Balkinization  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is Paul Ryan a Real American?

Ken Kersch


I’m concerned.

In the oft-repeated list of major intellectual influences on Ryan – Ayn Rand, Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek – only Friedman was American-born. Although the others lived in the United States when they were older, all were Mitteleuropeans. We hear a lot about Ryan’s Tea Party associations and appeal (that Revolutionary War branding, of course, like patriots at a Sarah Palin rally, screams “USA! USA! USA!”). But Ryan’s tutoring was in what is called “Austrian Economics” – a label that wears its Mitteleuropean provenance on its sleeve.

How American is Austrian Economics – that European import, honed, since World War II, in tutorials and transatlantic tete-a-tetes in the Swiss Alps?

Two qualifications. First, the fact that Paul Ryan’s political philosophy has been strongly formed by these Mitteleuropean intellectuals doesn’t mean he subscribes to everything they say. And, second, there’s no denying that there has always been a home-grown form of Red-White-and-Blue anti-statism and penchant for work, markets, and business. Still, something about the tone and style of Austrian economics, it could be argued, make it distinctively Mitteleuropean. If Obama is a European-style socialist (though I doubt it…), then devotees of Austrian Economics are European-style anti-socialists. In many of its iterations, Austrian economics is the apodictic mirror-image of that which it opposes – a cast utterly self-evident in Ayn Rand (who, in (albeit lesser) mind and temperament, is Vladimir Lenin, flipped).

There are lots of ways to be an American anti-socialist. But the case can be made that Ryan -- deer-bagging and fish-gutting notwithstanding -- has made of himself a highly-ideological Mitteleuropean anti-socialist. In the process, he may have jettisoned some good old (can-do, pragmatic, anti-ideological) American values along the way. Might real Americans deserve better?

With a bromance ticket comprised of an uber-capitalist and Austrian-tutored intellectual worshipper of uber-capitalists, it’s no wonder that the two habitants of the Republican ticket (reportedly) can’t bare to be separated: each has found his other half.

Since Austrian economic thought has been a major influence on today’s Republican Party, and since Austrian thought might soon be the governing philosophy in the White House, it might be time for Americans to bone up on the intellectual output of interwar Vienna and postwar Switzerland.

After all, my fellow Americans: The Austrians have seen the future – and it works.


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