Anthem by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged gets most of the press nowadays, but Ayn Rand has another work that perhaps serves as a better introduction to her works. Particularly for younger folks, Anthem provides a glimpse into Ayn Rand’s sense of life that is far shorter and more accessible than Atlas Shrugged. Amazon’s description provides a decent introduction:

Written with all the power and conviction that made THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED classics of American letters, Ayn Rand’s ANTHEM is a hymn to man’s independent spirit and to the highest word in the human language — the word “Ego.” ANTHEM tells the story of a man who rediscovers individualism and his own “I” It is a world of absolute collectivization, a world where sightless, joyless, selfless men exist for the sake of serving the State; where their work, their food, and their mating are prescribed to them by order of the Collective’s rulers in the name of society’s welfare. It is a world which lost all the achievements of science and civilization when it lost its root, the independent mind, and reverted to primitive savagery a world where language contains no singular pronouns, where the “We” has replaced the “I,” and where men are put to death for the crime of discovering and speaking the “unspeakable word.” ANTHEM presents not merely a frightening projection of existing trends, but, more importantly, a positive answer to those trends and a weapon against them, a key to the world’s moral crisis and to a new morality of individualism — a morality that, if accepted today, will save us from a future such as the one presented in this story.

Anthem by Ayn Rand is, in short, a Utopian vision about a man’s recognition of his own individualism, and a pronouncement of Rand’s belief that collectivism is helpless in the face of it. As Ayn Rand pointed out, evil can only success with the sanction of its victims, and nowhere is the more true than in the struggle between the individual and the group. Today, when altruist/collectivist morality dominates our culture, Anthem services to crystallize the fundamental nature of this struggle.

As Ayn Rand said in the Foreward to Anthem:

The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empy assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one’s eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing: “But I didn’t mean this!”

Those who want slavery should have the grace to name it by its proper name. They must face the full meaning of that which they are advocating or condemning; the full, exact meaning of collectivism, of its logical implications, of the principles upon which it is based, and of the ultimate consequences to which these principles will lead.

They must face it, then decide whether this is what they want or not.

If one reads Anthem and finds parallels to today’s political and philosophical environment–which one must, if one’s eyes and mind are open–it makes sense then to move on to Atlas Shrugged. And so a suggestion: if you’ve not read Ayn Rand’s works (or, even if you’ve read everything else she wrote), then read Anthem. When you’re done, you may look at the world around you a little differently, and if so, then this short little work of genius will have done its job.

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