Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is Rand's Influence in Decline?

Daniel Barnes has pointed out to me that Rand's Google trends are in decline. This suggests something I have suspected for a number of years: that interest in Rand and her philosophy is waning, that people just aren't as interested in her than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago. I don't necessarily say this as an opponent exulting in the decline of public interest in Objectivism. As someone who has written a book, albeit a harshly critical one, on Rand's philosophy, this trend does me little good. It simply makes my book less relevant.

So assuming that the Google trends are illustrative of a declining interest in Rand -- a decline further evinced by the fact that Rand 's followers are almost completely ignored by the mainstream media -- what is its cause? I believe there are several reasons for the Randian eclipse:

(1) When Rand first hit the scene, there were very few widely known and widely read intellectuals defending capitalism and political individualism. In America, the closest thing we had to an outspoken defender of individualism was H. L. Mencken, whose reputation was in decline. Later, in the fifties, the conservative movement began to gain steam, but most of its early proponents were dryasdust intellectuals with no more charisma than a corpse. Rand was the first outspoken superstar intellectual of the right -- and, despite her contempt for nearly everyone else on the right, she would remain the most controversial, outspoken, and uncompromising defender of economic individualism well into the eighties. But then Rush LImbaugh and Ann Coulter and others of their ilk came along. Not only were these individuals nearly as outspoken as Rand, they did not share her anti-religious fanaticism or her tendency to quarrel with anyone on the right that did not agree with her en toto. The consequence was that young conservatives looking for an outspoken defender of economic individualism no longer had to turn to Rand. Even better, these conservatives could feel they were part of the major political party that was making changes in the real world, rather than as fringe group that was crying efficaciously in the wilderness.

(2) The fact that Rand is no longer around to comment on current events has also hurt her reputation. Her followers, of course, have tried to comment for her, but no one either at ARI or at TOC has anything close to Rand's charisma. The ARI folks are feeble mediocrities who pathetically try to ape Rand but only succeed in aping her worst defects. Their TOC rivals, though less unpalatable, are little more than watered down Rand -- and who needs that?

(3) The mediocrity of Rand's orthodox followers goes well beyond their inability to bring her thought alive to current events. The fact is, by their slavish yet dismal and unintelligent adherence to the Randian credo, they have squeezed every last drop of life from the Randian philosophic corpus. ARI has mummified Objectivism. They have robbed it of whatever spark or warmth of life it once had. Say what you like for or against Rand, she really believed what she said, and her passion was genuine. Although the current crop of Objectivists, as far as I can tell, also believe what they say, it's a paper belief: there is little if any real passion behind it. It just provides a pretext for angry rants at a world that doesn't give them the respect they think they deserve. How else can one explain the cynical opportunism that exists at ARI? The people at ARI are not all that serious about spreading Rand's ideas. They just dismal bureaucrats not far removed from the villains of Atlas Shrugged. When push comes to shove, Rand's philosophy is little more than meal ticket for them.

(4) Islamic terror has created a world which is not compatible with the sort of individualism advocated by Rand. The full truth of this, of course, has not hit home yet: that will require a second major terrorist attack against America, one that features 100s of thousands of causalities. The world we are heading toward is a militarized world, where security has become more important than "individualism" or freedom. To some extent, I suspect that Rand's followers, at least on a subliminal level, understand this. Hence their desperate pleas for taking drastic action against Islam, including the use of WMDs against Islamic states in order to wipe out all Muslims from the face of the globe. At least some Objectivists understand the threat that Islamic terror poses to Randian ideology.

(5) If the West fails to find an adequate energy alternative to oil, this could also be a huge blow to Rand's reputation. Without a cheap source of energy, the industrial economy of the West could easily lapse into something far more mercantilist and even fascistic. The concomitant decline in living standards could end up giving a huge boost to social conservatism and the religious ideals it espouses.

—Greg Nyquist

63 comments:

Neil Parille said...

To some extent the decline started with Peter Schwartz's screed in 1986 called "Libertarianism: The Pervsion of Liberty."

I don't think there was ever much hope that Rand's followers of the Peikoff variety would take a more moderate tone toward the broader individualist community, but by declaring that there is no broader individualist community Objectivists pretty much sealed their doom.

If you claim that Rand's thought has virtually no connection to anything written before or since, you turn Official Objectivism into what it is today: high priced seminars and tapes targeted to the true believers.

Mark Plus said...

I would add that Rand's novels just haven't worn well. Maybe they resonated with Americans coming of age around the middle of the 20th Century who felt uncomfortable with the political and social trends manifested in the New Deal and the emerging Federal welfare state. The long standoff with the alternative social model promoted by the Soviet Union also played a part in the attraction to Rand. But that generation continues to die off, and younger generations with no memory of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and the Cold War don't understand Rand's references to what she opposed. These days Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead need annotations to explain Rand's now-obscure allusions.

As for the Peak Oil threat to Objectivism, in a way you could read Atlas as a kind of post Peak Oil Malthusian dieoff fantasy. Galt says something to the effect that he could save everyone by introducing his free-energy machine into the economy, but he'd rather let all the people who don't meet his philosophical standards perish so that he and his friends can start over.

Michael Prescott said...

Excellent piece. I'd add a couple of other reasons for Rand's declining popularity:

When I became an Objectivist, there was almost no biographical information on Rand other than the Brandens' hagiographic "Who is Ayn Rand?" And detailed critiques of the Objectivist movement and philosophy were very rare and hard to find. Today, however, there is a wealth of info on Rand's personal life, showing her in a most unflattering light. And anyone who wants to read a critique of her views or her movement can read books by Greg Nyquist, Scott Ryan, Jeff Walker, etc., or visit Web sites like this one. The result is that fewer people are taken in by Rand's charisma, her pseudo-logical arguments, or her cultlike movement.

Also, trends in philosophy often piggyback on trends in science. The most prestigious science, physics, has undergone a revolution over the last century, rejecting classical physics in favor of quantum mechanics (QM). Rand's outlook is very much grounded in Newtonian physics - a world of straightforward cause and effect, with an unambiguous distinction between the observer and the observed. QM calls these assumptions into question, and arguably implies a metaphysics more in line with mystical traditions. To the extent that QM influences the trends in modern philosophy, Rand's system begins to seem outdated and irrelevant.

Mark Plus said...

Changing the subject slightly, can you think of any recent intellectual figure with an influence comparable to Rand's whose views have remained more current?

For example, I've known people who treat Robert Heinlein's novels the way Objectivists treat Rand's, though Heinlein had the decency not to organize a cult around himself. But Heinlein's novels have also started to look like they've passed their "sell by" date. Both Rand and Heinlein built their literary careers by selling their writings to Baby Boomers, but their respective world views continue to show their age along with their original readerships.

Daniel Barnes said...

Mark:
>you could read Atlas as a kind of post Peak Oil Malthusian dieoff fantasy.

I was going to look up that quote...actually, do you know where it is in AS?

Neil:
>If you claim that Rand's thought has virtually no connection to anything written before or since, you turn Official Objectivism into what it is today: high priced seminars and tapes targeted to the true believers.

The problem is then Rand loses her revolutionary aspect. The most compelling thing about Objectivism is the 'conversion experience' - the complete 'break with your past' that Galt insists upon if you are to join the ranks of the New Intellectuals of the future. This 'canvas cleaning' totalism implies that Rand cannot have any precedent intellectually (well, perhaps a couple of millenia would be safe enough...) otherwise she would be likewise tainted.

Michael:
>To the extent that QM influences the trends in modern philosophy, Rand's system begins to seem outdated and irrelevant.

I'd go further, Michael. I'd say that Rand's system is more like 500 years out of date. Rand had it all wrong - modern science started with the rejection of Aristotlean nonsense by the likes of Galileo (who actually bothered to test Aristotle's theories empirically, as the old pedant never bothered to do). Science has not bothered with 'essences' of any type, ontological or epistemological, for centuries, thus has been freed from purely verbal problems. Objectivism, like much modern philosophy, is a late flowering branch of scholasticism.

Daniel Barnes said...

Interestingly, the ARI notes on its site that it has given 500,000 Rand books to schools in the past 4 years. I wonder if these get counted as 'sales'?

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_ari

On the other hand, Amazon lists 1100+ reviews for 'Atlas Shrugged' so there's clearly still a fair bit of interest out there.

Neil Parille said...

I wonder if the ARIs preocuppation with Islam is an attempt to make Objectivism more relevant. According to Objectivists, they are the only ones who realize that we are in an allegedly titantic war of ideas with Islamists.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to comment on a few factual claims here.
1) People at ARI are not all that serious in spreading Rand's ideas.

I don't have much personal experience with ARI, but everything I know of them contradicts this claim. The material I've read by ARI affiliated writers in the Objective Standard proves these particular writers are anything but 'feeble mediocrities'.

2) "Rand's followers desperate pleas to take drastic action against Islam, including the use of WMDs against Islamic states in order to wipe out all Muslims from the face of the globe."

To claim that these 'pleas' are motivated by some sort of psychological insecurity instead of thought is just arbitrary. And I've never seen any "Rand's follower" to advocate wiping out all Muslims, and most definitely that is not ARI's position.

3) Neil Parille: "According to Objectivists, they are the only ones who realize that we are in an allegedly titantic war of ideas with Islamists."
According to which Objectivists? Most Objectivists I've read believe the war of ideas is with the appeasers.

Neil Parille said...

Anon,

I don't agree with the claim that ARIans are all 'feeble mediocrities' or that they aren't interested in spreading Objectivism.

Certainly there are competent scholars associated with the ARI, but lots of what they publish (as opposed to tapes and seminars) isn't particularly creative. If Rand's theory of concept formation is the greatest philosophical achievement since Aristotle, then where are the peer-reviewed articles and books defending and expanding on it? It's been out for 40 years and Objectivists haven't moved beyond Rand's discussion of pencils, chairs and tables.

And as far as spreading Objectivism, just compare the ARI movmement with the Von Mises Institute. They make their seminars, journals and even books available for free on the internet. No, I'm not saying that everything should be free, the easiest way to spread your ideas in today's world is making stuff available on the wb.

Bbo Wallace said...

Atlas Shrugged has always seemed ot be to be a second-rate 1950's science-fiction novel that looked to the 1930's as the future. The book has not worn well at all, and I do not think a good movie can be made of it. People would laugh at it, just as the audience laughed when The Fountainhead was made into a movie.

Neil Parille said...

Bob,

I think a good movie can be made from AS, but if it's a multipart movie I don't think people will sit through a two hour episode containing "Galt Speaks."

I imagine it will be billed as something like the Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia type movie -- a good story for the thinking man. People love to be flattered.

Mark Plus said...

A film adaptation of Atlas might work if you give it the surreal Sky Captain treatment.

Michael Stuart Kelly said...

Google Trends?

Come on folks, there are so many aspects of cultural impact we can't evaluate from Google Trends that this is a very poor criterion to use to bury Objectivism (unless the trend drop is drastic). I have encountered this type of gross oversimplification from certain types of Objectivists I have debated online. I know you folks are highly intelligent, so I expect a little better premise-wise.

(I know you guys don't like Rand, but your saliva is showing with this one... //;-)

For the record, if you are interested in online activity, there is a service set up called Randex by Mark Wickens. Here is the link: Randex.

The purpose is to list mentions of Ayn Rand or Objectivism in the news. Mark appears to be an ARI sympathizer, but his service does not show ARI bias except for the advertising. He lists the good with the bad. There are many surprising nooks and crannies where Rand's cultural impact pops up. I highly recommend this resource in addition to Google Trends for cultural impact analysis.

Another good indication is the estimated 40 millions dollars being invested in the first installment of the 3-part Atlas Shrugged movie with Angelina Jolie as Dagny. If anything else, once the movie comes out in 2008, any decline in Google Trend ratings will vastly improve.

Another good indication is to look at the number of politicians and staff in power who declare themselves Rand sympathizers.

If you guys need any more suggestions to help you choose a better coffin for Objectivism, I will be happy to provide them. (Obviously, I don’t see Rand’s cultural impact in decline. I see it growing. My only caveat is that it is growing due to Rand’s book sales and independent adoption of parts of the philosophy by individuals, not due to any organized efforts. See my rant-essay, The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth.)

However, Greg’s post does bring up an intellectual concern I hold regarding image. This is the question of nukes. I have seen that when irresponsible use of nukes becomes wedded to the image of a person or group, public rejection is high. ARI has been preaching the morality of preemptive nuking (as defense) in a barrage of lectures, articles, courses, op-eds and letters to the editor (one of which even states that war should be waged against the whole Palestinian people, not just the government). As ARI claims to be the official voice of Objectivism, this "nuke-crazy" image is being stamped on the philosophy in the public mind.

For a historical perspective, this is one of the main factors that buried Goldwater’s presidential bid. In Brazil, an upcoming political star, Eneas, with a new political party PRONAS, got severely marginalized for the same reason - preaching the glories of nukes. These are two examples off the top of my head. I am sure a little research will wield many results.

In my analysis, this is a common sense thing that cuts out all rhetoric. People have traditionally and soundly marginalized atom bomb/nuke preachers because they perceive that those who preach delight in nukes will use them if they get their hands on them. They are afraid that the enthusiasts will use nukes recklessly. (I think they are right, too. If a guy tells me he wants to destroy and kill on a massive scale without mercy, I give him the benefit of the doubt and take him at his word. History is replete with examples of people who do just that. And reality is always far worse than the rationalizations preached.)

So if there is a decline in Rand/Objectivism hits on Google, my guess is that it would be more due to this "nuke-crazy" image than anything else.

One last comment. Daniel asked if the 500,000 books given by ARI count as sales. Obviously they do. These books are bought and paid for by donations. The publishers don't care who buys the books when they draw up their bookkeeping. The book distribution program is a charity program that ARI has developed.

If you are interested in computing book sales for 2005 and 2006, I put together a study for PARC because of the constant insinuations by Valliant’s admirers that PARC was an underground runaway bestseller. It is a system used in the industry based on Ingram warehouse sales. I computed the sales of Rand’s books as a comparison, but I only computed the Signet paperback editions for her fiction, so those figures are higher than I listed. Here is the link: Book sales - PARC and others.

Nuff for now.

Michael

Bbo Wallace said...

I hope an actor can be found who can say:

"I swear -- by my life and by my love of it -- that I will never live for the sake of another man,
nor ask another man to live for mine"

without bringing the audience down in laughter.

Michael Stuart Kelly said...

Hi Bob!

Laughter? Good question.

Have you thought of inquiring among the gentlemen who are plunking down 40 million smackaroonies to find out?

You might start with Lionsgate and the Baldwins.

Michael

Neil Parille said...

I wonder if "man" will be changed to "person" in such lines.

MSK,

Thanks for the hard work you did on the PARC publication data. I think most people still look to Branden's bio as a basically accurate. For the time being, it is the only account.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anonymous writes:
>The material I've read by ARI affiliated writers in the Objective Standard proves these particular writers are anything but 'feeble mediocrities'.

Hi Anonymous,

I guess the question is, simply, what works of major significance has Objectivism produced in the 50 years since 'Atlas Shrugged'?

Some articles in the Objective Standard?

Michael writes:

>Google trends?...I know you guys don't like Rand, but your saliva is showing with this one...

Hi Michael, nice to see you here. Interestingly, you could point to the same Google trend with India as the region with the most interest in Rand as a counter example, as India is a burgening capitalist nation escaping from a truly 'Atlas Shrugged' style of bureaucracy. The article was not, after all, a question to be debated, not a fact to be asserted. Greg put forward some additional reasons that might support the google trend. The AS movie is a good counterexample, although one might equally put forward "Troy" as an example of the coming revival of Homer....;-) But it's interesting to debate, particularly in light of the ARI's supposed 20/20 program to increase Rand's profile.

Big Picture, I personally think Rand's influence is self-limiting. If Greg's basic thesis is correct, her philosophy is incompatible with human nature. My parallel idea is that Objectivism has some basic software issues that prevent it from developing further, foremost its buggy Aristotelian OS.

Daniel Barnes said...

Michael:
>So if there is a decline in Rand/Objectivism hits on Google, my guess is that it would be more due to this "nuke-crazy" image than anything else.

Quite possible. The'nuke-crazy' thing is pretty scary - and is an obvious consequence of ideological absolutism.

>One last comment. Daniel asked if the 500,000 books given by ARI count as sales. Obviously they do. These books are bought and paid for by donations.

Yes. It's just that its a common talking point re: Rand's enduring popularity that books 'sell in the hundreds of thousands even today'. Yet the ARI have recently been buying them at the rate of 500,000 over the last four years and giving them away. Given the way the old Library of Congress survey was spun by the ARI, we should have reason for some skepticism. What do her books sell yearly anyway? I'd be interested to know. (And interesting work on the PARC figures, BTW)

Neil Parille said...

It would be interesting to know what the number of "dues paying members" of the ARI is, since ARI=Objectivism in the minds of many.

Most people I know who claim to be influenced by Rand are quick to say that they have been influenced by others.

Neil Parille said...

My question to Anonymous would be:

The ARI is selling the following tape series by Leonard Peikoff for $145:

"Induction in Physics and Philosophy
By Leonard Peikoff"

"These historic lectures present, for the first time, the solution to the problem of induction—and thereby complete, in every essential respect, the validation of reason."

If Peikoff has solved the problem of induction and completed the "validation of reason" then why doesn't he publish this in book form so that we can all read it?

Daniel Barnes said...

Neil:
>If Peikoff has solved the problem of induction and completed the "validation of reason" then why doesn't he publish this in book form so that we can all read it?

Maybe anonymous can tell us Peikoff's solution?

Bbo Wallace said...

Have you thought of inquiring among the gentlemen who are plunking down 40 million smackaroonies to find out?

I'd hate to take the job as one of the screenwriters for Atlas Shrugged.

They'd have to hack and slash to make an acceptable screenplay out of it. It's just too long of a book.

I saw The Fountainhead in college and the whole auditorium burst into laughter. I mentioned that to a friend of mine, and he said the same thing happened to him.

I wish everyone involved in the project the best of luck.

Michael Prescott said...

Interesting news about Angelina Jolie. But some caution is warranted. Actors commit to projects all the time, but the commitment is provisional; among other things, it depends on the producers' success at securing financing. Jolie has a very uneven track record at the box office (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Alexander the Great, and the sequel to Tomb Raider all flopped), and I don't think that her participation alone will guarantee the necessary funding for such a big-budget project.

Also, it's worth understanding the game that is being played here. The producers get some kind of commitment from Jolie, then put out a press release which the media obediently print, which in turn creates the impression that the movie is sure to get made. This is, of course, precisely the impression that the producers want to convey, since it helps them to attract funds ...

It's a little like the way the automobile mags promote the new fall line of cars every year. Some of those cars are lemons, but the mags won't say so because they can't afford to alienate the carmakers. Similarly, some of these "movies" will remain in development hell forever, but no one wants to alienate the producers (and potential advertising dollars) by talking about that.

Brendan Hutching said...

Daniel: “Interestingly, the ARI notes on its site that it has given 500,000 Rand books to schools in the past 4 years.”

They’ll be putting them in hotel rooms next. For my money, Rand’s greatest influence came in the 1960s, when the movement was young and inspired by a pure vision of the radiant future.

The second coming, as it were, began in the 1990s with the growth of institutions dedicated to her ideas and the coming-of-age of her 1960s followers, who began moving into positions of influence in academia and elsewhere.

But if Objectivism is to prosper in the way that its followers want – ie, as the intellectual force of the future – its current defenders will have to demonstrate the claims to the power and uniqueness of Rand’s ideas.

And that’s just not happening. Take the ‘War on Terror’. The best that ARI-types can do is to suggest creative ways of threatening regimes they don’t like. Not much in the way of ground-breaking thinking there.

And apart from a few books written mainly by the more open crowd, the vast majority of Rand-related material is either by her or about her. Expositions of her thought are all very worthy, but they’re not the original and influential works – on a par with, say, Rawls’ ‘A Theory of Justice’ – that will attract the attention of intellectuals, pro and con.

Rand’s apocalyptical and eschatological bent is another factor in the waning interest in her ideas. These fantasies may have played well in the post-war uncertainties of the 1950s, but the relatively uneventful implosion of the Soviet Union took much of the wind out of the sails of Cold War fantasists.

The new threat from Islamic extremism might seem to give a new lease of life to her ideas, but ARI-types have chosen badly in the ‘War on Terror’ by trying to out-neocon the neocons. This will rebound badly on them when Bush and co or their successors begin dealing diplomatically with erstwhile sworn enemies.

ARI’s stance in Iraq highlights Objectivists’ awkward straddle in the political arena – on the one hand, strident critics of many traditional US institutions, on the other, an uber-loyalty to the state. The two are possible related, in that the uber-loyalty may act as a compensation for the implicit subversion of the Objectivist politics.

When it comes to the Internet, I think another, more mundane factor is at work. When the Internet was new Objectivists flocked to it for a variety of reasons. But like other technically-savvy people, they confused the medium with the message, assuming that, like smart bombs in Iraq, the technology would sweep away traditional boundaries.

That didn’t happen. What did happen is that they discovered that talk is cheap, and that after a while every subject has been done to death many times and any new discussions are merely variants on the old. Objectivists are primarily armchair revolutionaries, bourgeois types who have too much stake in the existing system to rock the boat.

But I wouldn’t write off the Rand movement yet. I expect it will persist for many decades, probably longer, but will probably evolve – as it is doing already – into various strands focusing on different aspects of her thought: intellectual, political, psychological. Inevitably, this will be accompanied by a waning of the original momentum and an institutionalisation of the Rand’s vision.

Neil Parille said...

Of the books that have come out by Objectivists since 1982, these are the only ones I can think of which are contributions to larger philosophical issues (as opposed to books about Objectivism or Rand):

1. Peikoff: The Ominous Parallels;

2. Kelley: Evidence of the Senses;

3. Smith: Viable Values.

I don't inlude Kelley's smaller books or Bernstein's The Capitalist Manifesto because they are more introductory in nature. Nor do I include Reisman's Capitalism because it isn't about philosophy per se.

The Ominious Parallels is a joke. EOS has been disowned by the ARI crowd. That leaves Viable Values, which isn't a bad book, but isn't earth shattering either.

The most published Objectivist author is Robert Mayhew, his books are:

1. Ayn Rand and the Song of Russia
2. Ayn Rand's Answers
3. Ayn Rand's Marginalia
4. Essays on We the Living (editor)
5. Essays on the Fountainhead (editor)
6. Essays on Anthem (editor)

Anonymous said...

Umm ... why are you asking me about Peikoff's induction tape? I haven't listened to it and don't know why he has only published it in tape form. Minimal googling did reveal that David Harriman is working on a book about Peikoff's theory.

If "Atlas Shrugged" or Ayn Rand herself sets the bar, then of course the folks at ARI would be "feeble mediocrities", since they are not her equals. I don't think that's a reasonable standard by which to judge intellectuals. I mentioned the articles in The Objective Standard because they are the main source for what I know of the work of ARI-affiliated intellectuals. Most of these articles are - as far as I can judge - original, insightful and useful.

Mark Plus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Plus said...

Objectivists are primarily armchair revolutionaries, bourgeois types who have too much stake in the existing system to rock the boat.

This goes to show in part how Rand failed to become the "anti-Marx." Marxism caught fire around the beginning of the 20th Century because it spoke to millions of people who felt alienated from the emerging capitalist society and who had nothing to lose by literally taking up arms against it.

Objectivism, by contrast, wants to repair some defects in the current system, not overthrow it. After all, non-Objectivists can still build fortunes in the mixed economy. Objectivists just want to make that process easier, not repudiate it as a matter of principle the way the Marxists did.

Neil Parille said...

I just checked Amazon and the rankings are as follows --

Fountainhead: 424
Atlas Shrugged: 703
Virtues of Selfishness: 4709
Capitalism: 10,979
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology: 16,085
OPAR: 17,968

This leads me to think that continued interest in Rand's novels isn't leading to a great interest in her philosophy. And VOS is a short, easy to understand book.

For example, compare VOS' ranking with Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (a 1300 page, conservative Baptist book) which is number 1187. Ok, no one said Objectivism has anywhere near the numbers as conservative religious believers, but it's an interesting comparison.

Michael Prescott said...

Fountainhead: 424
Atlas Shrugged: 703
Virtues of Selfishness: 4709
Capitalism: 10,979
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology: 16,085
OPAR: 17,968

Those numbers are still pretty darn good, though. The Fountainhead was published more than 60 years ago, and it's still in the top 500. Even Intro to Obj. Epistemology is pretty high up there, given the subject matter.

Amazon's numbers don't always tally with sales in brick-and-mortar stores, though - and the overwhelming majority of books are still sold in stores like that.

Greg Nyquist said...

Neil Parille has challenged my description of the ARI types as feeble mediocrities. It's not a charge that I advance lightly or out of malice. Such intellectual work as I have seen produced by ARI crowd is really very bad -- nearly as bad as what is routinely produced by radical leftists. As an example, consider John Ridpath's essay on the economist Frank Knight, which evinces no understanding at all of its subject. Or how about Richard Salsman's take on the Austrian theory of the credit cycle? The Austrians, Salsman insists, have it all wrong about the great depression. It wasn't caused by excess credit; it was caused because entrepreneurs "shrug and production grinds to a halt." How can one take stuff like this seriously?

Now I know that I'm taking some of the worst examples. But even the somewhat innocuous editorials you find at their website, with their air of superficial reasonability, aren't all that distinguished. Keith Lockitch argues in "Why We Are Losing Hearts and Minds" that the way to win the war is to reclaim the power of moral idealism "in defense of our freedom." As a slogan or a platitude, that sounds okay, but it's not serious analysis, particularly when Lockitch more or less believes that the only way for the West reclaim moral idealism he regards as so important is to embrace objectivist values. Lockitch is a physicist who is writing outside his area of expertise. The fact is, he doesn't have a clue about the psychopathology of Islamic terror, or even the psychopathology of fighting terror.

But in a deeper sense where the mediocrity of the ARI really hits home is the timidity with which they attempt to advance their own cause. They really don't evince any desire to engage in serious intellectual debate. Back in the eighties, the talk show host Dennis Prager agreed to debate with any Objectivist that would take up the challenge, but the head of ARI, Michael Berliner, nixed the idea, confessing that he didn't have anybody good enough to go up against Prager, except Peikoff, who couldn't do it because it would take months for him to prepare. In those days (and, for all I know, this is still the case) ARI specialized in setting up debates with leftwing non-entities, making sure that wherever the debate was held, the audience would be predominantly pro-Rand. Now why should I take people seriously who, although they insist on the fervency of their own moral idealism, back away from any real challenge? They have convictions, but where's the courage to go with them?

Neil Parille said...

Greg,

I had in mind some of the younger people associated with ARI such as Robert Mayhew and Tara Smith. Their work concerning Rand isn't particularly creative, but they are competent scholars. Mayhew, for example, had a book on Aristotle published by the University of Chicago Press.

I do agree that there are lots of "second handers" associated with the ARI.

Neil Parille said...

I did a search on Salsman and came across this lecture by Salsman in which he describes Frank Knight as a "Christian Philosopher." Of course, Knight didn't consider himself a Christian and was well-known for his hostility to traditional Christianity.

http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?id=271

Apparently there is an attempt by some in ARI circles to distance them from Rand's support of Austrian economics.

Neil Parille said...

I didn't mean by that last comment that Knight was an Austrian . . .

Daniel Barnes said...

Neil:
>Apparently there is an attempt by some in ARI circles to distance them from Rand's support of Austrian economics.

Yes, because the Austrians use a naughty word: subjectivist. Apparently when you choose your own values, this is not what 'subjective' means...;-)

Greg:
>They have convictions, but where's the courage to go with them?

This is the meaning of Neil's earlier comment about Peikoff's solution to the problem of induction. Why isn't he shouting from the rooftops? It would make him more famous than Rand if he'd solved it, not to mention be a major vindication of her to all serious thinkers.

But he doesn't. It's somewhere or other on a Objectivist tape that costs $145. Is Peikoff afraid of what non-believers might make of his 'solution'? (if it's as inept as his treatment of the analytic/synthetic dichotomy in OPAR I don't blame him)

Greg Nyquist said...

Just to set the record straight, Peikoff is in fact supposedly working on a book about his induction theory with physicist David Harriman entitled "Induction in Physics and Philosophy." My guess is that Peikoff's theory might very well be something along the following lines: Peikoff will start by arguing that it is rational to expect uniformities, because "A is A," and a corollary of this is causation. (Deriving causation from A is A is an entirely fallacious procedure--an example of, as David Stove has put it. producing "non-tautological rabbits out of tautological hats".) Since it is rational to expect uniformities, then induction itself is "rational." Of course, an argument like this evades the main point, which is how do we know whether a proposed theoretical uniformity really covers all instances. Here I wouldn't be surprised if Peikoff resorts to one his favorite arguments, which he calls the "fallacy of the beard," which contends that its fallacious to argue that, because you cannot enumerate exactly how many whiskers it takes to make a beard, this means you can't ever know whether the hair on someone's face qualifies as a beard. Now apply the same logic to the enumeration of instances in induction. This allows one to dodge the question of how many instances are needed before one can state whether a given induction is valid.

Of course, I am merely speculating here. But I would be surprised if Peikoff's central argument for induction is any better than what I have suggested. Sure, he might try to throw in the contextuality of knowledge argument as an escape clause, so his theory can't be refuted; and he might pad it with liberal borrowings from J .S. MIll; but it's no less clear that, whatever strategy of rationalization he adopts, he will run into the problem of how many affirming instances are needed for a valid induction, and the only possible answer seems to be "a lot"--which is really not an answer at all and leaves us pretty much where Mill left us.

Daniel Barnes said...

Greg:
>Here I wouldn't be surprised if Peikoff resorts to one his favorite arguments, which he calls the "fallacy of the beard," which contends that its fallacious to argue that, because you cannot enumerate exactly how many whiskers it takes to make a beard, this means you can't ever know whether the hair on someone's face qualifies as a beard.

That sure is one bad argument - but it would not be suprising if he does use it, as it is relies on mere verbalism to solve a problem, which is typical of Rand herself.

In fact, the problem of induction is nothing to do with whether you call something with x number of hairs a "beard" or not. It's not about the decision to name something. In essence it is about whether it is possible to make future predictions based past events.

Daniel Barnes said...

Greg:
>he might pad it with liberal borrowings from J .S. MIll;

Mill tried to defend induction on several fronts but ultimately conceded it came down to enumeration. Which does not work.

Neil Parille said...

Here is the latest from Peikoff's site --

http://www.peikoff.com/kira-interview.htm

It appears that a book called The DIM Hypothesis is his current writing project.

This from the Objective Standard implies that Harriman is now writing the induction book himself

http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-summer/19th-century-atomic-war.asp

I was aware that Harriman and/or Peikoff was working on such a book, but Peikoff presented his theory in 2002, so at least an article would be appropriate by now.

Michael Hardesty said...

Bob Wallace is still haunted by The Silence Of The Laughs. Too bad.
For reasons stated on another thread I think AS would be a great TV series. Of course, you'd have to
slash but that's what good writers do. I think Peikoff is the brightest bulb at ARI and maybe Smith, Harriman and Hull. But most
are second haters. Ed Locke is the Peter Keating of Objectivism.
Brook has turned it into a Mossad front. Schwartz got so much wrong in his attack on Rothbard & anarcho-capitalism that it would
a take a monograph several times the size of his just for corrections.
Peikoff's western philosophy tapes
are well woth the expensive price tag. Infinitely better than the
Great Minds Series done by The
Teaching Center. Infinitely better than all the other philosophy courses and I've heard them done by The Teaching Center. I look forward to the DIM hypothesis.
Greg's just sour grapes because he didn't think of it first.

Jay said...

What a complete smear! I can only speak for myself, but I'm an Objectivist and I don't want to "wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth." And the need for security has not made me any less admiring of individualism. If anything, it has made me more vigilant in pursuing it. Using your "Well, whaddaya gonna do?" logic, we should abandon all principles (maybe even add "principles" to the Jargon list) and hope we don't get struck again.

After all, it sure seemed to work last time. Oh, wait..

Daniel Barnes said...

Jay:
>What a complete smear! I can only speak for myself, but I'm an Objectivist and I don't want to "wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth."

In context, Greg seems to be referring to the ARIan orthodoxy, who make none-too-subtle hints as to the extremity of the actions they'd like to see against Muslims. (See the Objective Standard article that inspired the "Islamic Terrorism" post)

Jay said...

I'm an Objective Standard subscriber and I've heard Dr. Lewis give vocal presentations as well. I believe he explicitly said "The enemy is NOT Muslims. It is the merger of Islam and state, the use of state-funded force out of demonstration to a deity."

That doesn't mean kill all Muslims. That'd be retarded. But there's no denying that Islam has a role in all of this and it makes sense to investigate that.

Neil Parille said...

Jay,

This is Craig Biddle from the August 2007 OS blog:

"Obliterate, from high altitude and long distance, all known Iranian military assets, all Iranian government buildings, all Iranian mosques and madrassahs, and the residences of all Iranian leaders, imams, clerics, and government officials. Hit these targets when they are most likely to be occupied (e.g., mosques during the day and residences at night)."

Sounds like all Moslems are the problem.

Jay said...

"Obliterate, from high altitude and long distance, all known Iranian military assets, all Iranian government buildings, all Iranian mosques and madrassahs, and the residences of all Iranian leaders, imams, clerics, and government officials. Hit these targets when they are most likely to be occupied (e.g., mosques during the day and residences at night)."

Sounds like the government, to me.

Shaved Ape said...

Former rabid big "O" Objectivist I have left for saner pastures. The final straw is the complete lack of any sort of criticism against Bush and the Republicans over the last 7 years. It's amazing that Objectivists can work themselves up into a lather over Clinton getting oral sex but Bush ineptly fighting a war and ruining the economy as well as destroying the fed budget and raping our civil liberties (Patriot Act) is COMPLETELY overlooked. It's sickening that the leading Objectivist have revealed that they are Republicans at heart. Sickening! My God they are STILL going on about Elian Gonzales! May Ayn have mercy on their pitiful souls!

Wells said...

Jay, I sure you could also use the bold tags to make the following passage.
......
"Obliterate, from high altitude and long distance, all known Iranian military assets, all Iranian government buildings, all Iranian mosques and madrassahs, and the residences of all Iranian leaders, imams, clerics, and government officials. Hit these targets when they are most likely to be occupied (e.g., mosques during the day and residences at night)."
......

Anonymous said...

You should ask Daniel Barnes if he can show you the google trends for Ayn Rand these days.
Are they still in decline?

Daniel Barnes said...

The answer seems to be yes, they do look to be either flat or in slow decline over the long term, with the odd spike around news points like movies and vice presidential candidates.
http://www.google.com/trends/?q=ayn+rand&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0

Daniel Barnes said...

Further evidence that we may have passed Peak Rand is that her influence has waned from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve - arguably the most powerful man in the world - to, um, the Veep.

Michael Prescott said...

I dunno. Back in my Objectivist days (in the 1980s), if I'd been told that the "idea man" on a GOP presidential ticket was someone inspired by Rand's novels - and who actually addressed the Atlas Society - I don't think I would have seen it as evidence of decline.

I'm hearing more about Rand in the media lately than I ever have before. I think ARCHN underestimates the influence she's had on popular thinking about politics and economics, especially with Cuffy Meigs currently occupying the Oval Office.

Populist organizers like the Tea Party folks don't care about the inconsistencies in Rand's epistemology or even the clash between her ethics and their Judeo-Christian values. They just like her impassioned defense of individual initiative and her rejection of a bureaucratized crony-capitalist welfare state.

Anonymous said...

The data suggests interest (as reflected in searches) bottomed out in 2007 and has increased since. But the data only goes back to 2004, so I don't know how it was ever used to justify claims about Rand's popularity relative to "20, 30, 40 years ago". Seems like confirmation bias.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anonymous, you clearly need to grok the difference between the following statements:
"Rand's influence is in decline."
"Is Rand's influence in decline?"

Daniel Barnes said...

Mike, my Veep comment was not intended too seriously...;-)

Daniel Barnes said...

Mike:
>They just like her impassioned defense of individual initiative and her rejection of a bureaucratized crony-capitalist welfare state.

I would amend that to say that they like to believe themselves as passionate defenders of individual initiative while simultaneously passionately defending their particular chunks of the bureaucratized crony capitalist welfare state!

Daniel Barnes said...

It's the same kind of doublethink you find Ryan, or in statements like Craig T Nelson's famous "I've been on food stamps and welfare, did anybody help me out? No. No."

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you clearly need to grok the difference between the following statements:
"Rand's influence is in decline."
"Is Rand's influence in decline?"


It does not matter that the headline is posed as a question when the author makes the statement: "This suggests something I have suspected for a number of years: that interest in Rand and her philosophy is waning, that people just aren't as interested in her than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago."

Data from 2-3 years aren't normally taken as indicating 40-year trends. You should admit this, and admit that the trend from the last 2-3 years is upward. If you can do neither then that is a strong indication that you see what you want to see.

Daniel Barnes said...

LOL. Anon, you flatter the search trend by calling it " upward" since 2007. Talk about seeing what you want to see...;-). Absent some news spikes, at best it's as flat as the Nevsky Prospect. But of course, no-one is even suggesting that Google trends *prove* anything. Greg's piece is obviously speculative. It's true Rand's work has a surge of interest every decade or so. So what? So does disco, and no-one says it's bigger now than it was in the '70s. Of course, there's evidence to the contrary too: for example, Gary Weiss' recent book suggests she is much more influential than is realised. Greg reviews it here. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

I suppose every January Randians must say "this year!"...then come December it's "next year is our year..."

Anonymous said...

Anon, you flatter the search trend by calling it " upward" since 2007. Talk about seeing what you want to see...;-). Absent some news spikes, at best it's as flat as the Nevsky Prospect.

You mean, other than the times people are very interested, they aren't any more interested. But even that isn't true. The lowest weekly search volume index for 2011 (0.8) was almost equal to the yearly average for 2007 (0.83), and well above the 2007 low (0.55). Moreover, the data is all normalized so that the average volume for the data set is 1.0, so you can easily tell whether a period is running above or below average. The full-year average for 2011 is 1.039, and so far for 2012 it is 1.041, so at a glance you can see that they have higher search volume than the average since 2004.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>The full-year average for 2011 is 1.039, and so far for 2012 it is 1.041, so at a glance you can see that they have higher search volume than the average since 2004.

Well, at least we know what you regard as surging interest!

Anonymous said...

I did not say "surge", you did. I said, "The data suggests interest (as reflected in searches) bottomed out in 2007 and has increased since." I'm sorry you are unable to accept conclusions that emerge from the data you recommended.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon, you've clearly looked at the data set in more detail than my quick glance at it. If there is the upward trend you claim, it's certainly not immediately clear in the same way that these, for example are:
http://www.google.com/trends/?q=the+bible&ctab=0&geo=us&geor=all&date=all&sort=0
Or
http://www.google.com/trends/?q=mises&ctab=0&geo=us&geor=all&date=all&sort=0
The Nevsky Prospect, if examined closely enough, is not perfectly flat either.

At any rate, you don't want to call it a "surge" of interest. Well me neither. On that we at least we agree.

On the original issue of whether Rand's influence is in decline, it really depends on a)when your starting point is and b) what you mean by influence. Clearly it doesn't have the above ground profile that it had in the at the peak of the NBI days. But there is good reason to think a la Gary Weiss that she has had a substantial subterranean effect on the political landscape, an effect that has only started to come to light in recent years. As I've said before, this subterranean effect is regrettable, as it means her ideas don't get critically examined in the mainstream and it's just this sort of examination that her doctrines seriously need.