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One question that I have been thinking about is whether Objectivism is really only realize-able, in practical reality, in [maybe] one country on Earth ? The country would, of course, be the USA. Given the USA's unique circumstances, Constitution, basic educational level etc., it is somewhere where the ideas around Objectivist philosophy can take root (and certainly have).

As I look around at the other nations on the planet, the picture is not very clear. How does Objectivist thought have tangible impact (by tangible I mean something more than just an interesting intellectual plaything) where the largest populations of humanity live? Many of these countries are plagued by illiteracy, hunger, poverty etc. For the sake of argument, assume that many of the these problems are precisely because these countries have not embraced capitalism, freedom, property etc., the question is how do we move from here to there ? What is the bridge ? It seems that many of these nations (and even many in Europe) seem to have struck a "devil's bargain" where the poor are "looked after" in exchange for letting the status quo go unchallenged. This, in turn, perpetuates poverty (or dependency) and freezes the level of progress. The question is: is there any realistic way out of the deadlock ? How do you take a poor/dependent/illiterate populace and tell them that the few goodies they have become used to (e.g., subsidized bread in Egypt) are not theirs by any right any longer? How do you explain independence to a mob that is just thinking of the next bowl of gruel ? How do you make a pitch for freedom when 100 million people are worshiping mystical deities ?

The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether the Earth is, in many ways, like America in Atlas Shrugged: a mass of humanity heading to uncertainty and disaster (the nations of the world) while a small, enlightened few hide out in Galt's Gulch (America). I know this overstates the issue (America, for example, is not headed towards Galt's Gulch but the other direction lately...) but the point remains: is Objectivism really relevant towards creating a benevolent world or is it the philosophy of a small, self-referential elite group? Just as in Atlas Shrugged, if the mob gets big enough, the views of an enlightened elite will not matter as they get overrun. It would seem to be in Objectivism's interest to have it be relevant beyond a small owlish elite. I know that Institutes like ARI etc. spread the good word and influence as many people as possible but I am looking at this on the global scale where the picture seems a bit worrying. Altruism, Mysticism and Collectivism seem on the rise. In places like China, for example, there seems to be an interesting combination of crony capitalism and consequent wealth coupled to one party authoritarian communism. It's actually hard to find examples of laissez-faire capitalism rising anywhere today. If anything the philosophy of "Green Environmentalism" with its anti-technology focus on selflessness, conservation and sacrifice seems to be what captures young people's imaginations.

Given all this, where is the silver lining ? How do the ideas espoused here "make it" out there in the real world? Other than repetition, how do Objectivists think they will make a benevolent and positive impact "out there" ?

asked Jun 02 '11 at 09:22

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


edited Jun 03 '11 at 09:53

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

If Objectivism is true, then it is applicable everywhere. Your question is aimed at the issue of cultural and political activism, which is important but not the same as Objectivism as such.

(Jun 02 '11 at 09:26) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

that's why I asked about "impact" versus saying relevance. Something may be relevant and applicABLE everywhere but have little real, meaningful impact (i.e. bring true change to living humans).

(Jun 02 '11 at 09:29) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Greg, I appreciate the edit but I worry that the question as you restated it can be answered with a "yeah, and so what?" The issue I am trying to get at the translation of Objectivist thinking to impact in the real world for real humans everywhere vs. remaining a small club for brainiacs.

(Jun 03 '11 at 10:00) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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Notwithstanding the short form of this question (with or without Greg's edits), the full statement of the question asks, in part: "is Objectivism really relevant towards creating a benevolent world or is it the philosophy of a small, self-referential elite group?"

Essentially the same issue can be asked in a somewhat different form, as follows:

Do free markets benefit everyone, or merely a "privileged few"? And do free markets often fail unless the government intervenes to save them?

My own answer, from my "notes on Objectivism" that I have compiled over the years, is as follows.

  • Capitalism is most accurately described as the system of individual rights, not the system of private ownership of the "means of production" (as against central ownership and management by "society"), and certainly not the system of economic competition (with government removal of "competitive barriers," even purely economic barriers). Laissez-faire literally means "hands off" or "let us alone" (laissez-nous faire). It means complete separation of state and economics, with no state role in production and trade other than to uphold and protect individual rights, most especially the rights of producers and traders. It means a system in which government plays no role whatsoever except (as noted elsewhere) to provide military protection from foreign invaders, police forces to protect citizens from criminals, and law courts to settle civil disputes as objectively as possible.

  • Anyone who is willing to live as a rational producer and trader stands to benefit enormously from a system of laissez-faire capitalism—full, pure capitalism, not a mixture of economic freedom and controls. There is a "pyramid of ability" in capitalism; the most able producers and traders, who contribute the most to a capitalist society's overall productiveness, rise to the top. Those who contribute the least remain at the bottom. The difference in personal wealth between the top of the pyramid and the bottom is likely to be quite vast, as is the respective scope of responsibility and influence that each type of producer has on the economy.

  • But earned wealth is no threat to lesser producers, nor is it amassed at their expense. On the contrary, the greatest producers actually make life easier, not harder, for all those who are lower in the pyramid. Even those at the bottom are vastly better off under capitalism than they would be (or actually were, historically) in any other system. No economic system ever devised by man can compare to the incredible outpouring of new wealth that laissez-faire capitalism facilitates for all who choose to participate conscientiously in the system. Everyone is free to participate to whatever degree he is willing and able, and the greatest producers often come from the unlikeliest, most modest of backgrounds.

  • Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, markets do not fail. Historically and in economic analysis, it has been demonstrated over and over again that all alleged market failures are the result of either distortions caused by government interventions, or altruistic (anti-life) moral prescriptions projected into politics and economics. (For further explanation, see Markets Don't Fail! by Brian P. Simpson, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand.)

    I see no reason why capitalism (and Objectivism) could not take root anywhere in the world where people are relatively free to think and act to improve their lives. I agree that America would be the most logical place for such reform to begin first, given America's heritage and national "sense of life" (or what's left of what it once was). But I wouldn't rule out other venues, too, if or when someone somewhere sees what is possible and is in a position to influence others.


    Regarding Objectivism's emphasis on identifying "black" and "white" clearly and proudly (and defiantly toward detractors):

    If capitalism is "food" and controls are "poison," how can a mixture of capitalism and controls "create an evolution to the future"?

    In my experience, advocates of compromise on principles rarely try to explain this point clearly, other than implicitly to appeal to the sentiments expressed in the following dialog regarding Galt's Speech in Atlas Shrugged (Part III Chapter VIII):
    "Don't let's make a fuss about that speech," said Dr. Floyd Ferris. It was too intellectual. Much too intellectual for the common man. It will have no effect. People are too dumb to understand it."

    "Yeah," said Mouch hopefully, "that's so."

    "In the first place," said Dr. Ferris, encouraged, "people can't think. In the second place, they don't want to."
    Objectivism is aimed at those who can think and want to. The rest will think, too, eventually, if the example of the leaders and pioneers appeals to them. But if they are fundamentally against clarity, consistency, pride, "stridency" in defense and pursuit of values (and against integration in general), then they aren't likely to be very helpful in the progress of capitalism and Objectivism anyway. Nothing less than the seven virtues identified by Objectivism -- rationality, productiveness, pride, independence, honesty, integrity, and justice -- can save and sustain capitalism, prosperity, and happiness (i.e., life) for man.

    Bear in mind that capitalism and Objectivism are not an attempted "power grab" by one "faction" against all others. Objectivism regards the initiation of physical force against others as a major evil, to be banned from human existence. Objectivism is a defense of man's fundamental nature as a rational producer and trader, in the spirit of the American Revolutionary slogan, "Don't tread on me!" -- and with applicability to anyone who wants to pursue his own happiness and well-being in a system of freedom and individual rights.

    The detailed steps in a process of reform don't need to be "all or nothing," but the principles driving the reform, to be effective, need to be stated clearly and applied conscientiously.

  • answered Jun 04 '11 at 17:55

    Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

    Ideas for Life ♦

    edited Jun 05 '11 at 15:25

    I tend to agree with this but what about the bridge from here to there ? One of the critiques of Objectivsm tends to be that it is [proudly and defiantly] black/white. I fully "get" the reason why this and the whole "compromise between food and poison" issue but in reality people never move in "stair steps" but rather in a slower, evolutionary naturalistic ways. I see Objectivists almost sneering at "mixed" economies and "mixed" philosophies in favor of logical certainty. This, I feel, tends to blind some of them to opportunities to reach out and create an evolution to the future.

    (Jun 04 '11 at 18:37) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

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    Asked: Jun 02 '11 at 09:22

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    Last updated: Jun 05 '11 at 15:25