Nailing Congressman Ryan

Lovely dissection of Paul Ryan by Leon Wieseltier.

Then there is the matter of Ryan’s intellectualism. His promoters have made much of it. “He’s a guy who, unlike 98 percent of members of Congress, can sit in a conference or around the dinner table with six or ten people from think tanks and magazines and more than hold his own in a discussion,” said William Kristol, thereby establishing the definition of the intellectual as a person who knows how to talk to William Kristol. A close look at Ryan’s writings, however, shows an intellectual style that is amateurish and parochial. His thought is just a package. The distinction between an analysis and a manifesto is lost on him. He gets his big ideas second-hand, from ideological feeders: when he cites John Locke, it is John Locke that he found in Michael Novak (who erroneously believes that strawberries appear in the philosopher’s account of the creation of property by the mixing of labor with nature). Irving Kristol and Charles Murray are Ryan’s other authorities; and of course Rand, who was a graphomaniacal demagogue with the answers to all of life’s questions. His picture of the New Deal and the Depression is taken from—where else?—Amity Shlaes. When Ryan cites Tocqueville, it is as “Alexis-Charles-Henri Clerel de Tocqueville,” and when he cites Sorel it is as “Georges Eugene Sorèl,” which is the Wikipedia usage (except for the misplaced accent, which is Ryan’s contribution). When he cites Sorel, he seems unaware that he is appealing to a thinker who admired Lenin and Mussolini and advocated the use of violence by striking unions. (Scott Walker has no greater enemy than Georges Sorel.) Similarly, Ryan cites an encomium to the United States by “Alexandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn” without any apparent awareness that three years later the Russian writer issued a virulent denunciation of America and its “decadence.”