Ayn Rand wasn't the literary genius most people take her for. Most of her books are too long, tend to extreme complexity, and promote a philosophy that is equal parts selfishness and nothing new. Her name will forever be synonymous with egoism (the name given to her philosophical system), and that about says it all.
But her second novel is an exception to the rule. Anthem is short, straightforward, and though it is an early egoist manifesto, many of the social trends at which she takes aim deserve to be shattered. It's also well-written, with a kind of breathless poetic element that stands in contrast to the bleakness of the content.
In the tradition of the great dystopian novels 1984 and Brave New World, Anthem is narrated by a man lost in the nameless future—a place where every human really is nameless. Love, knowledge, science, and individualism are all subsumed into the human ocean known only as "We," the great level playing field in which free will and volition are not even bad memories.
For much of the novel, the protagonist cannot bring himself to write in anything but the mandated collective: we have committed a crime, we have loved a woman, we have thought our own thoughts. The story follows his escape from this constrictive society with the woman he loves, and his journey from no identity ("we") to self-identity ("I").
The last line asserts that the great sacred word of the human race is EGO. Rand's belief that deliberate libertarian self-love is the only way for civilization to thrive illumines her abject hatred of C. S. Lewis. The Christian message and the egoist message are clearly at odds, as Christianity supports both individualism and collectivism.
Yet Rand's warnings aren't merely to be cast aside, and the fact that she expresses them so succinctly in this book makes them far easier to heed than when they appear in her giant rants like Atlas Shrugged andThe Fountainhead. Postmodern society is engaged in the systematic erasure of individual human identity in the interest of getting along ala Rodney King.
Homogenization is a means to an end: control. The Powers That Be would like nothing more than for all people to be without distinction, for then the crown of creation made in God's image would be remade in its own image. Ayn Rand rightly decried the dangers of collectivism, but she failed to see that the human ego is just another face of the same false god.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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