Anthem by Rand, Ayn, 1938

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I have been reluctant to put reviews of Ayn Rand's works up here, not only because I hardly consider it SF, but because I think Rand is a bit of a kook. I have never really bought into the social utility of her philosophy; as a matter of fact, I consider it just one more undesirable form of extremism in a sea of extremist beliefs that plague our existence these days. After reading this week's selection for review, Anthem, I have not really changed my mind at all, though I do feel like I have found a pretty good story.

Anthem is often advertised as an anticipation of Rand's later masterpieces, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. The book tells the story of a member of a society of the future, named Equality 7-2521. Rand hints that this future society is the result of a nuclear war, followed by a social movement to destroy all knowledge of science. Its a society in a forced dark ages that is not looking to move forward. In this world the collective body of the population is the only thing that individual members serve, and the State exists to keep the individuals on track. To do this The State maintains a vice-like grip on its citizens. As an example, the State has outlawed the word "I," and as a matter of fact uttering that word is the only remaining capital crime. All aspects of an individual's life are highly regulated. Everything from sex to reproduction, to personal relationships, entertainment, education, vocation and even friendships are all subject to State regulation and laws. Into this world Equality 7-2521 was born both smarter and taller than average, both of which are sins. "There is evil in your bones, Equality 7-2521, for your body has grown beyond the bodies of your brothers." In an attempt to stifle Equality 7-2521's creative thinking and intelligent nature, the State makes him a street sweeper, which is a job that he will hold from the age of 15 to 40, when mandatory retirement occurs and he is put into the Palace of the Useless and waits to die, which generally occurs before an individual's 45th year. Equality 7-2521 is pleased over his fate, as he seeks only to serve society by fitting into his place in it.

One day while sweeping the street Equality 7-2521 and his friend (having a friend in this world is also illegal, and is a Transgression of Preference, for which he can be corporally punished) discover a manhole cover which leads to an old subway tunnel. Equality 7-2521 makes the tunnel his own, and creates a library, museum and laboratory of sorts, made up of illegal materials from The Unmentionable Times. He goes there daily to study and learn, and its there that he rediscovers some of the secrets of electricity, and eventually reinvents the light-bulb using left over industrial materials scattered in the tunnels. He vows to give the gift of his invention to the world, but when he goes to the Palace of Scholars to do just that, he is imprisoned for daring to upset the status quo. Equality 7-2521 escapes and makes his way to the Uncharted Forest. He is soon followed by his illegal love, Liberty 5-3000.

Set in a very pathetic future, Anthem is mostly social commentary about a brighter than ususl slave who rediscovers the "light" of sciences and thus invention and individualism. But another big part of this book is the love story between Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000. Men and women are kept separate in this world, and are only allowed contact during the spring mating season when men who have reached their 20th year and women who have reached their 18th are coupled by the Palace of Eugenics for mating. Other than that, they have virtually no contact at all. Liberty 5-3000 is a farmer. Equality 7-2521 met her one day while he was cleaning the end of the street coming from the city. The two forged an emotional connection that neither of them understood in the brief time that they had before Equality 7-2521 escaped and went to the forest. Liberty 5-3000 followed him once news of his escape got out. The two journeyed through the virtually endless wilderness, falling more deeply in love with each other, and struggling with understanding that one final shackle of their former culture. Ultimately they discovered an abandoned home in the mountains from The Unmentionable Times that was remarkably well preserved. There they made their final home, and Equality hatched a plot to bring others to them to form a new society.

Rand is famous, or infamous in some circles, for her philosophy of objectivism which stresses individualism and laissez faire capitalism, and scorns altruism, welfare and paternalism, as well as any other social outlook that allows for assistance to those in need or otherwise restrains the accomplishment of individual vision. This book, in my opinion, really goes quite a bit farther in describing the objectivist's outlook on their places in the world. What Rand is saying here is that there really are two states of being in the world: You can either be a slave, or you can be a god. Slavery occurs when you desire to serve others and sublimate your individual desires in any way for the welfare of the whole of society. Godhood occurs when you as an individual realize that accomplishing what you want to accomplish for yourself is the highest good, no matter what the cost to others. This philosophy never made sense at all to me, and in that respect it seems like another form of the communist society that Rand was actually born into, only one which allows for the chaos that can occur when one powerful individual decides to let the rest of society have the short end of the stick. Here are some of the thoughts of Equality 7-2521, now rechristened Prometheus, after he realizes that his will is paramount above all others:

I am. I think. I will.

My hands . . . My spirit . . . My sky . . . My forest . . . This earth of mine. . . .

What must I say besides? These are the words. This is the answer.

I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.

It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect.

Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: "I will it!"

Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me; the guiding star and the loadstone which point the way. They point in but one direction. They point to me.

I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.

Neither am I the means to any end others may wish to accomplish. I am not a tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a bandage for their wounds. I am not a sacrifice on their altars.

I am a man. This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before!

I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them. The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor of the spirit. I guard my treasures: my thought, my will, my freedom. And the greatest of these is freedom.

I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others. I covet no man's soul, nor is my soul theirs to covet.

I am neither foe nor friend to my brothers, but such as each of them shall deserve of me. And to earn my love, my brothers must do more than to have been born. I do not grant my love without reason, nor to any chance passer-by who may wish to claim it. I honor men with my love. But honor is a thing to be earned.

I shall choose friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters. And I shall choose only such as please me, and them I shall love and respect, but neither command nor obey. And we shall join our hands when we wish, or walk alone when we so desire. For in the temple of his spirit, each man is alone. Let each man keep his temple untouched and undefiled. Then let him join hands with others if he wishes, but only beyond his holy threshold.

For the word "We" must never be spoken, save by one's choice and as a second thought. This word must never be placed first within man's soul, else it becomes a monster, the root of all the evils on earth, the root of man's torture by men, and of an unspeakable lie.

The word "We" is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.

What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is my wisdom, if even the fools can dictate to me? What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and impotent, are my masters? What is my life, if I am but to bow, to agree and to obey?

But I am done with this creed of corruption.

I am done with the monster of "We," the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame.

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.

This god, this one word:

"I."

Self worship is one thing. But denial of other's rights is quite another, and in my opinion that is what Rand is talking about here. So before I go off on a rant, I think I will switch gears and wrap up. Rand is a skilled author. The entire book is written in the voice shown above. The rich yet simplistic language handily delivers the emotional impact of the prose, and in parts, its truly beautiful. Particularly when Rand is concentrating on the love story aspect of the book. And taken from a SF perspective, Anthem is a wonderful addition to the spate of mid-century British dystopic novels and easily earns a place on the shelf among The Machine Stops, We (which is actually Russian, not British, but is equal to the British books), 1984, and Brave New World. But I have always felt that the book would have done much better without Rand's radical ideology. Three out of five stars, with reductions not for philosophical idiocy (make of it what you will; its not my job to set you straight), but for a poor approach to physical science and plot improbability.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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