john_j_enright (john_j_enright) wrote,
john_j_enright
john_j_enright

Student or Enemy of Objectivism

During the time of NBI, and for some time thereafter, subscribers to The Objectivist Newsletter were instructed NOT to refer to themselves as Objectivists, but rather to style themselves as "Students of Objectivism." In New York, at least, this was an accepted phrase among people I knew. I even knew a young woman who had shortened it to "S. of O.", which was faster to say at least.

This "student of Objectivism" usage was recommended in print by Nathaniel Branden in "A Message To Our Readers" in the April, 1965 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter. Actually, in the article, he says that "supporter of Objectivism" would also be acceptable, and in my opinion it's a much better phrase, but the phrase that stuck was "student of Objectivism."

The article repeatedly evinces concern that people will be fooled into thinking that some self-styled "Objectivist" is actually an approved spokesperson for Rand and Branden's philosophy.

However, the article also launches an attack upon those who try to use Objectivism without giving it proper credit, perhaps because they fear association with someone so controversial as Ayn Rand.

In practice, a funny double bind emerged from these considerations. You were to give credit, but you were not to take credit thereby. It wasn't always easy to tell where to draw the line between the two.

Say you were opening a psychotherapy practice and you wanted to indicate, on your flyer, something about what you believed in. Is it okay to put "Rational selfishness" as something you believe in? Is it wrong to put this, but not mention Rand specifically, since you are then failing to credit her with an idea you got from her?

So maybe you put her name, or her philosophy's name, on your flyer somewhere, with appropriate disclaimers saying you're not a spokesperson for anyone or anything.

Well, soon you would get a letter from one of Rand's lawyers asking you to stop using her name. It didn't ask you to stop using "rational selfishness," so you left that in. But if you had any flyers left, you tossed them in the trash.

The problem was finding a way to give credit, without seeming to claim that you actually understood something. In practice, the lawyers cared more about protecting Rand's name and her philosophy's name. So in practice, at least in print, you used other words.

At that time, I formed a jocular pet theory that being an "enemy of Objectivism" was the best self-description to adopt. As an enemy of Objectivism, no one would be concerned to hold it against you that you disagreed on some small point of the philosophy. As an avowed enemy, no one would ever confuse you with a spokesman for the philosophy.

Indeed, Rand had complained at times about the low quality of her enemies. I figured I could set myself up to raise the quality of her enemies. I would give her an enemy who actually agreed with her rather a great deal. As an enemy I would not be bound by all these strictures. I could put "Enemy of Objectivism" on my business card, and what would her lawyers have to complain about?

I would not have put "Enemy of Ayn Rand." Not in a million years. I felt too much gratitude and admiration to do such a thing. But "Enemy of Objectivism" seemed fine.

The problem I had was that I wasn't sure I really disagreed with Objectivism, properly understood, in any substantial way. So I never executed my plan.

Rhyme of the day:

I put myself on the list
Of enemies who might exist.
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