much of it is true.”

I’ve been reading the book to and from work on the train every day and every other free moment I can find. Atlas Shrugged, written more than a half-century ago, reads like a Michael Lewis account of near-future events. It’s a story of a few heroes fighting for significance and purpose amidst a culture whose spirit  has been neutered by the pursuit of esoteric platitudes (i.e. “social justice”). Rand’s antagonists are government officials, unions, scholars, and business leaders who have fail to recognize that the incremental encroachments of the state have resulted in near-complete socialism.

There are legitimate criticisms of Rand. Her philosophy deifies personal accomplishment and makes a virtue of selfishness and greed. Because of this, Rand has done a disservice to capitalism.  We know that capitalism functions best when tempered by Christian social ethics and that one of the most important virtues of the system is not the creation of wealth for the sake of wealth, but for the deeply significant ends wealth enables, including first and foremost in my mind altruism and vocation. After all, we have data that prove  the most generous servants of the poor and dedicated civic leaders are politically conservative Christians.

As with all things, readers of Rand should approach the book with a critical, discerning eye ready to distinguish what is good from what is not. David Sessions and others on the far-left fringes find her work objectionable not because they are concerned that her philosophy will become the modus operandi for a critical mass of Americans, but because it is a prescient fable of the dangers of their preferred approach to policy: centrist social engineering.

They attack Paul Ryan and others who have said positive things about Rand as if readers are incapable of distilling the meritorious aspects of her work from the contemptible. The ridiculousness of  a syllogism that  posits that because Ryan reads Rand his politics must be an embrace of her philosophical catalog should be apparent to anyone with an ounce of common sense. Ah, but we’re talking about the left, which has long been driven by a devotion to so-called pluralism that makes no room for ideas that are deemed unacceptable. Such hypocrisy is damnable, but it’s nothing compared to the pain and suffering that inevitably follows the implementation of anti-liberty political philosophies in public policy.