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 Forty Year Decline of Objectivism: 1967-2007

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Forty Year Decline of Objectivism: 1967-2007 Vide
PostSubject: Forty Year Decline of Objectivism: 1967-2007   Forty Year Decline of Objectivism: 1967-2007 Icon_minitimeSun Jan 06, 2008 2:40 am

Four Decades of Decline (or Stagnation) of Objectivism (1967-2007)

The flagging of momentum, the loss of people, the loss of a systematic educational "pipeline" for Objectivism was caused by a series of unfortunate decisions taken by Objectivist leaders (and by their followers who imitated them) over the last forty years. It can also be seen by contrasting the stagnation or lack of growth of the movement to the growth of conservatism over the same period.

The movement really started with a small circle of people in Ayn Rand's living room around fifty years ago when Atlas was published and the idea of writing about and then teaching the philosophy came to life.

Forty years ago, Objectivism *the philosophy* (not merely casual readership of the novels) was growing rapidly under the aegis of the NBI courses and the Objectivist magazine, which together were training Objectivists by the tens of thousands. When a movement produces well-trained, confident, assertive, well-rounded intellectuals in their twenties, in another generation they will begin to have an impact. That is exactly what happened about twenty years later, in the 1980's with the Reagan Revolution and all its eager activists and with the Thatcher Revolution and with people like Martin Anderson (who helped destroy military conscription) and Alan Greenspan. A movement like that can have an influence on related movements such as on prominent conservatives, even if they are not total converts to Objectivism.

Fast forward forty years (from the late sixties) and there are no longer tens of thousands of Objectivists emerging from courses and training in the ideas as there were when NBI produced them nationwide and even overseas. And one 'proof' of the absence of thousands of these enthusiastic 'graduates' is the backsliding of the conservatives. Into religiosity, appeasement, big government, corruption, and religiosity. As witness the post-Reagan administrations, the two Bushes, father and son, and the post-Thatcher administrations in England.

The timing matches up. Here are the 'pratfalls' of the Objectivist movement from '67 on:

1. '67-'68 Split into two warring camps. Demoralization. Closing of NBI.
2. Slow regaining thru the seventies of education for the half that remained with Peikoff's slowly developing one course after another. And the tape lessee system. But, far from increasing, the number of students was a *small fraction* of those from the previous era.
3. Shutting down of the tape lessee system and instead selling the course as taped lectures at *extremely high cost* to individual purchases one on one. A still greater drop in people being educated in the philosophy and related subjects and in applying the philosophy.
4. Resulting loss in understanding the ideas for the last twenty years (I witnessed a steady shrinkage on both coasts and in several states and at annual conferences -- how fewer people I would meet completely understand the system).
5. Slow regaining in the '80s of beginnings of some movement momentum. This was tiny compared to NBI...hundreds rather than thousands...but was facilitated by the Thomas Jefferson Institute and its summer conferences beginning in '83. By '89, thing were just starting to improve, and the feeling of their being an actual 'movement' could begin to be felt...and joint projects (like ARI, campus clubs, lecture tours) were getting off the ground.
6. '89 Split into two warring camps. Demoralization. Breaking away of David Kelley and his followers. ARI loses half its support and its momentum...which takes years to recover. The Jefferson School loses momentum and ultimately collapses. IOS starts very small. Some momentum but excruciatingly tiny--less than a thousand people, years later.
7. Neither faction or group has the good sense (or perhaps the manpower and intellectual resources) to restart the education and training program of the NBI or Peikoff courses eras.
8. Fast forward nearly twenty years to 2007: IOS->TOC->TAS has begun to shrink (it was never very large). ARI has been growing, but is still a fraction the size and impact of NBI from nearly forty years ago. The clearest evidence of that is the complaint by its executive director that there are not enough trained Objectivist intellectuals to fill a dozen or two opportunities for them to fill academic or activist slots. They have the good sense to have restarted education and training with the Objectivist Academic Center, but the many thousands of prospects who enter the essay contests or read the fiction in the schools are still producing only on the order of a hundred (or less) people a year, not all of whom will do anything....compared to the tens of thousands taking comparable courses undere NBI.
9. At the same time, ARI has alienated itself from natural allies and converts among the classical liberals and conservatives by insulting them, and refusing to deal with them...or in the former case expelling people who even go to meetings of them or book signings to -even speak- to them. Even if it's to try to convert them. Movements only grow by having an influence on more diffuse but larger groups in other more 'lukewarm' or untrained movements...or in the sympathetic but uninformed groups which are the wider concentric circles around them. ARI loses in goodwill and openness to listening from these groups and individuals by this policy. TOC has tried to build bridges rather than alienate, but they have shrunk to a handful of people and are viewed as ineffectual (perhaps even by those potential allies?), so their impact is negligible. While ARI has been graduating a small number of the next generation or Objectivist intellectuals, skilled, confident, polished, knowledgeable, TOC has been graduating approximately zero. ARI has succeeded in planting a few Objectivist professors in academic philosophy departments but the number is ludicrously tiny...and their impact in terms of graduating classes full of Objectivists or gaining Objectivism respect in academic philosophy is still more a dream than a reality.
10. '07 Once there is any sign of momentum or growth in the movement, there will usually be an opportunity for differences to show in how to apply the ideas or in concrete issues or personalities. And those differences are always handled by purges, factions, schisms, and loss of momentum as disillusioned people in large percentages leave Objectivism or intellectual activism permanently. They crawl into a hole, lick their wounds, and pull the hole shut after them...or they write document or blogs opposing Objectivism and blaming it for ruining their lives. Hardly likely to cause the movement or the ideas to appear attractive to outsiders.

The more recent glimmerings of possible future factionalism and bloodletting have come with several bloggers or website owners who spend most of their time castigating the purity of anyone who doesn't completely understand and apply Objectivism correctly. The most recent example was castigating the purity of those who did not choose correctly on a concrete issue: which of the two very flawed political parties in the U.S. is worse and will do most harm.

Conclusion: Objectivists have been better at quarreling among themselves, arguing over second-order issues, than in investing always rare time in learning the ideas, applying them, and changing the world.

It is always possible for that to change. But first one has to admit error. an alcoholic who refuses to believe he has any problems and blames everything including his failure and problems on the rest of the world...or, worse, proclaims he is totally successful and has no problems... if one does not admit there are problems and that one is so far unsuccessful, one does not have the reason or the will to take a hard look at correcting the problems.

The Objectivist movement has enormous potential. A genius founder, brilliant writer, inspiring ideas. And most important - the truth, the philosophy of the future.

But even the best of ideas cannot succeed if they are not spread properly. Or if the people who want to spread and apply them serve as poor or repulsive role models. Or don't understand a difficult and tricky system of ideas. Or if they are unwilling to work together and build a community that is appealing and provides a first customer base and source of energy, troops, activists, customers, new ideas, new thinkers.


NOTE: The contributor-supported non-profits have an interest in 'hyping' their own work in glossy newsletters. But the proof of stagnation in the growth of the movement or its impact on non-Objectivists comes from comparing those breathless claims of progress or major projects with the lack of any real breakthroughs when one reads the same reports from five or ten or fifteen years ago. What is needed is to correct the past mistakes before future or present projects will have any but the tiniest impact on converting people to Objectivism. Or even finding it interesting. Or even being aware of its nature. Or its existence.

NOTE2: The increase in readership of the novels is not identical to an increase in the number of Objectivists emerging after having read the novels.
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