WASHINGTON -- When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, he wasn't just picking a self-proclaimed nerd and policy wonk, he was picking Ayn Rand's latest and best literary agent.
Rand's windy, melodramatic prose has been a conservative and libertarian inspiration for decades. Her novels "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" are deemed essential philosophical tracts in defense of capitalism and the will of the individual over a society based on shared sacrifice. Rand titled one of her books "The Virtue of Selfishness."
In a recent New Yorker profile, Ryan called her a key inspiration in his life. His coming-of-age moment featured Rand.
"I grew up on Ayn Rand," Ryan told the Atlas Society, a group of Rand devotees, in a 2005 speech. "That's what I tell people ... you know, everybody does their soul-searching, and trying to find out who they are and what they believe, and you learn about yourself ... I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are."
Ryan went on to say that Rand's works are required reading for his staff. "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," he went on to say. "And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism."
Rand's works featured prominently in a 2009 Ryan video critique of President Barack Obama. The congressman said that he was not surprised that Rand's novels have spiked in popularity since Obama took office. "It's that kind of thinking, that kind of writing that is sorely needed right now," Ryan said. "And I think a lot of people would observe that we are right now living in an Ayn Rand novel, metaphorically speaking."
In April, Ryan attempted to distance himself from his prior infatuation with the novelist, telling the National Review in an interview, "If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas. Don't give me Ayn Rand." (A spokesman later suggested that Ryan was not repudiating Rand's philosophy, but that Ryan did not make staffers read "Atlas Shrugged.")
Rand followers are apparently overjoyed at Romney's choice of Ryan as his vice presidential pick.
"I think the announcement is great news," Aaron Day, CEO of the Atlas Society, told Politico. "[T]he influence of Rand on Ryan as it relates to the role and nature of government is a huge step forward for the liberty movement."