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Vincent J. MillerOctober 17, 2012

When I heard that Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, offered a critique of On All of Our Shoulders: A Catholic Call to Protect the Endangered Common Good, my pulse raced a bit.  The debate had been joined!  As a contributor to and signer of the document I thought of all the necessary shortening of complex matters required for a text many said was too long.  Aquinas’ treatise on prudence comprises 6 questions in the Summa, yet the document only had two paragraphs, perhaps it is vulnerable there, etc.

Reading Prof. George’s post brought only disappointment.  There is no such challenge.  George scrupulously ignores the substance of the text and selectively quotes it in order to reduce it to his preferred partisan terms.  This seems more the writing of Robert George, the member of the National Advisory Committee of Catholics for Romney, than Robert George, the Catholic scholar.

George’s post does its intended work:  It ignores substance of Ryan’s public record of his Randian beliefs and political strategy.  It ignores the substance of the principles of Catholic social doctrine that we believe are in danger of being forgotten or distorted at this moment when libertarian and Randian beliefs are becoming widely legitimated.

In George’s words, “On All of Our Shoulders: A Catholic Call to Protect the Endangered Common Good” is “in short, the discursive version of the infamous Democratic Party television advertisement showing a Ryan-like figure dumping an elderly lady out of her wheelchair over a cliff.”

Really? A 3,300 word declaration, with 27 footnotes, 17 of them to magisterial documents?  Really?

Prof. George, there are so many distortions, selective quotations, and un-owned assertions in your post that demand response.  Let’s begin with your title, that this is an “unfair” attack on Paul Ryan.

I’m glad you raise this, because as you know Ryan’s “Catholic supporters” are addressed by the document. 

We do not question Paul Ryan’s faith.  We are concerned however, that defenders of Ryan have gone beyond highlighting the aspects of Catholic moral teaching with which his political positions are laudably consistent, to argue that his Ayn Rand “inspired” individualist and anti-government vision and the policies they inform are themselves legitimately Catholic.  They are not.

We do not write to oppose Ryan’s candidacy or to argue there are not legitimate reasons for Catholics to vote for him.  Our concern is that Ryan and his Catholic supporters, must be informed—as prochoice candidates and Catholics who vote for them are perennially and appropriately reminded—that some of his positions are fundamentally at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

We fear the Church’s legitimate disagreement with the inadequate exemptions in the Obama administration’s contraceptive insurance mandate will lead some bishops to avoid giving due scrutiny to Ryan’s disagreements with or misunderstandings of the Church’s social teaching.

Prof. George, you are officially on record as one of Ryan’s “Catholic supporters.”  Let’s review the very public record of his statement of being inspired and guided by Rand’s philosophy.

Ryan’s 2005 speech to the Atlas Society is the most remarkable political manifesto by an elected politician in generations.  It is hard to even come up with a suitable historical comparison. What other American politician has offered so clear a statement of social philosophy; shown precisely how he uses it to judge bedrock programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and outlined a very clear strategy to change these programs, to change the way Americans think?

So, Prof. George, let’s begin there.  The full audio is available.  As a Catholic defender of Ryan, you owe it to your fellow Catholics to listen to all 20 minutes yourself.  Tell us line by line whether he believes in Rand or not.  Tell us whether the policies he continues to propose are consistent with Randian principles he has so long espoused or not.


  • Does Ryan believe in Ayn Rand’s individualism or not?  
  • Does Ryan say he returns to John Galt’s “64 page” [he does seem to have detailed knowledge doesn't he?] speech in Atlas Shrugged to “check my premises so that I know that what I’m believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism” or not? 
  • How many times in this speech does he profess “individualism?”
  • Does Ryan state that he uses “one conflict: individualism versus collectivism” as a measure for almost every policy decision or not? 
  • Does Ryan describe Social Security and Medicare as “collectivist” and “socialist based” programs or not? 
  • Does Ryan lay out a strategy to “personalize” [he chuckles, there is applause…he didn’t say “privatize” wink, wink] these programs in order to change the way American’s think or not? 
  • Does Ryan say “Yeah” and “That’s right” when the story is told of the “moral revolution” worked by Pinochet’s privatizer of social security José Piñera, or not?  Yes, that Pinochet.

I know it’s harsh to recall these statements, but it is not "unfair."  Ryan does seem to have said these things.  Respect requires we take them seriously.

This was 2005.  In 2009, Congressman Ryan posted a video to his own Facebook page, where he earnestly stared into the camera and said he agrees with those who believe “we are right now living in an Ayn Rand novel, metaphorically speaking” and once again espoused her views on the “morality of individualism.”

Did Congressman Ryan say these things or not?  Whatever one thinks of the policies proposed, it is clear that Congressman Ryan proposes them because they are consistent with the thought of Ayn Rand.  Do you agree with this philosophy?  (You did use “collectivist” in your own response.)  Tell us as a Catholic scholar, whether these are consistent with the principles of Catholic social doctrine or not.

The declaration observes:

Ryan’s rejection of Rand’s atheism is laudable, as are his public avowal of the thought of Thomas Aquinas and Catholic social doctrine.  We do not question the sincerity of his convictions, but must note that a shift from the social philosophy of Ayn Rand to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church is a radical change indeed.  Such a conversion would take much time and reflection.

Prof. George, as Ryan's public supporter, and a “conservative” Catholic scholar of great repute, it seems your responsibility to clarify the divergence between Rand’s views and those of the Catholic tradition: for Paul Ryan as he continues his conversion to the Church’s social doctrine; for your fellow Catholics in danger of being confused about these truths concerning the human person and society in this regard; and for our nation that so needs the wisdom of the Church’s teaching on these particular matters.

This is about much more than this election.  Ryan’s budget and the beliefs it embodies will be with us for some time.  Regardless of whom Catholics decide to publically endorse or vote for in this election, these doctrines and policies demand our attention.

I await your response.

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Terrence Tilley
11 years 6 months ago
Vince, having just seen Prof. George's sarcastic response to Grant Galicho and Michael Sean Winter's, at dotcommonweal.org, I don't think you can expect serious ineraction with your thoughtful piece or with "On All of Our Shoulders."

When rebuttal is imossible, change the subject, mock, invoke sarcsasm. That's what one gets as a response when one shows how naked the emperor is - a desperate clutching at the diaphenous that distracts only the blind.

The document might well be wrong at points, but given the balanced list of signers, it deserves better.

Tim O'Leary
11 years 6 months ago
Given Ayn Rand's gender, her atheism and abortion ''choice'' ideology, she would fit into the ''radical feminist'' category. (Got that from the Rand talking point list). 
Thomas Piatak
11 years 6 months ago
I eagerly look forward to Vincent Miller and his colleagues issuing a statement, before the election, criticizing Joseph Biden for supporting abortion, most recently in the vice presidential debate, in which Biden promised that the Democratic Party would never allow Roe v. Wade to be overturned and attacked Paul Ryan for attempting to provide legal protection to the unborn.  If no such statement is forthcoming, Miller and his colleagues, frankly, do not deserve to be taken seriously.  Over 50,000,000 Americans have been killed in the womb since Roe v. Wade.  That is a matter of vastly more importance than Paul Ryan's taste in fiction.
David Cloutier
11 years 6 months ago
Vince, thank you for this further elaboration of these questions. I really do hope there is some kind of serious engagement here. As a contributor and signer who is not characterizable with the stereotypes of the "Catholic Left" Dr. Reno trotted out, I believe both Dr. George and Dr. Reno are capable of such engagement - and that it would be good for the Church. I still cannot see how these folks square the CST encyclicals with Rand's position or the more-sophisticated-but-the-same-in-essence anthropology of neo-classical economics. Thanks for further digging out Rep. Ryan's actual statements.
Gerald Beyer
11 years 6 months ago
It is a pity that detractors such as Prof. George are not willing to seriously engage the document "On Our Shoulders" (disclosure: I signed it).  Perhaps there are potentially legitimate answers to the questions about Paul Ryan's professed allegiance to Rand (as late as 2009, as Vince Miller points out).  Maybe he did experience some sort of conversion.  But if he did we will never know, because his supporters resort only to invective towards those who ask questions about his newly found allegiance to Catholic social teaching and Thomas Aquinas.  It seems like a fair question to raise about the obvious conflict between the "individualism" Ryan defends (in his words) in these videos and the Catholic tradition's personalist communitarianism, which balances (and sees harmony between) the good of the person and the common good.  I don't see how these two competing visions can be reconciled, but perhaps Prof. George could explain rather than resort to ad hominem attacks.  

The chasm between this new appreciation for CST and Aquinas and Ryan's policy proposals have yet to be explained cogently because his Catholic supporters answer this criticism with a loose appeal to prudential judgment.  One cannot appeal to prudential judgement in order to reject a means of achieving the good, without proposing what appears to be a superior alternative means.  That seems to be exactly what Paul Ryan is doing in making the massive cuts to social programs that aid the sick and the poor (as described in "On Our Shoulders") while failing to describe any concrete, alternative means to enabling the economically disadvantaged to fully participate in and contribute to the common good.  Instead of casting aspersions, it would be helpful if Ryan's supporters could explain exactly how he plans to help those without the means to obtain the education that all people deserve, sufficient health care, jobs that pay a living wage and all the other things necessary for human flourishing. This is what a serious appeal to prudential judgments about the best way to overcome poverty requires. Government may not always have the best ideas and mechanisms for helping the poor to help themselves, but simply "kicking the can down the road," as Amy Sullivan recently put it, is not acceptable.  Nor should vitriol be acceptable in debating such a serious problem.

Thomas Piatak
11 years 6 months ago
Prof. Cloutier,

Are you referring to the one clause reading, "as prochoice candidates and Catholics who vote for them are perennially and appropriately reminded?"  Is that it?  Is that really all Biden's support for abortion is worth?  And is it really necessary to use the terminology of the supporters of abortion-"pro-choice"-in describing them?  I don't recall John Paul II referring to supporters of abortion as "pro-choice."  In fact, I recall him naming them as proponents of a culture of death.  Is Joe Biden a champion of "choice," or of the culture of death?


Vincent Gaitley
11 years 6 months ago
How about a big Catholic, "So What?" to the question of Paul Ryan's individualism.  Each of our souls is individual, we sin as individuals, we love as individuals-even when we engage our families, our community, our church.  Who cares if Ryan likes Ayn Rand?  More Catholic bishops and intellectuals have deeper engagements with the loathesome Karl Marx and his ilk and not much attention has been brought to them.

The Church is incompetent at economics, and inconsistent.  The Church has always upheld the principle of private property, especially for itself.  Now that the laity own property, the Church is alarmed.  Property includes my wages, my personal belongings, and my ability to provide for my family.  If there is anything outmoded in the Church (and we know there are lots of things) antiquated notions of business, capital, labor, and taxation are among them.  

We are free because limited government is not free to "take" from us.  No matter what our earnings, or tax payments, we go to God alone, as individuals.  Charity matters, not coercive taxes.  Randian economiics influence but do not define Paul Ryan.  Stop acting like this is some admission of "malum in se".  I prefer Hayak, and Friedman and Adam Smith.  Does this make me or anyone an invalid Catholic?  
11 years 6 months ago
Thanks to Vincent Miller for his quick and comprehensive response to Professor George. There is a rich and admirable American tradition of radical individualism quite compatable with Christianity, but Congressman Ryan has no understanding of that tradition. Far from standing for conscience against reigning powers in the name of human dignity and democratic social responsibility, Ryan (like Rand) affirms an individualism that celebrates power and denies shared social and political responsibility. That kind of individualism is incompatable with Catholic social teaching, with its respect for institutions, care for the common good and insistence on shared historical responsibility. Natural law theorists who place themselves at the service of programs and policies that erode our capacity to govern ourselves justly and leave the least among us on their own can find no support in Catholic social teaching and deserve no respect in American public life.

Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 6 months ago
Even by the standards of academia, Catholic theology professors seem very puerile.
Patrick Molloy
11 years 6 months ago
The Party with the most extreme individualist and Randian views on abortion is the Democratic Party.  Rand would have no hesitation in supporting Biden’s abortion on demand advocacy.
Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 6 months ago
"Individualism" in this context is shorthand for the abhorrent personality the protagonists in Ayn Rand's novels tend to share. A person whose enjoyment of life is confined to satisfying his own appetites, and who is unable to take pleasure in the happiness of others; a person who arrogates to himself the credit for what he has acquired, overlooks the role others have played in his acquisition of it, and denies his responsibility to use it to help others; a person whose delusions of superiority lead him to consider himself entitled to treat other humans scornfully and contemptuously.

It is a nasty, unseemly, subhuman and pathetic image of humanity which makes normal people feel a bit nauseous, like looking down and realizing you just stepped on a decomposing dead pigeon.

Since the time of Ronald Reagan this pose has been elevated into a political pseudo-philosophy. It's popular in talk radio, frat houses, the political blogosphere and the Catholic Church. But most people are repelled by it. It's a political loser. Credibly attributing it to your political opponent automatically gets you about ten percent of the vote.
Anne Danielson
11 years 6 months ago
Why not begin at at The Beginning, by asking Paul Ryan, do you believe in the personal and relational essence of the human person, created in The Image of God, to reflect Trinitarian Love, and that our call to Holiness, is a call to live our lives in Loving relationship in communion with God as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters...?
Anne Danielson
11 years 6 months ago
And then, you ask the signers of the "On Our Shoulders", the same question.
Joshua DeCuir
11 years 6 months ago
Sometimes, I think the better part of wisdom is to stay silent.  I think that is a lesson for both "sides" here.  Too much ink, too close to the election.  As a Romney supporter, I understand the frustration of people like Robert George (AND Rick Garnett, whose criticisms seem to have gone unanswered I noticed) who feel as though the nonsenical and foolish statements Ryan has made about Rand in the past are being used to obfuscate and unfairly mischaracterize what Ryan's ACTUAL policy proposals are, while I also feel as though the responses from Prof. George have not lived up to his well-deserved intellectual reputation.  Again, as a Romney supporter, while critical of Ryan's Rand fetish (and certain elements of his budget as well), I still feel as though his proposals on primarily Medicare are the best ones.  I would only add that this position has also been reached by many others who clearly don't have Randian sympathies, including many Democrats.

It seems as though Catholics of all stripes should be left wanting whoever they decide to vote for (or against) in the election, and that reason alone ought to counsel a bit more reticence to take to the blogosphere.
Vincent Gaitley
11 years 6 months ago
Come on, Nancy D!  Save your breath, just ask, "Are you the Spawn of Satan?" What is this weird obsession with Paul Ryan's Catholicism?  Where is your tolerance and diversity, etc., etc.  

You are not electing a priest, thank God, nor a saint. Leave him be.  The reasons to vote for or against him are economic, political, military, fiscal, etc.  Voting on religious grounds is rather out of bounds since we are barred from applying a religious test Constitutionally.  Yet, if his faith or his sense of it offends you, well, vote against him. That's a marvel of freedom.  But please keep the reasons to yourself.  

Is it too much for liberals to believe that a conservative gentleman is actually a nice, moral man?  Or must everyone conform to some left wing notion of what a Catholic or moral man is?  For so many liberals, the political is personal, and vice versa.  Conservatives seem not to buy that bunk so easily.  And liberal Catholics always give a pass to Democratics who are "personally opposed to abortion, but publicy support the right to choose."  That's gutless.  Such are the times in America today.  Sigh. 
Rick Fueyo
11 years 6 months ago
"Ryan and a lot others celebrate freedom." 

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty


The Freedom that Ryan and others seek is freedom for wolves
Anne Danielson
11 years 6 months ago
Yikes, Vincent, I was simply suggesting one should always begin at the beginning if you desire to get to the heart of the matter. Many have been converted to The Word of God, through Faith and reason. If you want to come to know The Truth of Love, why not begin at The Beginning?
Vince Killoran
11 years 6 months ago
"Is it too much for liberals to believe that a conservative gentleman is actually a nice, moral man?"

I think the problem is that Ryan has put his faith out there as a kind of qualification for high office.  When people interrogate it he and supporters balk.

There's a YouTube video of Ryan "enjoying" a Labor Day parade.  When he's asked some tough questions by fellow citizens he takes offense and argues that the day is not about politics (never mind the Ryan banners fluttering around). See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YD0lh1Zj81I 
ed gleason
11 years 6 months ago
New Ryan story; He washes clean pots at a St Vincent de Paul soup kitchen , video goes viral making fun and the end result is SVDP gets  hate calls and 'no more donations' threats.
As Vicentians we pony up a hundred bucks for Youngstown. Obama is ahead, so no need for more money in that direction.  
Anne Danielson
11 years 6 months ago
How can anyone remain silent, for in the words of John Paul II, as the family goes, so goes the Nation, and I would add, our World.
David Cloutier
11 years 6 months ago
Mr. Piatek-

The statement itself says that we agree with the bishops calling out Democratic candidates for contradicting the Church on abortion and for rightly disagreeing with the Administration on the HHS mandate. It's in the statement.
Marie Rehbein
11 years 6 months ago
Amy #15:

I like your succinct description of what is meant by individualism.  However, I don't quite get what you mean to say in last paragraph:

"Since the time of Ronald Reagan this pose has been elevated into a political pseudo-philosophy. It's popular in talk radio, frat houses, the political blogosphere and the Catholic Church. But most people are repelled by it. It's a political loser. Credibly attributing it to your political opponent automatically gets you about ten percent of the vote."

When you say it's popular, do you mean some people like to promote it as a way to be or do you mean some people like to attribute it to people with whom they disagree?  I would have thought the former when I read talk radio and frat houses, but the latter when I read political blogosphere and Catholic Church.

Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 6 months ago

I think the individualistic pose (It's hardly even serious enough to call a pseudo-philosophy.) is popular in the blogosphere and in the Church the same way it is on talk radio: it gets attention and attracts fans from a small but loud minority.

In the blogosphere, it gets you enough traffic to be attractive to advertisers. The same arrogant, obnoxious, self-satisfied, overaged fratboys who listen to Rush on their way to work sit down in front of their computers once they get there and go look for the daily talking points in the Randian blogs. Then a bunch of them rush over to places like this to repeat them. (You've noticed, of course, how the noxious, provocative, faux-conservative comments are generally performed in choir? And how they tend to repeat in a cycle of two to three weeks? That's why.)

In the Church, preaching "individualism" can get you a gig on EWTN or a fan base on YouTube and it's the golden path to an episcopacy. The pew potatoes may complain, but every ambitious cleric knows you can't keep a parish open on the offertory. Sounding the right-wing memes (the government is the enemy, regulation is bad, the market can solve everything, eeeeek! socialism!) brings in the donations from Carl Anderson, Tom Monaghan, Carlos Slim and their ilk.

Marie Rehbein
11 years 6 months ago

I totally agree with you, but I would say the Church still preaches the opposite as well; it has to, or, unless the whole thing is a big lie and atheists have it right, a higher power will correct its course, as seems to have been done throughout history when it has lost its way.  The rest of them, though...at least they're not hypocrites.
Thomas Farrell
11 years 6 months ago
I would urge Vincent Miller and the other Catholics who signed the statement "On All of Our Shoulders" to stop playing a Catholic version of holier than thou, using current Catholic teaching to determine which Catholic candidate is presumably a holier Catholic as measured by his compliance or non-compliance with certain Catholic teachings.

I know, I know, the U.S. Catholic bishops appear to be Republicans, or at least they appear to be working against President Obama's re-election.

For this reason, it may seem to Vincent Miller and the other Catholics who signed the statement "On All of Our Shoulders" that they need to step forward and broaden the Catholic discussion beyond the dominant concerns of most of the U.S. Catholic bishops (e.g., contraception, legalized abortion in the first trimester, same-sex marriage).

But the American voters are not being asked to elect a political candidate to the office of Vice President of the United States because he is a Catholic but despite the fact that he is a Catholic.

But should American Catholic voters determine how to vote based on the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and on each candidates compliance or non-compliance with the array of teachings of the Roman Catholic Church?

Even though American Catholic voters may give a thought to respectful consideration of the array of teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in making their selections of candidates to vote for, I would hope that American Catholic voters would be mature enough to make up their own minds as to how to vote regardless of statements made by the U.S. Catholic bishops and the statement made by Vincent Miller and the other Catholics who signed the statement "On All of Our Shoulders." 
David Cloutier
11 years 6 months ago
Mr. Piatek,

Yes, that's the statement. There's no denial there that abortion is a grave evil. Even Mr. Biden stated (though not very coherently) his belief in the fundamental principle at stake: that life begins at conception. I believe, speaking for myself, that it is correct that there is no way to get from that belief to a toleration of abortion, though apparently Mr. Biden believes that he can do so by treating the belief as a "matter of faith," rather than a pretty clear fact (albeit one that many Americans seem to deny). Of course, the same premise cannot be reconciled with Mr. Romney's forthright support for abortion "in some cases."

The point of the On our Shoulders statement is to ask similar questions about the principles of Mr. Ryan's view of the human person in society, on which the Church has authoritative teachings, no less authoritative than those on human and marriage. As Pope Benedict points out in Caritas in Veritate, Catholic moral teaching is a unified whole, and I believe the statement tries to point out that it is not coherent to hold to a part of Catholic teaching, while denying another part.

Mr. Gaithley illustrates this problem exactly. He denies the authority and competence of the Church to teach on principles in the realm of economics in the same language with which others dismiss the authority of the Church to teach principles about marriage. The statement is meant to question whether Mr. Ryan believes what Mr, Gaithley believes.
JR Cosgrove
11 years 6 months ago
''Ryan (like Rand) affirms an individualism that celebrates power and denies shared social and political responsibility.''

There are so many things wrong with Mr. Miller OP and many of the comments on this thread but the above comment is probably the worst distortion there is.  Ryan and a lot others celebrate freedom.  Power in such a situation is just the opposite of what they espouse.  Power prohibits freedom not encourages it and by the way Ayn Rand was against nearly all power that was not consensually based so I am afraid there is a lot of nonsense going around on this thread starting with Mr. Miller and all the signatories of ''On all our shoulders document.''

And in no way does anything Paul Ryan espouse deny shared social and political responsibility.  Let's tone this down and try to say dispassionately what one's position is.  Maybe a mutual understanding could ensue.
JR Cosgrove
11 years 6 months ago
This so called abhorrence of individualism is nonsense.  People tend to use words in a vague and imprecise way.  We are all individuals made in the likeness of God and are required to work for our own salvation.  In the process of doing that we are obliged to help others in that process.  But in doing so it does not mean that we do not attend to individual processes.

For example, education is an individual process whereby we try to obtain knowledge and wisdom.  The Church celebrates individuals in the saints.  We are all called to find that vocation which is most in sync with what God's plans are.  In the process we end up developing ourselves but in no way does this mean that is the only focus of one's life.

So this harping on the so called evils of individualism is vacuous until some flesh can be put on it.  Remember we are also told not to look for collectivism too.  Just what do these so called theologian mean when they talk about the evils of individualism.  I find nothing in the policies of Paul Ryan that are evil or dysfunctional.  I find many dysfunctional aspects of the policies of the left.

Maybe we should all come to an agreement on terms and their implications before we run off demonizing individual as has been done  by the Catholic Theologian with Paul Ryan. 

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