Here’s What Paul Ryan’s Latest Answer About Ayn Rand Really Means

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Paul Ryan has been denying the influence of Ayn Rand upon his public philosophy for a good four years now, and he has settled upon a handful of well-worn talking points. The New York Times Magazine asks Ryan again:

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Q: I always understood you as being an Ayn Rand aficionado. But you distanced yourself from her writing during the campaign. What’s your real view of her?

A: No, I wasn’t distancing. I adored her novels when I was young, and in many ways they gave me an interest in economics. But as a devout, practicing Catholic, I completely reject the philosophy of objectivism.

This answer does not mean quite what it sounds like.

Begin with the last part: “as a devout, practicing Catholic, I completely reject the philosophy of objectivism.” It is true that Ryan is not and never has been an objectivist. Very few Ayn Rand devotees are objectivists. Objectivism is the totalistic philosophy created by Rand and disseminated by the cult that grew around her. It is a totalistic philosophy that stretches into theology, culture, science, sex, and so on. Rand’s views on many of these topics were completely bizarre. Her views on religion — she utterly rejected God and considered Christianity the worship of losers — placed a barrier between her and mainstream conservatives.

Rand’s influence has largely worked through her philosophy of capitalism, which has left a deep imprint on the American right, even while it has rejected most of her other beliefs. When Ryan denies being an objectivist, he is denying an accusation nobody has ever made.

Ryan concedes the economic influence, but plays it down: “I adored her novels when I was young, and in many ways they gave me an interest in economics.” What does he mean when he says “when I was young”? Ryan was elected to Congress at the age of 28. At the age of 29, he listed Atlas Shrugged as one of the books he rereads most often. At the age of 33, he told a reporter he still gives out copies of the tome and tries to make his interns read it. At the age of 35, he appeared at a society of Rand devotees and professed that Rand’s philosophy has motivated his entire career. At the age of 39, he described Rand as the prophet of the Obama era.

So, yes, it is literally true that Ryan did all these things “when [he] was young.” He’s still young.