Anthem

Finally got around to reading Ayn Rand's novella Anthem. Considering that many consider a must read, a life changing book (at least those on the extreme libertarian and right sides of the political / social spectrum), I must confess to being less than impressed. It is a fairly typical story about a dystopian society.

Although, it is not so much a story as a polemic against collectivism dressed in the form of narrative prose. Certainly I would not go as far as the dust jacket in claiming "ANTHEM is one of the most beautiful prose poems ever written."

There are many such stories:

Metropolis by Thea von Harbou
Lost Horizon by James Hilton
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
1984 by George Orwell
The Giver by Lois Lowry

and many others I've read and can't remember off the top of my head.

A good excerpt from the book - our protagonist has presented something (electric light) before a council and is rebuked. In this society individualism has been forbidden, all personal pronouns are plural collective ones (which makes for awkward reading).

"So you think that you have found a new power," said Collective 0-0009. "Do you think all your brothers think that?"

"No," we answered.

"What is not thought by all men cannot be true," said Collective 0-0009.

"You have worked on this alone?" asked International 1-5537.

"Yes," we answered.

"What is not done collectively cannot be good," said International 1-5537.

"Many men in the Homes of the Scholars have had strange new ideas in the past," said Solidarity 8-1164, "but when the majority of their brother Scholars voted against them, they abandoned their ideas, as all men must."

"This box is useless," said Alliance 6-4349.

"Should it be what they claim of it," said Harmony 9-2642, "then it would bring ruin to the Department of Candles. The Candle is a great boon to mankind, as approved by all men. Therefore it cannot be destroyed by the whim of one."

"This would wreck the plans of the World Council," said Unanimity 2-9913, "and without the Plans of the World Council the sun cannot rise. It took fifty years to secure the approval of all the Councils for the Candle, and to decide upon the number needed, and to re-fit the Plans so as to make candles instead of torches. This touched upon thousands and thousands of men working in scores of States. We cannot alter the Plans again so soon."

"And if this should lighten the toil of men," said Similarity 5-0306, "then it is a great evil, for men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men."

Then Collective 0-0009 rose and pointed at our box.

"This thing," they said, "must be destroyed."

And all the others cried as one:

"It must be destroyed!"


You can find an on line copy of the book here.

I suppose I shall now have to go and read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (another "must read, life changing book") to balance the left and right influences in my life.

Oddly enough, I have never read or watched or heard anything that I would say was life transforming for me. At best, my reaction is "Hmmm ... that was good food for thought."

Comments

Wow, while I enjoyed reading Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead very much, I must say that based on that snippet I don't think I would be able to make it through Anthem.
Richard said…
It's the first thing I've read by her.

It is a short story - about 100 pages - so you can easily get through it in one evening.

It costs nothing if you borrow the book from the library or read it off the internet.

I picked teh fragment because I thought it was a good fragment. Other might prefer other parts of the book. At the end, there are quite a few paragraphs on her views on the inalienable rights of the individual. More libertarian / right wing people might have preferred a quote from there.

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