POV: Man’s Rights; The Nature of Government
by Ayn Rand | 1963
The Immigration Debate
by The Editors | April 17, 2017
Charlie Hebdo Two Years Later: Will America Continue to Protect Free Speech?
by Steve Simpson | January 07, 2017
Free Speech Is a Right, Not a Political Weapon
by Steve Simpson | December 06, 2016
One Small Step for Dictatorship: The Significance of Donald Trump’s Election
by Onkar Ghate | November 17, 2016
Overturning Citizens United Would Be a Disaster for Free Speech
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New Book: Defending Free Speech
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Defending Free Speech
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How U.S. Attorneys General Are Like Chinese Censors
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Standing up for Free Speech
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Is the First Amendment Enough?
by Steve Simpson | March 22, 2016
Free Speech Under Siege
by Steve Simpson | March 25, 2015
Freedom of Speech or Tyranny of Silence?
by The Editors | January 21, 2015
Free Speech and the Battle for Western Culture
by Yaron Brook | January 21, 2015
Freedom of Speech: We Will Not Cower
by Onkar Ghate | January 07, 2015
Gutting the First Amendment
by Steve Simpson | July 17, 2014
The Myth about Ayn Rand and Social Security
by Onkar Ghate | June 19, 2014
The Campaign Finance Monster That Refuses to Die
by Steve Simpson | June 11, 2014
The “End the Debt Draft” Campaign
by Don Watkins | March 18, 2014
End the debt draft
by Don Watkins | March 13, 2014
Abortion Rights Are Pro-life
by Leonard Peikoff | January 23, 2013
A Liberal Ayn Rand?
by Onkar Ghate | November 02, 2012
Ryan, Rand and Rights
by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012
Repairing Lochner’s Reputation: An Adventure In Historical Revisionism
by Tom Bowden | Fall 2011
Why Should Business Leaders Care about Intellectual Property? — Ayn Rand’s Radical Argument
by Adam Mossoff | November 30, 2010
Elena Kagan: Could She Defend the Constitution’s Purpose?
by Tom Bowden | July 20, 2010
Capitalism: Who Needs It — Ayn Rand and the American System
by Yaron Brook | June 09, 2010
Were the Founding Fathers Media Socialists?
by Don Watkins | March 01, 2010
Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution
by Tom Bowden | Summer 2009
Nationalization Is Theft
by Tom Bowden | November 07, 2008
Supreme Disappointments
by Tom Bowden | November 03, 2008
Deep-Six the Law of the Sea
by Tom Bowden | November 20, 2007
After Ten Years, States Still Resist Assisted Suicide
by Tom Bowden | November 02, 2007
No Right to “Free” Health Care
by Onkar Ghate | June 11, 2007
The Rise and Fall of Property Rights in America
by Adam Mossoff | May 16, 2007
Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons, a Panel Discussion
by Yaron Brook | April 11, 2006
The Fear to Speak Comes to America’s Shores
by Onkar Ghate | April 04, 2006
The Twilight of Freedom of Speech
by Onkar Ghate | February 21, 2006
The Cartoon Jihad: Free Speech in the Balance
by Christian Beenfeldt | February 10, 2006
The Faith-Based Attack on Rational Government
by Tom Bowden | June 27, 2005
Supreme Court Should Uphold Rights, Not Majority Sentiment in Ten Commandments Cases
by Tom Bowden | February 23, 2005
Campaign Finance Reform Attacks Victims of Corruption
by Onkar Ghate | December 26, 2003
Thought Control
by Onkar Ghate | April 22, 2003
A Supreme Court Overview
by Tom Bowden | January 01, 2000
Blacklists Are Not Censorship
by Tom Bowden | March 23, 1999
Health Care Is Not a Right
by Leonard Peikoff | December 11, 1993
The Age of Mediocrity
by Ayn Rand | April 26, 1981
Censorship: Local and Express
by Ayn Rand | October 21, 1973
A Nation’s Unity
by Ayn Rand | October 22, 1972
Of Living Death
by Ayn Rand | December 08, 1968
The Wreckage of the Consensus
by Ayn Rand | April 16, 1967
by Ayn Rand | September 1963


Government And Business in Voice for Reason
Government & BusinessIndividual Rights

Ryan, Rand and Rights

by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012 | The Daily Caller

Whether he likes it or not, Paul Ryan’s worldview is going to be defined in large part by its distance from philosopher Ayn Rand’s. Ryan is on record as praising Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” and her moral defense of capitalism. He’s also on record as rejecting Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism.

So, where does Ryan sit in relation to Rand?

There are signs that Rand influenced Ryan’s views on individual rights. “If one wishes to advocate a free society — that is, capitalism,” Rand wrote half a century ago, “one must realize that its indispensable foundation is the principle of individual rights. If one wishes to uphold individual rights, one must realize that capitalism is the only system that can uphold and protect them. And if one wishes to gauge the relationship of freedom to the goals of today’s intellectuals, one may gauge it by the fact that the concept of individual rights is evaded, distorted, perverted and seldom discussed, most conspicuously seldom by the so-called ‘conservatives.’”

Paul Ryan is one of the few conservatives who does speak regularly — and meaningfully — about individual rights. In a speech delivered in June, Ryan said that this election would come down to a choice between two views of rights, and their differing implications for the welfare state: the view that rights “come to us naturally before government, they are ours automatically — or this new idea, the progressive theory of government-granted rights. … It’s an opportunity society versus welfare state.”

But don’t be too quick to leap from these broad proclamations to the conclusion that Ryan is an avowed Randian on rights. Even if we leave aside Ryan’s Catholic dogma about souls and embryos, which Rand completely rejected, and focus only on the economic issues for which Ryan is most known, the differences remain stark.

According to Rand, rights are moral principles that are designed to restrain society from interfering with an individual’s moral action. Morality helps an individual decide what he ought to do — rights tell society not to stop him from doing what he ought to do. Since morality, in Rand’s egoistic conception, tells an individual he should support his own life, act on his own independent judgment, produce the wealth he needs to survive, and seek out his own happiness, then a political system should enshrine the individual’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

These rights, Rand stressed, are rights to action — not to a physical object. Individuals have a right to earn property and use it as they see fit. If a thief (or an IRS agent) takes their money, their right to property has been violated. But no one can have a right to be provided with property at someone else’s expense. “If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor.”
Think of what this implies for the entitlement state, a subject near to Ryan’s heart.

Rand saw entitlements as a violation of individual rights on a massive scale. This is why she opposed Social Security when FDR enacted it in the 1930s, why she rejected Medicare when Johnson proposed it in the 1960s and why she held that the whole entitlement state should be phased out and ultimately abolished.

For Rand, the great achievement of America’s founding was to create a society based on rights, in which peaceful, voluntary coexistence among men was possible. People were free to deal with one another on mutually agreeable terms, or else go their own way. The entitlement state blasted that peaceful coexistence, turning politics into a mad scramble by warring pressure groups for other people’s money.

Ryan’s goal, by contrast, is not to end the entitlement state but to save it. His budget reflects that view: it preserves Medicare, albeit in a less costly form, and it actually increases Social Security spending, from 4.75 percent of GDP to 6 percent, according to the CBO. Although Ryan regularly invokes individual rights, he does not stand by them consistently. Not even on economic issues, where he is best.

For anyone who believes in limited government, it is a positive sign that a leading politician talks seriously about individual rights, and this clearly is due in part to Rand’s influence. But to take rights seriously, as Rand advised? That will require a much more principled agenda.

About The Author

Don Watkins

Former Fellow (2006-2017), Ayn Rand Institute