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" ?
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.
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."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.