In 1955 an unexpected event left an indelible mark on Richard V. Allen’s life: a letter addressed to the room’s previous occupant appeared in Allen’s mailbox during his sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame. Noticing the intriguing return address, “The Intercollegiate Society of Individualists,” he decided to open the third-class letter. “I found a newsletter with a review about a text I was using in a class,” Allen remembers. “The review was written by a Yale student, M. Stanton Evans. He had it exactly right—and gave voice to my own concerns about the book. I joined ISI immediately . . . and began a close friendship with Stan that has only deepened in the half century of our cooperation.”
Later that year, Allen bought the premiere issue of National Review and, upon perusing it, learned that ISI’s first president, William F. Buckley Jr., was also editor of National Review. Two of Allen’s most influential professors from Notre Dame, Dr. Gerhart Niemeyer and Father Stanley Parry, were also associated with ISI and National Review. This “accidental and reinforcing discovery” solidified the importance of the ISI connection. Allen was impressed that ISI members were not only influencing academe but also contributing to the national dialogue. Dr. Niemeyer and Father Parry pointed him to great thinkers like Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, and Ludwig von Mises. “I became involved with ISI because it opened a most important door, providing insight and reading I might never have encountered,” Allen says. “ISI was a component in my life from the mid-1950s and is a component even now. It is a very important anchor point.” One letter, two professors, and an institution dedicated to “educating for liberty” profoundly shaped Allen’s viewpoint.
Allen went on to serve as an advisor to President Richard Nixon and, later, as candidate Ronald Reagan’s chief foreign policy advisor before becoming President Reagan’s first national security advisor. Together with fellow ISI alumnus John F. Lehman Jr., Allen helped formulate a comprehensive defense policy for Reagan. Lehman became secretary of the navy in the Reagan years and built the six-hundred-ship U.S. Navy.
Allen joined ISI’s board of trustees in 1968 and continues to serve in that capacity today. He recognizes the continual need for ISI’s programming. “Citizenship prepares young people for the future.” He believes that even in the current information age, with access to information so readily available, basic civic knowledge has not automatically increased. “Without adequate information grounded in sound principles, good choices cannot be made.” Moreover, “any résumé with an ISI connection attracts my rapt attention; it’s a strong indicator of motivation.”
“ISI is a lifetime experience,” Allen says. “It seems the best way to describe an organization that appears early in a student’s life, brings a certain insight that remains with the individual, influencing thinking, choices, and actions.”