Shortly after enrolling in the University of Arizona in 1969—a high-school dropout, I managed to talk my way in without a diploma—I formed a Students of Objectivism club. There were similar clubs around the country, and I quickly learned that to call my organization an “Objectivism Club,” or something to that effect, might bring the threat of a lawsuit from Ayn Rand’s attorney, as had happened to some other groups. This restriction didn’t especially bother me. If Ayn Rand wished to restrict the label “Objectivism” and “Objectivists” to groups or persons that she had specifically sanctioned, then I would go along out of respect for her.
Although my club was formed to advance and discuss Rand’s ideas, I conceived of it as a philosophy club structured around Rand’s ideas. Unlike some similar groups I had heard about, criticisms of Rand’s ideas were welcome and even encouraged. I believed then, as I believe now, that a sound philosophy will be able to withstand criticism. Moreover, the proponents of a philosophy will become more capable of defending their ideas as they become more able to respond effectively to criticisms.
Within months our membership swelled to over 100. We quickly became the second largest organization on the UA campus, surpassed only by SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). Later, after we expressed our opposition to the war in Vietnam by participating in the nationwide Moratorium March to End the War in Vietnam (Oct. 15, 1969) we achieved another sort of honor: We were placed on the FBI’s list of subversive campus organizations. I recall saying at a meeting that we were indeed subversive, but we were subversive because we were promoting Rand’s ideas, not because of our opposition to the war.
The infamous split between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden occurred in 1968, one year before I founded the UA Students of Objectivism. The split was still a hot topic of discussion among admirers of Rand. We knew little about the split, except what we read in Rand’s brief statement (“To Whom It May Concern”) in The Objectivist, and the longer explanation given by Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in Answer to Ayn Rand. Although Nathaniel Branden did not provide details, he suggested that a conflict over a romantic relationship was the basic cause of the split, and this explanation struck me as plausible. In the final analysis, however, I didn’t regard the personal relationship between Rand and Branden as relevant to Objectivism as a philosophy. If Branden’s ideas were important before the split, they remained important after the split.
Most members of our club agreed with me, but a few did not. Short after I mailed an announcement that we would be playing Branden’s Basic Principles of Objectivism (records produced by Academic Associates in Hollywood) at our weekly meetings on campus, I received a phone call from a woman who curtly asked, “Are you aware that Miss Rand has issued a statement regarding those lectures?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m aware of that.”
“Well, what do you plan to do about it?” she asked.
I replied, “Uh, not invite you to attend?”
I immediately heard a click as the woman hung up.
...to be continued.