These are only very preliminary thoughts to an investigation on a very important and difficult subject: what factors determine the course of nations.
One thing the left-liberals in this country enjoy doing is pointing to the welfare states of Europe as a model for America to adopt. None of it should sit at all well with either advanced students of economics or of Objectivism. The advanced student of economics is apt to root out whether variants of the "broken-window fallacy" or being committed - i.e., what is seen, vs. what is not seen? What are any of the hidden costs the welfare-state advocates are leaving out of their equation? Are they biased as many people tend to be; that is, do they look at the positive side of something they have an automatized positive reaction to, while managing not to notice the negatives? Have they considered the full context?
Just what is the full context? If you're limited to the level of political economy, you're dealing within a narrow context in regard to causal factors. Take, for instance, a favorite icon of the left, Noam Chomsky. Chomsky, a linguist by profession, takes left-wing views on matter of political economy; his political ideal is something he calls "anarcho-syndicalism." If Chomsky is the genius many on the left claim he is, then we should hear a lot more from the left about the need to adopt an anarcho-syndicalist model rather than a welfare-state model. Why this schism between admiration for Chomsky's genius and the policies they support? Is it pragmatism? Why the pragmatism, if that's the case?
Besides, why do they go in for Chomsky's political-economic-level analysis of our popular culture? Manufacturing Consent is a left-wing bible, and in fact his analysis seems to provide a pretty comprehensive, over-arching explanation of how and why our national discourse is in the state that it's in right now. It would definitely (seem to) explain how and why a Dingbat has a prominent voice in our politics. Further, the popular culture, in the Chomsky-inspired analysis, is so infused through and through by the interests of a powerful moneyed elite that it overrides a lot of attempts at educating people about better ideas (e.g., the preferability of Euro-style welfare states). Americans these days are fat, dumb, apathetic, etc. - and the corporations only encourage all that more because of the profit involved and the interests of the moneyed elite that are served.
I don't know how exactly that's supposed to explain the popular appeal of, say, Creationism (as opposed to evolution) in the American landscape. Maybe the Chomsky-style explanation isn't meant to cover this, that, and everything - just a lot of things we see today. But then again, maybe the political-economic analysis can be refined or amended to account for that. It kinda gets squishy here.
How about the status of Ayn Rand in our mainstream culture? Here's where the analysis rather breaks down. The Chomsky-inspired analysis is that her ideas serve as useful fuel and rationalization for the moneyed elite's power-structure. Alan Greenspan, after all, was an inner-circle member and he helped to engineer the economic crisis which (supposedly) was a macrocosmic illustration of the moneyed elite's stranglehold on our political-economic system. That apparent explanation certainly looks convenient to a left-wing analysis, but the game here is one of guilt-by-association rather than one of understanding. Alan Greenspan is, after all, a pragmatist at root, which means his thought-processes and actions are not that of someone seriously well-versed in Rand's philosophy. So things start to really get squishy and squirmy here.
Just how does the left in the country see and grasp Rand? If they see and grasp things at the level of political economy, they're not going to have a firm grasp of anything there. They're just not. Further, the political-economic analysis of things in which a moneyed elite is manipulating and dumbing-down public opinion in order to best serve its interests, tends to be associated with thoughts that the American right suffers from intellectual inferiority. Again, they point to Europe as an example of greater enlightenment, because of their (apparent) advances over America in the areas the leftists and liberals find most important. (Didn't Rand say something about the realms "conservatives" and "liberals," respectively, find more important, and focus their policy concerns accordingly? I think it's in her essay, "Censorship: Local and Express." But only the Rand cultists could tell you about that essay.) But the fact of the matter is that Ayn Rand just doesn't fit into that picture of right-wing intellectual inferiority. In fact, it's really hard to pin down Ayn Rand as a right-wing figure at all. Not when she advocates the primacy of reason above all else.
Let's say that the average American is well-versed in Rand. Not just the novels and non-fiction writings, but the Peikoff stuff, too. (Rand explicitly said Peikoff was her best student, see. She explicitly said that his lecture courses are first-rate as presentations of her ideas.) The consequence is people who tend to think a lot more clearly, more efficiently, more well-integrated, etc. Assuming mind-body integration, this cognitive efficacy means lots of great existential results across all kinds of factors - economic, political, cultural, artistic, spiritual. So an America well-versed in Rand would be advanced beyond both present-day America and present-day Europe in a lot of ways. Psycho-epistemologically, they would be a lot healthier.
Just how does the average/mainstream European compare to the average/mainstream American, cognitively or psycho-epistemologically. Which of the two thought-processes are more logical and reality-oriented? Isn't that a more primary determinant of cultural, political, artistic and spiritual health? Moreover, does the standard left-liberal, or the standard Chomsky-style analysis broaden the investigation to this level of generality? If so, then do the nature of economic systems provide us with the level of generality, i.e., fundamentality that we need? I don't think Rand would have said that, given the primacy of ideas over economics. So how does America stack up to Europe in regard to average/mainstream cognition, and how does this factor into the left-liberal comparisons? Further, and very importantly, what fundamentally influences the course of a nation's average/mainstream cognitive or psycho-epistemological health?
I think that the left-liberals are onto one major facet of things, and that is the nature of cognitive processes dominant in various cultures. Is the dominant culture one that values reason over unreason? The American South gets flunking grades here, whereas the stridently irrationalist forms of religion are much less prominent in Europe now. That's one very significant difference right there. Predominant forms of religious belief here in the states poison scientific dialogue by poisoning cognitive processes - by reinforcing and rewarding cognitive failure.
Let's say that the nature of a culture or cultural mainstream is determined primarily and fundamentally by ideas. Now, look at the most dominant philosophical figures in the West - those whose ideas most influence those of the other philosophers, and down through the pyramidal structure of ideas, all the way down to the "man on the street." So we have Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, first and foremost. This threesome more than any others determines - as far as philosophy goes - the basic cultural structure of Western societies. Yeah, Europe has more extensive welfare states and less obvious dingbattery in their leading political figures. But aside from differences, the basic structure of both Europe and America is pretty similar. They both have welfare states, they both have (some meaningful semblance of) a rule of law, free elections, pretty advanced science disciplines, pretty good university systems, etc. You could say that Europe and America are more fundamentally similar to one another than to an Islamist theocracy.
But they're also different from one another in less basic terms. We mentioned only Plato, Arisotle, and Kant. What, then, about Jesus Christ? Was he a philosopher, or would he be considered some other kind of intellectual leader-figure? Perhaps Jesus - or the prevailing received idea of Jesus - is more aptly called a spiritual leader. And in the hierarchy of human life, where does the spirit rank? How does it rank in relation to the intellect? They're both fundamentally crucial aspects of a human being's soul. I haven't determined (yet) which is of more fundamental causal importance, but they're both really fundamental and interrelated. Now, take Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, and throw Jesus Christ into the mix, and what do you get?
Rand said that religion is a primitive form of philosophy - that it is a less-conceptually-refined, i.e., less-intellectually-advanced view about the nature of reality and humans' relation to it. So let's advance this thesis: Jesus Christ - more specifically, the role Jesus Christ plays in the lives of believers in Him - represents a primitivist influence on the West. People turn to Him to meet spiritual needs, at the expense of intellectual values. (The Thomist tradition is an uneasy hybrid. For all that intellectual rigor that goes into an ontological proof of God's existence, you'd think they'd get around to showing how the standard miracle-story of the Christ passes the philosophical sniff test. None of it holds up well under Kaufmann's withering examination, anyway.) So throw Jesus Christ into the mix in differing doses from one culture to the next, and cognitive health will vary accordingly. Now, with all their welfare states and whatnot, how are the Euros doing spiritually? (Oh. We're back at "Censorship: Local and Express" again.) Do we hear much of anything about that from the left-liberal Euro-peddlers? Just wondering. Because once religion is out, something has to fill the void. Anyway, I do hear that "happiness indices" rank average Euros higher than average Americans. So perhaps reason has ample spiritual value, after all.
Then again, maybe I haven't considered all the factors. One thing about those welfare states, by the way: homogenous and shrinking populations are probably easier to take care of via welfare states, than what's going on population-wise in the USA. I'm not clear on how that fits into the left-liberal Euro-pimping. After all, it's not apples and apples.
As I said, these are only very preliminary thoughts; this subject needs a lot more working-out....