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Ayn Rand’s influence on the GOP

David Seaton/Flickr/Creative Commons
David Seaton/Flickr/Creative Commons

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In 2005, Paul Ryan credited novelist Ayn Rand on his personal philosophy in politics. “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,” said Ryan, during a speech to the Atlas Society, an organization of Rand devotees. Ryan even required his staffers and interns to read her novels.

University of Virginia Assistant Professor Jennifer Burns, author of “Ayn Rand biography, Goddess of the Market,” says that Ryan’s reaction to reading Rand’s books, such as “Atlas Shrugged,” is a common one.

“For many people there is no turning back. They read Ayn Rand, their view and philosophy on life is set. And many of them, like Ryan, are really motivated to go into politics and to try to change the world, to bring it more in line with that depicted in Rand’s novels,” said Burns.

Though Ryan has distanced himself in recent years from her controversial philosophy, Rand’s ideals of laissez-faire capitalism and self-interest still remain a prominent figure in conservative circles.

“The fact that she wrote fiction is one of the reasons we’re still talking about her today. She’s a fairly engaging writer...millions of people have been really drawn in by these books. In a way that they’re not drawn in by a dry text on political philosophy or something that’s maybe more learned, more academic. And so again she creates that ideal that really inspires people,” Burns added.

Jack Kemp, a former senator and VP nominee in ’96, who was Ryan’s political mentor, also had said to be influenced by Rand. Former Senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater wrote a letter to Rand back in 1960, thanking her for defending conservative positions in an interview she had with Mike Wallace. And former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was also a close friend and admirer of Rand.

One of the more controversial aspects of Rand’s philosophy, for the conservative movement, is her pro-choice and atheist belief system. This has caused current Republicans, like Ryan, to distance themselves from her after initial fervor. Burns notes that while the current conservative platform is pick and choose, Rand herself was very anti pick and choose.


Why are Republicans drawn to Ayn Rand’s work?


Jennifer Burns, author of Ayn Rand biography, "Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right," and professor at Stanford University