I think it is a matter of three issues, mainly:
(i) Religion (ii) Dogmatism (iii) Saturation
By comparison to the first two, 'Saturation' is a pretty simple thing: it takes a while for ideas to become saturated in a culture anyway, and in terms of the movement as a whole, it is only recently that the ARI has really pursued what it calls the 'funnel method', in terms of reaching out to as many students as possible, with the understanding that most people will not catch on, but at least (a) they will know who Ayn Rand is, and (b) the one's who matter will catch on.
And more widely than this, it's just taken a while to start getting some serious donations. Now that the ARI is really established, donations are continually on the rise. But as I side, this has been a historically recent event. Our chickens are just starting to come home to roost, in this respect.
Now, the first two are much more serious. We live in a culture steeped in mysticism. The influence of religion has been incredible, and I do not just mean in the fact of the number of churches or religious people. I mean the fact that it has so infected our lives and way of thinking that even if people are not religious, or are in fact atheists, they fall into the general pattern left behind by religion itself. They seek some other authority in their lives, as opposed to trusting their own minds. As such, just the very way of thinking and living as presented by Objectivism is seen as just plain wrong to them. They cannot usually consciously identify why it is, but religion has had such an influence that they see it two ways: either you heed to an authority, or you reject truth altogether. There is no alternative, certainly not that black-and-white, absolutist Ayn Rand woman!
Which brings me to the issue of dogmatism. There are many, to some degree or another, dogmatic Objectivists. There is nothing special about Objectivism to make it so: rather, it is a condition of the culture we live in, one influenced, as I said, so heavily by religion. As such, rather than having lots of Objectivists who are looking to make the best of their lives, to enjoy and promote values, and thus to "sell" the philosophy by the fact of its consequences... we instead have a lot of rationalistic, dogmatic, anti-social and just plain... not too nice Objectivists.
Now, I should add that this has changed a lot over the years -- the whole idea of being a 'rationalist' is fairly well understood in Objectivist circles, or at least well understood enough that people know it's bad to be one, even if they're not quite too sure what that means (because, by contrast, they just do not quite get what the Epistemology means). I should also add, as I said, that this comes in degrees, and many Objectivists (at least whom I have met in real life) are nice people. But too many of them, to one degree or another, in some aspect of their lives or another, are rationalistic, dogmatic, and therefore not very good in promoting Objectivism, either in the manner of explaining it to other people, or in just the way they live.
I think once we root out this rationalism, and Objectivists start to really embrace what it actually means to think objectively (which means, contrary to what Dr Peikoff expressed in a recent podcast, I think understanding good epistemology is vital, as an ethical fact!), Objectivism will really start to take off. On top of what I said above, I think Objectivism as a practical philosophy will really be seen too. If people really get Objectivism, then I think they will really be able to promote it by their own unique ways of applying it. Someone asks how you've managed to raise your kids so well, how you've run your business so profitably, how you've managed to overcome scientific problems others haven't, how you've seen technological applications, how you manage to live just such a happy life in general, your answer can be: "I approach the world properly - I'm an Objectivist!"
It took well over 1000 years for Aristotle's philosophy to overcome Plato's; the result was the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
It took Kant about 150 yrs to overcome Aristotle; an early major result was Weimar Germany, and it lead to much of what we have today.
Unfortunately, history seems to show that overturning reason with emotion is easier than the other way around. And unlike religion, we don't have the benefit of thousands of years of dogma and we don't have the infrastructure of the Church. Even so, Objectivism has made great strides in just the last 10 years.
There are good reasons to be optimistic: for example, a number of terms that Objectivism introduced are coming into common use; Atlas Shrugged is one of the best-selling novels of all time; the Tea Party is showing an increasing receptiveness to new ways of thinking about government; organizations like ARI are getting on their feet.
However, Objectivists do not tend to be evangelical. We tend to live our lives and to lead by example, which is a slower process than saying "convert or we'll kill you" like some philosophies do -- but it's also more durable as people internalize a new and better way of looking at the world.
answered Aug 03 '11 at 08:56