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Republican Vice Presidential Pick Paul Ryan, Limited Government, and Ryan’s Big Picture When It Comes to Policy

The Republican Party has evolved over the decades from the party of small, limited government, with little emphasis on religion, to the party that clothes all its theories in religious garb.  And there is no better evidence of that evolution than the selection and the ideas of Representative Paul Ryan who, as most readers will surely know, was recently chosen by Presidential candidate Mitt Romney as his running mate.

Small Government and the Economy

Ryan appears to be a very smart and well-read candidate, which is evident in his desire to ground his economic theories in larger theoretical frames.  His economic approach is, in fact, relatively straightforward: He embraces the idea that the government needs to spend less in order to deal with the huge weight of America’s debt.  Ryan’s views on spending hearken back, in many ways, to President Ronald Reagan’s call for small government and reduced federal budgets.  For Reagan, the goal was a balanced budget.  For Ryan, it is preventing the country from sinking under crushing debt.

When you are talking about reducing government spending, of course, the devil is in the details.  I will leave it to the economists and politicians to pick apart the economic details of the plan that made Ryan famous—or infamous, depending on where you sit on the political spectrum.  In this column, I want to focus instead on how Ryan explains the bigger picture when it comes to policy.

Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand 

At one point in his career, Ryan enthusiastically invoked atheist Ayn Rand’s “Objectivist” philosophy, which is most famously delineated in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, in which she laid out a fierce form of capitalism.  Rand also wrote political philosophy, including the essays collected in The Virtue of Selfishness.  Her political philosophy is based on an extreme reading of Darwin’s evolutionary theory of the survival of the fittest, and her novels’ characters are heroes because they dominate and win.

In Rand’s essay entitled “Government Financing in a Free Society,” which I presume Ryan has read, given his past enthusiasm for her work, she advocates a “fully free society” in which taxes are paid “voluntarily.”  Government’s legitimate needs, under Rand’s theory, are relatively small:  “A program of voluntary government financing would be amply sufficient to pay for the legitimate functions of a proper government.  It would not be sufficient to provide unearned support for the entire globe.”

Ryan has not advocated for a “voluntary” tax, as Rand did, for obvious reasons, but this quote does give you the flavor of her Objectivist theory, which rests on a high degree of self-autonomy and libertarianism, and on a type of “selfishness” that justifies not helping the weak, and not supporting the world.  It should not be surprising to learn that Ron Paul has flirted with Rand’s work as well.

Apparently, the Catholic bishops found it troubling that Ryan, who is a self-professed strong Catholic, was espousing theories derived from a selfish atheist.  After they pointed out to him the error of Rand’s theories, he dropped her, and switched to their theology of  “subsidiarity,” which essentially—at least through Ryan’s prism—stands for elevating the virtues of small institutions over those of large, complex institutions.  No function should be performed by a larger organization, under this theory. For example, a national government should cede tasks that can be done just as, or more, efficiently by a smaller or local government.  According to Ryan’s recent statements, his Catholic faith (as opposed to Rand) helped shape his belief in the virtues of subsidiarity, which undergird his budget proposals.

In Ryan’s words, subsidiarity “is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best.”  This is just Reaganite small government theory, as adopted by Ryan:  “Having a civil society of the principle of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good.  By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.”

In the end, one might wonder whether Ryan’s big picture matters, when it all boils down to Reaganism and whether he relies on Rand or Catholic social theory, his fiscal policy stays constant.  There are several reasons to pay close attention, though.

First, Ryan is a book-reader and smart.  Good to know about a potential Vice President, and not always true.

Second, Ryan is persistent in his basic policy approach.  All that changed when he transferred his affections from Rand to the Catholic theory of subsidiarity, was how he clothed the theory, not the basic policy that he espoused.

Third, Ryan listens to the Catholic bishops, at least when they ask him to adopt larger-scale theories.  But he has been at cross-purposes with them on the details of the budget, with the Catholic bishops actually objecting to parts of his budget plan.  So it is apparent that the bishops do not control Ryan, but they certainly have his ear.

More interesting in the political big picture, though, is that Ryan feels the need to clothe his economic principles in religious garb, and that he believes he is well-advised to set forth theological reasons to support economic policies that affect every American, and that could just as simply be explained in secular terms.

Reagan appealed to a larger quadrant of the public, because for him, it was just economics that ought to drive policy.  Since then, however, Republicans seem to have lost the ability to appeal to the masses, in part because they are so concerned with identifying themselves and their policies with a religious point of view.   In a country of such enormous religious diversity, it seems perverse to push for national economic reform on the basis of a single religion’s theology and political theory.   One wonders when the Republicans, and Ryan himself, will figure that one out.

Marci A. HamiltonMarci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty and Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. She also runs two active websites covering her areas of expertise, the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, www.RFRAperils.com, and statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, www.sol-reform.com. Professor Hamilton blogs at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights. Her email address is hamilton02@aol.com.
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  • Rudi Garmish

    Ms Hamilton you do a great service with your insightful analysis and commentary. You are a maven and delight to read. All stars, since I could not figure out how to rank you with positivismus maximus.

  • bbf

    Well…no denying it..Obama definitely appealed to the masses when he supported NATO’s illegal invasion of Libya..with US predatory drones and US taxpayer’s $100 MILLION a day…. Only BlackAgendaReport and BlackCommenttor spoke out against the thousands of deaths…as for those who are now criticizing Romney and Ryan..their “silence was deafening”. Evidently..the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Black Libyans doesn’t matter to the “progressive” Democrats.

    http://blackagendareport.com/print/content/butchering-gaddafi-america%E2%80%99s-crime

    The

    Butchering of Gaddafi Is America’s Crime

    by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

    “Barack

    Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared like ghoulish despots
    at a Roman Coliseum, reveling in their Libyan
    gladiators’ butchery.”

    Last week the whole world saw, and every
    decent soul recoiled, at the true face of NATO’s
    answer to the Arab Spring. An elderly, helpless
    prisoner struggled to maintain his dignity in a
    screaming swirl of savages, one of whom thrusts a
    knife [4] up his rectum. These are
    Europe and America’s jihadis in the flesh. In a few
    minutes of joyously recorded bestiality, the rabid
    pack undid every carefully packaged image of NATO’s
    “humanitarian” project in North Africa – a horror and
    revelation indelibly imprinted on the global
    consciousness by the brutes’ own cell phones.

    Nearly eight
    months of incessant bombing by the air forces of nations
    that account for 70 percent of the world’s weapons
    spending, all culminating in the gang-bang slaughter of
    Moammar Gaddafi, his son Mutassim and his
    military chief of staff, outside Sirte. The NATO-armed
    bands then displayed the battered corpses for days in
    Misurata – the city that had earlier made good on its
    vow to “purge Black skin” through the massacre and
    dispersal of 30,000 darker residents of nearby Tawurgha
    – before disposing of the bodies in an unknown location.

  • jsudist

    Paul Ryan, the Republican VP Nominee is cowering from his own record, as it is being put in the limelight. He is “Texas-Two-Stepping” his way out of the circle, he has himself helped create. That reveals something unappealing about his character and dependability. Since he is now embracing liberal positions when his feet are in the fire, he must now understand how mean spirited, his signing of certain bills were and how detrimental they must have been to victims of rape. Paul Ryan had the chauvinistic conviction that rape was an event that could be rated according to the severity of the violence associated with it. That is what he promoted, by specifying “Forcible Rape”, up until the Todd Akin bombshell. He remains unapologetic, and hold his religious beliefs as more important, than social and medical issues strictly relative to women.

    A “Mea Culpa”, is therefore in order from the Congressman from WI. He should reject his position vis-s-vis rape victims and denounce and renounce the insensibility of his past voting record. In addition, he should officially adopt policies less susceptible to impose further hardship upon rape victims. Tap dancing around that subject, in hope it will go away, is simply condescending and out of touch with reality.

 

Access this column at http://j.st/ZQpQ