Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Paul Ryan, Randian? No, just another neocon

By Jason Brennan

Paul Ryan — possible future Vice President of the United States — calls Ayn Rand one of his principal inspirations. He once claimed (and later denied) that Atlas Shrugged was required reading for his staff. He even gives copies of Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, which is a touch ironic, since Rand was an ardent atheist.

Are we just one heart attack or gunshot away from an Ayn Rand presidency? No. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Paul Ryan’s voting record speaks loudly. He is no Randian libertarian. Rather, he is just another run-of-the-mill big government neoconservative. Ryan’s rise isn’t the ascent of Ayn Rand, but the return of George W. Bush.

Ayn Rand believed people should be free to anything they please, so long as they don’t trample on the rights of others. She advocated a minimal, night-watchman state. She believed a just government would provide protection, law courts to settle disputes, and nothing else. Rand didn’t advocate low taxes, but no taxes. She believed a just government would collect fees for services rendered.

Rand would regard our current government as an unjust, rights-violating, bloated monstrosity. It is a monster Paul Ryan helped create. Ryan may admire Ayn Rand. He may quote F. A. Hayek in interviews. Yet his voting record is right out of the neocon playbook.

Rand opposed government bailouts and subsidies. Yaron Brooks, director the Ayn Rand Institute, said the bailouts were “national socialism of the financial markets.” In contrast, Ryan voted for the bank bailouts. He broke with party leadership and the majority of his fellow republicans by voting for the auto bailouts. He supported TARP.

Rand famously opposed government welfare and social insurance. Ryan voted for Medicare Part D, which subsidizes prescription drugs for seniors. Thus, Ryan was instrumental in producing the largest expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

Ryan supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Watson Institute at Brown University estimates that these wars have already cost the federal government $3-4 trillion. These wars will be paid for by taxes, which Ayn Rand regarded as theft. Rand opposed having the US act as the world’s policeman.

Ryan has a reputation as a hardcore budget cutter, but the House Committee on the Budget says his budget plan would still allow the federal budget to grow at over 3% a year. If Ryan’s plan would balance the budget at all, it would do so only by 2040, when our children have grey hair. So much for a Randian small government.

Libertarians like Rand believe immigration restrictions expose the world’s poor to abuse and exploitation, and condemn them to poverty and death. (Rand herself may have been an illegal immigrant.) In contrast, Ryan voted against the Dream Act. He voted in favor of making the border more secure and of expanding the fence on the Mexican border.

Rand, an ardent opponent of totalitarianism, would have hated the Patriot Act. Ryan voted in favor of the Patriot Act and supports making it permanent. Rand would have opposed creating the Department of Homeland Security, which Ryan helped create.

Libertarians like Rand are famous for their “legalize everything” opposition to the War on Drugs. Paul Ryan is a drug warrior.

On social issues, Ryan’s Catholicism dominates his Randianism. Ryan calls himself an “unwavering foe of abortion rights” and co-sponsored a bill that would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. Ayn Rand said, “Abortion is a moral right — which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered.” She said that for many of the struggling poor, “pregnancy is a death sentence… [which would] condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child’s physical and financial needs.” She would say of Ryan what she said of Reagan, i.e., that Ryan threatens to “to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.”

Paul Ryan votes like a neoconservative, not a Randian. Neoconservatives, such as George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, talk the small government talk but walk the large government walk. They charge the US government with exporting democracy and the American way of life to the rest of the world. They charge the government with guarding the moral and sexual virtue of citizens. They want government to champion and support big business.

If you want to be scared by Paul Ryan, be scared of what he does, not what he says.

Jason Brennan is Assistant Professor of Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University. He is the author of Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2012), The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press, 2012), and co-author of A Brief History of Liberty (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). He blogs at BleedingHeartLibertarians.com.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only law and politics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
View more about this book on the

Image credit: Atlas Shrugged, first edition, book cover. Copyright Random House. Used to illustrate an article concerning the book in question. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. […] I comment on the OUP press blog here. […]

  2. James K.


    Just a quick note that you should update your e-mail on your personal page! I tried sending you a note thanking you for your work at BHL and everywhere else but your Brown e-mail address was invalid.

    Also, great post here. The attempts to link Paul Ryan to libertarianism over the last couple weeks have been relentless and intellectually dishonest. Work like this helps set the record straight. Ryan is no libertarian.

  3. […] of my favorite political philosophers, Jason Brennan, writes a very clear argument for why Paul Ryan should not be considered, as I saw in the comment thread on a CNN post earlier […]

  4. Paul

    Given how much Rand hated libertarians, I shudder to imagine what a “Randian libertarian” would be…

  5. […] Paul Ryan is a disciple of Ayn Rand. He credits the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as the person most responsible for inspiring him to get into politics. Rand’s celebration of heroic entrepreneurs and demonization of government and bureaucrats finds expression today in the Republican elevation of “job creators” as our indispensable driving economic force, people who must be fed a steady diet of tax cuts to be productive. […]

  6. R-Daniel-J

    come on , Ayn Rand herself was a neocon . She’s what we call an infiltrator . Shes one of those people within conservatism who claim to oppose neoconservatism and support paleo conservatives , but its a fraud . She is a neocon who opposes neoconservatism , but only because its NOT NEOCONSERVATIVE ENOUGH ! The purpose of the Randians is to oppose Neoconservatism and pretend to support Paleoconservatism , to trick the paleocons into following them . From there , The Randians push Neoconservatism further and further away from Paleo-conservatism , and make it more and more tyrannical . You know who were also basically no different than the Randians ? The Trotskyites . The Trotskyites saw the nonsense that Nixon and his minions were doing – how they were turning true conservatism into faux , big government conversatism . And so they opposed this fake conservatism , and pretended to support true conservatism . But their opposition to Nixon wanst that he was too Neocon . He was not neocon enough . So the Trotskyites duped the libertarians and paleocons into supporting them , and opposed Nixonian conservatism only to make a form even worse . Enter Reagan and Bush , the Trotskyite puppets .
    Randians will only ” Solve the Bush problem ” in the same way Trotskyites ” solved the nixon problem ” by installing Reagan and Bush . Problem – Reaction – Solution . Typical Elitist/Illuminati hegelian mindgame . Randians only oppose neocons to support an even worse form of Neocons . Hey , what can you expect from Atheistic , Apathetic people who care about themselves and their own self gratification and nothing about others and the right thing ? Its no different then the new agers and luciferians . ” Me , me , me all the time , no right thing , no morality , its all about me and my self gratification ” . Absolutely disgusting .

  7. R-Daniel-J

    Ryan is a Randian . But Rand is no libertarian . So neither is Ryan .

Comments are closed.