Ayn Rand v. Thomas Aquinas in Paul Ryan’s Mind

by Mike Kimel

Ayn Rand v. Thomas Aquinas in Paul Ryan’s Mind

Think Progress piece on Paul Ryan.

Think Progress has a post noting that though Paul Ryan used to go around telling people he got into politics because of Ayn Rand, and he required all his aides to read Atlas Shrugged, now he tells the National Review:

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

I’d be inclined to believe him if he started handing out copies of the Summa Theologica (in the original Latin, of course) to his aides and requiring them to read them as he did with Atlas Shrugs. But seriously, Aquinas? On the plus side, what he wrote is free today. (Here’s the Summa Theologica, considered his greatest work, in English.) I’ll be honest – I tried to stumble through the Summa Theologica in my youth, but with no success. That said, I don’t I’d pay to hear Ryan explain Aquinas’s work (provided it was a truthful and honest explanation) and how he plans to implement it to the American public. I’d especially love to hear him explain this to the banking community:

Consequently, just as it is a sin against justice, to take money, by tacit or express agreement, in return for lending money or anything else that is consumed by being used, so also is it a like sin, by tacit or express agreement to receive anything whose price can be measured by money. Yet there would be no sin in receiving something of the kind, not as exacting it, nor yet as though it were due on account of some agreement tacit or expressed, but as a gratuity: since, even before lending the money, one could accept a gratuity, nor is one in a worse condition through lending. On the other hand it is lawful to exact compensation for a loan, in respect of such things as are not appreciated by a measure of money, for instance, benevolence, and love for the lender, and so forth.

Of course, if Bank of America did start making loans simply out of benevolence or to encourage love for the lender, perhaps they’d make a lot fewer loans of the type that later require the benevolence of the Treasury and the Fed to bail them out.

Here’s more from the Summa Theologica

Things which are of human right cannot derogate from natural right or Divine right. Now according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained for the purpose of succoring man’s needs by their means. Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man’s needs have to be remedied by means of these very things. Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor. For this reason Ambrose [Loc. cit., 2, Objection 3] says, and his words are embodied in the Decretals (Dist. xlvii, can. Sicut ii): “It is the hungry man’s bread that you withhold, the naked man’s cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man’s ransom and freedom.” Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need. Nevertheless, if the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’s property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.

Like I said, I’d love to hear Ryan explain this stuff to the American public. But somehow I don’t think this is what Ryan had in mind when he says “give me Thomas Aquinas.” I’d be willing to bet he read less of Aquinas than I did. Hat tips to both Paul Krugman and TBogg (great minds think alike?).