For example, one thing that's always touted is the perennial popularity of "Atlas Shrugged", which is currently going through a renewed surge due to the economic crisis. But even before the GFC, we can see it was widely read:
A Freestar Media/Zogby poll found that 8.1 percent of American adults have read the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The poll of 1,239 adults was conducted by Zogby International between October 10 and October 14, 2007 at the request of Freestar Media, LLC. Among the poll's 80 questions was "Have you ever read the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand?". The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.OK, if they're over 18 years, that's around 225,000,000 people. 8.1% of that means about 18,225,000 have read the book. Atlas Shrugged's sales in the 50-odd years since it was published seem to be about 6,500,000, so (assuming these are mostly in the US) each copy should have about 3 readers. Seems possible enough, at least in a back-of-an-envelope way, so let's grant this research could be reliable.
But the key question is: of the 18,000,000 or so Americans that have read the book, how many have become Objectivists as a result? Certainly this is unprecedented publicity for a philosophy, but how effective has Rand's magnum opus actually been in persuading people that her philosophy is the one to follow?
Of course, trying to figure this out is difficult as there are no firm numbers on the volume of self-described Objectivists out there. Furthermore, Objectivism is so schismatic that no one can agree on what being an Objectivist really entails in the first place. For example, at the furthest cultic extreme, Leonard Peikoff contends that Ayn Rand herself was the only true Objectivist, and everyone else is just a "student" of Objectivism. So it's obviously a problematic proposition.
However, we can make some reasonable assumptions. For example, we'd presume Libertarians outnumber Objectivists, mainly on the basis that unlike Objectivists, the Libertarians have enough weight to have managed to form a consistent political presence in the US. There are around 225,000 registered Libertarians in the US, so Objectivists would have to be significantly less than that. So that could give us a reasonable upper bound. And of course, whilst Libertarians are often inspired by Rand's writing, they are certainly not considered to be Objectivists.
What's the minimum then? Well, let's take the free site The Atlasphere as possible minimum. This networking site for Ayn Rand fans, which has been around for many years now, claims about 18, 774 member profiles. So if we generously assume they're all US citizens that would give us a possible bottom figure. So that would make the number of Objectivists roughly somewhere between 225,000 and 19,000. So let's put a guesstimate on it and assume that figure in the US is 100,000. That's a pretty generous assumption, I think. It's more than five times the number of self-described Objectivists on the largest, longest running free Objectivist networking site. And certainly after spending some years around Objectivist websites, one can anecdotally say that seems generous. While there are plenty of sites, they're not heavily populated in general, and when they are there's a lot of the same old, same old names cropping up. And certainly there's nothing in the attendance at Ayn Rand Institute or Atlas Society conferences or events to suggest a following much larger - if any thing, the opposite.
So that means from around 18,000,000 readers of Objectivism's definitive bestselling expression, we get 100,000 Objectivist conversions, or a conversion rate of 1:180, or roughly just over 0.5%. That is, even with very generous assumptions, 99.4% of people who have read "Atlas Shrugged" have not become Objectivists as a result.
That's the state of play after 50 years. At this rate even using what is supposed to be Objectivism's most powerful conversion tool it will take literally millennia before Objectivism becomes the "political" force Kelley seems to think is possible.