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.