We are nothing. Mankind is all. By the grace of our brothers we are allowed our lives. We exist through, by and for our brothers, who are the State. Amen.
Anthem is a little collectivist dystopia from Ayn Rand, the champion of individualism. It’s set in a future when mankind has returned to a more primitive state (in terms of facilities and occupations) and where everyone lives for the collective, not for themselves. In fact, it’s come so far that the word “I” doesn’t exist in everyday vocabulary and, should some poor soul utter it, he/she will be sentenced to death. In this universe Equality 7-2521 develops a forbidden passion for science and falls in love. While fairly intriguing, it’s not the plot that’s really important here but Ms. Rand’s philosophy on the superiority of the self, the ego – and the climax of the story is (as Leonard Peikoff mentions in the Introduction) Equality 7-2521 discovering a house from the Unmentionable Times and in it – old books filled with long-lost knowledge and, more importantly, the word I. In chapter 9 (the one immediately following this discovery) “I” is repeated almost like a chant, and it’s really her anthem in its honor.
In the basic construction of this universe I saw echoes of Zamyatin’s We: the individual identifiers, the state prescribing every single activity, no matter how private etc. Rand’s hero will manage to escape in a way that the brainwashed D-503 couldn’t – but they both come from essentially the same place and, in the end, it’s only fitting for a book which reviles the notion of “we” so much. I guess it’s not that much of a surprise, seeing has how both authors came from the USSR background, even if there’s 17 years in-between the books. If nothing else, this period would have served only to prove Zamyatin right and drive his point home.
I am done with the monster of “we”, the word of serfdom, of plunder of misery, falsehood and shame.
Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000 have a bit of Roark & Dominique in them; at least I found the resemblance most striking when she was setting him apart, saying, among others “your mouth is cut of granite, but our brothers are soft and humble”. Not the same words, surely, but the same spirit is present in the relationship dynamic in Fountainhead. Turns out that both books were written at the same time, and Anthem was even a sketch of what was to come, her views on the world distilled and succinct.
What is not thought by all men cannot be true.
Early in the book, when we are introduced to this society, with its Homes of students (and various occupations), with its clear-cut activities for all its members, a world white and septic, I couldn’t help picturing the video for Don’t give up – a world of mindless clones (it’s a pretty crappy song, but I grew up with MTV 😀 ).
To be free, a man must be free of his brothers.
This is the kind of thoughts on which Howard Roark was built and the more I think about it, the more I realize that he is quite the unique literary character. Sometimes his actions are absurd, sometimes almost despicable, but what redeems him is his consistency, his undaunted, undeterred faith in this credo. Even if you don’t agree with his philosophy, you have to admire him.
I’ve been wondering about something: in the world of “we” – should there be a “one”? should there be the notions of singulars, of uniqueness? It strikes me that these should have been forbidden along with “I” – is it an inconsistency or am I nitpicking?