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Tuesday
Aug142012

Paul Ryan's Beliefs: Will Voters Believe in "Train Up a Child" or Redemption? 

Guest post by Gary Moore, Founder, The Financial Seminary 

Presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has just announced his running mate will be Congressman Paul Ryan. Of course, many religious conservatives will now attempt to sanctify Ryan's well-known economic views while many religious progressives will attempt to demonize them. They will both have theological justification.

Perhaps like America itself, Mr. Ryan is a complicated, some might say conflicted, individual. He is a Roman Catholic. But he is also one of the most visible disciples of atheistic philosopher Ayn Rand, who literally aspired to be remembered as history's greatest enemy of religion, and particularly Christianity. His association with Rand is so strong, the progressive New Yorker magazine's website announced the appointment with the headline, "Ayn Rand Joins The Ticket." The Financial Times said the election is now "a clear choice between Franklin Roosevelt and Ayn Rand." Both had reason to do so.

Mr. Ryan has said Rand was the reason he first entered public service. He has also said that if he "had to credit one thinker, one person, it would by Ayn Rand." He added, "I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism." Ryan has long had his staff read Rand's opus Atlas Shrugged, which the Library of Congress has deemed second in influence only to the Bible. Ryan has even given copies as Christmas presents. That's more than a bit conflicted. Due to Christianity's ethic of "neighbor as self," Rand judged our faith to be incompatible with capitalism. She taught capitalism is based on "the virtue of selfishness," the title of one of her books. She therefore said she would shape capitalism into a secular, materialistic religion for our nation's post-Christian elites who were maturing during the sixties and seventies. Those elites are now running Wall Street and Washington and most of us on Main Street simply can't understand what they are thinking.  

Socially and politically conservative Christians aren't always aware that Rand was actually only the last in a long line of far right-wing economic philosophers from Ludwig von Mises to Milton Friedman who rejected Christian ethics. Dr. Friedman famously argued the only social responsibility of a corporation is to make money for shareholders. Those philosophers were essentially utilitarian, willing to accept capitalism might hurt the marginal as it enriched even more. That and Rand's rejection of charity as a moral duty combined to essentially negate the traditional teaching that the needy were reflections of the divine face of Christ. Rand's teachings and life also argued for abortion rights, open marriage and the use of street drugs, which many libertarians advocate but most conservative Christians resist. 

For such reasons, I have written numerous books and articles questioning Rand's philosophies during the past twenty years. They include a feature article in Christianity Today (September 2010). You can read more of my writings about Rand at www.financialseminary.org. In addition, you should know that I was a life-long member of the GOP before re-registering as an independent due to Rand's radicalizing influence on the GOP, and its Tea Party wing in particular. That's critical as she herself commanded her disciples to be "radicals for capitalism." Another irony of life in the GOP was that Jack Kemp once invited me to join the board of advisors of his think-tank Empower America. That was roughly the same time a young Mr. Ryan was a staffer there. Yet the  reason Jack invited me was that I had written a book that contrasted Rand's views with the views of Christianity. I had even coined the phrase "stewardism" to differentiate her approach from my understanding of political-economy within a Judeo-Christian framework.

Still, despite her radical worldview and absolutist teachings, I expect Rand's ghost will further fog this election, as well as our faith. My previous article for Christianity Today suggested too many of the religious right have confused Rand's teachings with the teaching of Christ. Diametrically opposed though they are, Glenn Beck also promoted both approaches until recently learning they are incompatible. So progressives' focus on Ryan's devotion to both Rand and Christ may encourage many to finally look to the Bible to clarify our thinking. Too many of both progressive and conservative Christians will then quote it in the typically self-rationalizing ways that partisan politics encourages. The reason is the Bible assures us that when we "train up a child," he or she will remain faithful to what they have been taught. Yet it also assures us that redemption is possible and people can change. Those two teachings must be held in tension when considering Mr. Ryan and his financial plan for your future. As with most politicians, and the rest of us, he seems to be a person whose views are "growing." So for what it's worth, this political science graduate turned Wall Street financier who has spent the past twenty years comparing Christ and Rand believes Mr. Ryan and voters need to answer three questions before November.

The first question is, "How would you regulate Wall Street?" That's more important than ever as while Governor Romney has shown tendencies for political moderation, he's also a product of the Street. His selection of Ryan might signal to Wall Street financiers, who channel lots of time, talent and particularly money to Washington, that they have less to worry about from the current backlash towards "the 1%" than many had assumed. 

The reason is The Economist magazine has called Rand "the heroine of America's libertarian right." Libertarians differ from conservatives in that conservatives aspire for government that is limited by our traditional ethic of "neighbor as self" and traditional virtues such as prudence, patience and charity. Most libertarians however demand a new age of revolution and reducing government until it can be drowned in their bathtubs, to use the imagery of anti-taxer Grover Norquist. He has had GOP congressmen sign pledges of no new taxes regardless of how many wars we must finance, how many retired boomers need health care, and how much money the SEC needs to regulate a Wall Street that too often believes greed is good.     

Yet The Economist also explained that Rand's worldview found economic expression in Washington in what many now call Reaganomics, a time of significant deregulation, particularly of Wall Street. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, was one of Rand's very closest disciples. Not only was he highly instrumental in deregulating Wall Street's sub-prime mortgage brokers last decade, he was equally instrumental in deregulating the savings and loan industry a couple decades ago. Many economists believe both resulted in short-term economic booms, particularly in the job creating building sector, but longer-term busts. Greenspan himself testified before Congress that "the flaw," as it's now called by many, in his worldview was in believing the only regulation businesspeople need is economic self-interest. That refers to Rand's teaching that "the productive" are so naturally good, they are humanity's saviors. Not exactly John Calvin's "total depravity" of the unredeemed human heart.     

The second question for Mr. Ryan is, "What is the proper role of government toward the needy?" Rand's most famous statement on that subject might be found in The Virtue of Selfishness. It says we can help our neighbors in emergency situations like shipwrecks, as long as we are not endangering ourselves, but that does not mean we have any responsibilities for anyone when back on shore. Rand practiced charity toward no one. Obviously, that strikes at the heart of the economic teachings of Moses, who we should remember was both government and prophet in the theocracy of his time. As the intellectual leader of the GOP's effort to roll back governmental care for the poor, Mr. Ryan has often been criticized by Catholic leaders who teach God's "preferential option for the poor." Ninety faculty members of Georgetown University have written a letter to Mr. Ryan complaining his budget proposal was more reflective of Rand than Christ. Another church leader tried to offer the congressman a Bible in which the teachings of Moses and Jesus concerning the poor had been highlighted. The congressman declined the gift.  

The third question for Christian voters is therefore, "What, if anything, do those biblical teachings mean for our capitalist culture?" Moses clearly made it Law to round the corners of the fields, leave the second harvest in the vineyards, bring the full tithes to the storehouse for the needy, and so on. Of course, many conservative Christians believe that Law died with Christ. Yet Christ himself said that Law would endure forever. After forty years of contemplation, I believe this apparent contradiction is at the very heart of the tension between the idealism of religion and the pragmatism of politics. The Moses who led God's children out of Egypt clearly understood political freedom to be necessary to the abundant life. Yet it's been estimated by even evangelical theologians that Moses mandated 25% of a person's annual gain be shared with society. That's about the level of total taxes in America today. Yet Moses did not have to build interstate highways, explore space, maintain an army the size of America's, and so on.

In essence, Christ freed his disciples from the Law by teaching us to live in a state of grace. So Saint Paul said we are to give as our loving hearts dictate. Yet neither Christ nor Saint Paul intended to do away with the law, or even taxes to Caesar (Romans 13). Neither aspired to free non-believers to live in a state of selfishness. They understood the "liberty" often advocated by modern libertarians unaccompanied by traditional morality can quickly become the near anarchy we've witnessed in both Washington and on Wall Street lately, as well as result in the concentration of wealth that threatens our land.  

As Saint Paul explained the paradox, we can only live in freedom from the external constraints of government when we live as slaves to Christ's love for Virtue and neighbor as self. It's possible the still young congressman has matured in his faith until he has nuanced that paradox of Christianity. He has recently renounced the atheism of Rand and her atheistic teachings. Yet it should be noted that he did so only after progressives made a political issue of his conflicted dedication to both Rand and Christ.

Still, we should keep all the political propaganda, and particularly its misuse of religion, in perspective. Perhaps our rich young ruler of a nation also wants to keep its wealth and religion in separate compartments, even if it still causes us to go away sad. Perhaps it is indeed true that a competent atheist is better than an incompetent Christian, as nice as a competent Christian would be. But my studies and experiences with politics have never suggested America's salvation will be assured by a politician. With very rare exceptions like Moses, David and perhaps Lincoln, politicians usually just reflect the moral condition of the electorate, not shape it. It usually takes a far higher power than politics to shape loving hearts and holistic minds.       

****

Gary Moore is the founder of The Financial Seminary and has written six books on the morality of political economy. His latest is Look Up America! Financial Insights for Tea Partiers Looking Right, Occupiers Looking Left, and All Americans Looking at a Lower Standard of Living for Their Children

As always, your thoughts, questions comments and rebuttals are welcome in the comments below.

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Reader Comments (6)

I would respectfully suggest that, by claiming "Reaganomics" and Alan Greenspan to be Randian, the author doesn't know what he is talking about.

I'm no disciple of Rand but the claim that a person in charge of the Federal Reserve, an anathema to someone like Rand, means that either Greenspan was really confused or this author is really confused.

As for Reagan, running up huge deficits in his race to beat the Soviets would also be crazy to a libertarian.

I would also suggest that the problem wasn't deregulation, as if the solution is more governmental regulation of Wall Street, but regulation that was designed to be ineffective because the power players in Washington profited just as much as Wall Street did. It is the old fox and the hen house problem.

I agree this, like most all issues in society, comes back to human sin. The problem is the notion some have that a government made up of sinful people can somehow be unbiased, dispassionate and not self-seeking in their conduct.

August 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave

I would also like to add that there is a wide range of views held by people who claim the title of libertarian. Rand isn't the only voice of the movement. There are many Christian libertarians, such as myself, who reject Rand's "Virtues of Selfishness," while still recognizing that government is one of the most bloated, inefficient vehicles to perform almost any task.

Not that government should be abolished, I'm not an anarchist, but our pendulum has certainly swung to an extreme in governmental control. We need more balance.

August 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Dave, thanks for your comments. The friendship between Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan, as well as her influence on him, is well documented. See a summary here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Greenspan#Objectivism

August 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Rick, thanks for the link, I had forgotten about that association.

I still think that by the time he was made Fed chairman, Greenspan had functionally abandoned objectivism, even if he may have still gave it some intellectual weight.

August 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Dave:

Rand was in the front row of the White House when Greenspan was sworn in. So he was a disciple. But Rand didn't want to be a libertarian, or anything recognized, as she thought she was something new, rather than another disciple of Nietzsche, which she was though she later denied knowing him. (Ryan and Rand?) She detested Reagan as he welcomed the religous right into his big tent. And libertarians rejected Greenspan after he went to Washington, although as a Trojan Horse, and after he told the congress that the flaw in his thinkihng was self-interest would adequately regulate Wall Street.

I have friends who believe they are Christian libertarians. But after studying the Law of Moses, and Jesus saying every detail would endure for all eternity, I can't square the school with traditional Christianity. I'm not saying you aren't Christian. I'm just saying you have to take a lot of liberties with the Bible, which isn't conservative, but closer to Rand wanting people to be "radicals for capitalism." Pragmatically, I appreciate your balancing the Marxists, including the Christian Marxists, on the left. But believing two wrongs make a right may be the greatest act of relativism in conservative thought. To be theologically sound, I believe we need a third way similar to what Adam Smith taught. For lack of such a vision, our people may yet perish, sandwiched between two atheistic worldviews.

August 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGary Moore

Gary,

Thanks for commenting! Whether Rand was in the front or not does not make Greenspan's actions any more Randian or libertarian.

I'm curious as to why you believe one can't be Christian and libertarian at the same time. It sounds as though you are conflating Randian objectivism with libertarianism. Though they do share some commonalities, they are not the same. As in any other party there are many variations in beliefs that fall under the libertarian umbrella.

As for me I am not a Randian for the same reason that I am not a libertarian anarchist; they don't match up with the Bible. If we were to be super precise in our definitions I, like most people I know who self-identify as libertarian, are actually more in the classical liberal mold. A true belief in a limited gov't (as opposed to the lip-service paid by modern "conservatives"), including limited social services and a limited military.

August 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave

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