Ari Armstrong has a nice blog piece regarding Paul Ryan, highly recommended. In addition to Ari’s points, I would humbly add that in addition to those who were touched by Ayn Rand, but are not avowed Objectivists, you could have added as texture and contrast, for example, George H. Smith.
Smith, in A:TCAG, wrote probably one of the best refutations of theism on record remarking succinctly, “If a person wishes to continue believing in a god, that is his prerogative, but he can no longer excuse his belief in the name of reason and moral necessity.” (George H. Smith Atheism: The Case Against God)
When Smith was in college, he organized and participated in an Objectivist group and by his own account was very much influenced by Ms Rand’s ideas. Yet, after much intellectual energy he left the ranks of card-carrying Objectivists and has a somewhat differing, albeit reverent to Rand, world-view. My point in highlighting Smith is that Ayn Rand’s effect runs across a broad spectrum from so-called Progressives such as Ari’s example of Hillary Clinton, to powerful libertarian thinkers such as Smith (who just happens to be atheistic). I certainly do not presume to speak for Mr. Smith, but this is my clear impression of him from his writings and speaking.
Ari also noted that “If people wish to understand Rand’s ideas, they should read her works.” I would offer that reading Ayn Rand’s works is simply not enough. To fully understand her brilliantly developed ideas one needs to study, not just read, her fiction and non-fiction. Especially so if one runs headlong into her ideas as an adult after decades of indoctrination into and participation in religion.
My take on Paul Ryan in this regard is that he, like many others, simply read her fiction, admired the individualistic and/or capitalistic themes, but when faced with the fact she was an unapologetic atheist it placed them precisely in a contradiction. A contradiction he (and others) likely could not deal with honestly in their own minds – let alone daily life. Almost as if they read Atlas up to Galt’s speech, nodding in agreement virtually every page of the way, and when he boldly and honestly dealt with original sin and sacrifice simply had a mental breakdown (which says far more about the power of mystic indoctrination of children, and the social pressure of conformity, than it does the ideas of Ms Rand). Clearly, her ideas run counter to much of what Ryan professes to be his epistemology (that of Thomas Aquinas). And so he has chosen, like many others, evasion to deal with it; putting the evasion into effect by making public excuses for his Rand references such as “when I was young I liked it, but then grew up,” or some other, similar, tired and pathetic rationalization. Yet, neither he nor anyone else has ever demonstrated her to be erroneous regarding theism. After all, the burden of proof is on the asserter; Thomas’ quinque viae have all been roundly and thoroughly discredited.
What such comments clearly imply is that Rand struck a profound chord of truth, so much so that Ryan, Hillary Clinton, and others actually admit that it made a big impression upon them. Ryan, who was raised as and still practices Catholicism, refuses to even engage in the idea of the patent irrationality of his mysticism, and continues to engage in self-delusion and denial so as to not have to think it all through anew – a process which would offend either friends, family, or (God help him) party… As a consequence, he utters and promotes (as do virtually all Republicans) inane ideas premised upon the contradiction. The preeminent example being that Christianity and capitalism are congruent when in fact they are profoundly discordant. George W. Bush operated under the same M.O., and it then dovetails into public policy.
To suggest, as Ryan-and others-have, that one read Rand as a young adult, or college student, and then discarded her philosophy because they “grew up” thereby, in effect, reverting and remaining a religious or social mystic is rather bizarre. If one was to actually grow up, intellectually, they would cast away the indoctrination and brain washing they received in Sunday school as a child (and government school as a charge of the state) and boldly enter the real world of “profit and matter.” Were they to actually grow up, they would take the time to honestly and deeply study Ms Rand’s philosophy so as to discover what it actually was that piqued their interest, and made that impression upon them. The journey into the real world of profit and matter is the path that Ayn Rand provides. Clearly, Paul Ryan never did this fully. He apparently walked right down that path to the door of reality and simply would not walk in (he was told from childhood by presumptuous mystics whom he perceives as believable that a boogieman lived behind it). As a result Paul Ryan was left as a walking-talking contradiction.