Well, I have been having my fun cackling at Trump’s incompetence as a negotiator and snickering at the embarrassment of the Congressional Republicans, and that’s all right, ‘cause politics ain’t beanbag, as Mr. Dooley observed. But I like to preen and posture as a genuine philosopher, so it behooves me to take seriously the intellectual roots of the man who is universally acknowledged to be the deepest thinker on the other side of the aisle, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
I think we all know that Ryan draws his philosophical inspiration from the writings of a prominent Russian-American thinker, Ayn Rand. Now, I imagine that most of you have spent your time reading the writings of Karl Marx and Immanuel Kant and Max Weber, and Karl Mannheim, and even Georg Friedrich Hegel, but you may have neglected the profundities of Rand, so I thought I would say just a very brief word about her contributions to the great tradition of Western Philosophy. My aim is to encourage you to delve more deeply into the corpus of her writings, so that you will gain insight into the sources of the power of Paul Ryan’s thought. It is, after all, unusual to have a serious student of Philosophy serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Rand, like all great philosophers, is known for a single core proposition from which she seeks to derive the particulars of her theories. Descartes gave us cogito, ergo sum, Kant gave us The Categorical Imperative, Hegel gave us thesis, antithesis, synthesis. What is Rand’s foundational principle, her claim to philosophical fame, as it were?
Here is a brief passage plucked from my copy of the 1961 summation of her thought, For The New Intellectual:
“To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.
Whatever you choose to consider, be it an object, an attribute or an action, the law of identity remains the same. A leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and all green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A. Or, if you wish it stated in simpler language: You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.
Are you seeking to know what is wrong with the world? All the disasters that have wrecked your world, came from your leaders’ attempt to evade the fact that A is A. All the secret evil you dread to face within you and all the pain you have ever endured, came from your own attempt to evade the fact that A is A. The purpose of those who taught you to evade it, was to make you forget that Man is Man.”
And there it is: A is A. Who would be so foolish as to deny it? A is A. From there it is mere elaboration to derive the Republican health bill, “a task that is more an amusement than a labour,” as Kant says in the Preface to the First Edition of the Critique of Pure Reason.
If we on the left could cease our petty snarking and elevate ourselves to this plane of rationality, think what we might achieve in cooperation with our brothers and sisters on the Right!