By Scott A. McConnell
Every business, organization and movement needs criteria or standards to judge if it is succeeding or failing. The Objectivist movement is no different, but it is harder to determine the growth of Objectivism because it is an ideological movement whose purpose is to spread a specific body of ideas to change a culture. Such change is very hard to achieve and to judge, even to observe. It’s hard to capture ideas in action, especially across a whole culture. But it needs to be done. Every movement or cause needs clear evidence if it is succeeding. First, it needs such for the obvious motivational reason of giving its members hope, but more importantly, also to help discern the influence of the ideas and activities the movement is promoting so it can better determine which of these activities are the most productive.
So how can an ideological movement like Objectivism judge if it is succeeding (or failing)? I would like to posit eleven tentative ideas or standards that I believe if statistics for them are recorded over many years and integrated they can become an Index to judge if Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism are becoming more popular, established and influential. (Or conversely, if Objectivism is losing popularity and influence.) The standards that I outline below are just the preliminary form of these ideas. I hope you will make comments after the article about what you think of these standards, if you have any data to support or reject them and most importantly if you have other standards that you believe better judge Ayn Rand’s growing or waning influence. Many of the statistics are American centric, but some are also universal or can be applied to other specific countries (even cities), especially main centers of Objectivist influence such as Canada, England, India, Israel, Australia and Norway. The few statistics I have included are to help concretize the standards, to show how the Index might work, and are possible baselines for these standards. The standards are in no particular order and I believe statistics for all of them are available if members of the Objectivist movement share them. Some of the statistics/findings I have given are from November 5, 2016, when I first codified and recorded such a list.
Sales of Ayn Rand’s Fiction
Ayn Rand’s main American publisher is Penguin Books. They have sales records of Miss Rand’s books going back decades. What are the sale trends of these books over the last 50 years, notably for Miss Rand’s four main works of fiction: Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, Anthem, and We the Living?
If the sale of Miss Rand’s premier fiction works has stalled or plateaued, that could be an important indication of her current status. As could be, conversely, a dramatic increase in the trendline of these book sales.
Source: Penguin Books
Sales of Ayn Rand’s Non-Fiction
Statistics for the sales of The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and the Romantic Manifesto over the last 45+ years should also indicate the trend of the popularity and influence of Miss Rand’s ideas. These statistics could be an important indicator that Objectivism is being taken more seriously.
Source: Penguin Books
OPAR Book Sales
The definitive work about Objectivism is Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Ayn Rand’s heir and greatest scholar, Leonard Peikoff. Published in December 1993, the sales trend of this seminal Objectivist work should be crucial to revealing Rand’s changing influence.
Source: Penguin Books/Plume
Number of Books about Ayn Rand
Searches on Amazon, the biggest book service in in the world, reveal:
3,937 results for: “Ayn Rand”
1,855 results for Books: “Ayn Rand”
(24 results: “Ayn Rand Movies and TV”)
Such figures indicating the number of books about Ayn Rand can be a baseline for discerning future trends of her popularity. Perhaps the number of Comments made on these books could also be tabulated as an indication of the growing reaction to her works and influence. Perhaps this standard of number of books could be more specific, such as the Number of Biographies about Ayn Rand.
Google Trends “is a public web facility of Google Inc., based on Google Search, that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages.” Learn about and use Google Trends here: http://itools.com/tool/google-trends-topic-popularity https://trends.google.com/trends/
When using Google Trends, there are many options of the key words and locations you can enter, the categories you can select, and the time period you want to cover. Google Trend statistics go back to 2004.
Here are links re findings for some key Ayn Rand related search terms Worldwide, 2004 to present:
- Ayn Rand
- Atlas Shrugged
- The Fountainhead
And Google trend findings for the location USA
- Ayn Rand
- Atlas Shrugged
- The Fountainhead
and for Objectivism (December 29, 2017)
- Worldwide, 2004 to present
- USA, 2004 to present
There are many other possibilities for search term usage trends that can be researched on Google Trends, such as searches for Rand based non-fiction such as OPAR, or for key terms such as Selfishness and Egoism. Such search terms would need to be those most reflective of Rand’s ideas.
Number of Search and Media Mentions of Ayn Rand
Using Google search engine, the most popular in the world, specific searches on “Ayn Rand” found:
Google Search “Ayn Rand”
About 9,510,000 results (0.74 seconds)
Google News Mentions “Ayn Rand”
About 46,900 results (0.43 seconds)
Is the number of searches on Ayn Rand going up or down? (Perhaps such search engine results need to be adjusted for population changes.) Should the number of Rand mentions in social media such as Facebook be a criterion to be considered?
Further, are public mentions of Ayn Rand by congressmen and public influencers worth tabulating and following?
Source: Google search
Rand Citations in Scholarly Works
One important measure of philosopher Rand’s influence could be the number of citations about her and her works in philosophic journals. There may be a professional service or organization that can supply these figures over many years, but one simple and freely available source is Google Scholar. https://scholar.google.com.au/
Search for “Ayn Rand”
Articles About 24,100 results (0.08 sec)
From 2013 About 6,330 results (0.09 sec)
Again, using specific search terms might be useful here, such as OPAR and ITOE, or Rand Citations. For example, on January 12, 2018, a search of “Ayn Rand citations” resulted in:
About 6,710 results (0.04 sec)
“Ayn Rand quotations” resulted in finding:
About 11,000 results (0.07 sec)
Source: Google Scholar
Number of Rand Courses Taught at Universities/Colleges in the United States and number of Objectivist Academics.
Currently, the figure of the number of Ayn Rand courses (fiction and philosophy) offered by tertiary education institutions seems to be zero. This figure/standard could be tracked over the years ahead to learn if this seemingly key statistic of Rand influence in tertiary education institutions increases.
Perhaps a better standard to judge Rand’s influence in academia could be the “Number of Objectivist professors currently working in American colleges.” Perhaps the Ayn Rand Society of the American Philosophical Association has statistics re the number of employed Objectivist professors; or perhaps even the number of members in this organization is an indicator of Rand’s influence in academia.
In 2007, documentary producer Logan Darrow Clements (Freestar Media) commissioned a Zogby poll that found that 8.1 percent of Americans had read Atlas Shrugged. Following on from Clements’ work, each year this question about Atlas readership could be asked in a similar Zogby poll (perhaps with other Ayn Rand related questions) to determine if the numbers of American reading this key Rand novel are increasing.
Number of Film/TV/Theater Options of Rand Fiction
One possible way to judge Rand’s popularity in the culture is the number of derivative art works based on her fiction that are produced or optioned for production each year. During Rand’s life, such productions were more numerous than today, but this number seems to have recently escalated with productions of Anthem (play), Atlas Shrugged (film) and The Fountainhead (play). Is this recent change a blip or will it continue or even escalate? All requests to produce Rand fiction works should be approved by her agents and thus recorded.
(Perhaps a subset of this standard could be the number of film-TV documentaries about Ayn Rand and Objectivism that are produced each year.)
Source: Ayn Rand agents.
Number of For-Profit Objectivist Businesses
If Ayn Rand becomes more popular, then surely there will be an increase in the number of businesses selling Objectivist products and services. At present the number of for-profit Objectivist-based businesses seems very low, but a standard to define “Objectivist business” should be decided upon and statistics for the number of these recorded.
Do you believe that the above standards are good ones to judge the change in the reach of Objectivist ideas? What standards do you think would better reflect Ayn Rand’s influence or popularity?
Whatever your personal conclusions or thoughts on the specific standards outlined above, I believe some standards are necessary for the Objectivist movement to understand Ayn Rand’s influence and so to better decide what organizations, projects and policies are best supported to spread Objectivism.
Of course, such standards/statistics as I’ve noted above only express quantities and not the quality of how Ayn Rand has specifically influenced individual lives. But if properly defined and buttressed by objective statistics, I firmly believe that specific standards can be devised to indicate the nature of Ayn Rand’s reach and popularity, especially if it is growing or waning. And thus these standards/statistics can help indicate what activities are producing change.
I note that these standards and figures may also need to be amended statistically to cover such variables as growth in population and changes in the nature of internet usage. And they will also most probably need to be weighted to reflect the standards that are judged as more important. Then these weighted final scores for each standard would be combined to give the Ayn Rand Index number for that year or specific period. This score could then be compared to scores for other years or periods. A trend will be revealed.
I hope that this article can start a serious discussion about the development of objective standards to judge the influence of Objectivism. This, I repeat, can inspire Objectivists’ sense of hope about the future and desire to perform today better focused work to spread Ayn Rand’s ideas. As we know, to build a better future also demands a knowledgeable understanding of the past and the present.
You will have noticed that I have refrained from making any conclusions from the above standards and the few findings I have given, but I hope that soon a prototype of the Ayn Rand Index can be completed and we can all make our own conclusions from its findings. To state the obvious, Objectivism is a great value. As is understanding its influence. If Objectivism is rising and turning our culture towards reason and life, that is informative and inspiring.
Scott A. McConnell is a writer in Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.