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Anthem Paperback – April 24, 2015
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About the Author
Ayn Rand (1905 - 1982)
Ayn Rand (born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum; February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism.
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Unfortunately, I thought that it was terrible. I thought this on two levels. First, and most strikingly, this is not art; it is a diatribe. There is no reason, in my opinion, that literature should not ever try to teach a lesson. I've always been in a minority in my literature classes in that I am fine with didactic writing produced by people such as Tolstoy and Dickens. The problem, though, is when the particular message being communicated, whatever it is, supersedes the writing so that the experience of the literature is secondary. That's why teachers, rightly, teach student writers to "show, don't tell." Art creates experiences for the reader, and in those experiences, some ideas may be discovered. Anthem never comes close to attaining artistry because it doesn't create an experience. There are characters and some sort of setting and situation, but not realized ones. Anthem is comprised of just outlines of a storyworld which are present at the service of the ideas. And a very large portion of the book simply is the statement of these beliefs, straight out to the reader. People may agree with those ideas, but I'm not sure how they can see this as art.
Second, I can't say that I agree with the beliefs set forth in the novel. I am certainly not socialist, but I am Christian and so cannot abide the small-hearted individualism expressed in Anthem. Rand writes, "To be free, a man must be free of his brothers. That is freedom. This and nothing else." This and nothing else? What dogmatism! Of course are other kinds of slavery and freedoms. History has surely contained examples of extremes in which individual freedoms have been too far denied. But it's also full examples of men and women being trapped within prisons of themselves, without regard for others, sad-hearted, angry, harmful, and lonely. And in those cases, very much, freedom is found alongside others.
So, I think I gave the book a chance. But I found it to be small-hearted and small-minded. And it lacked artistry. I do not think that I will explore Rand's other, more famous, works.
Its final two chapters are (according to Rand) the "anthem"--the celebration of the human ego. This is not done in logical terms, but in pure emotional exultation. In my opinion, Rand's writing throughout the book is skilled, passionate and evocative, but in the last two chapters she really shines.
For presentations of Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, in logical form, read Atlas Shrugged. For a ruthless, beautiful evocation of the emotional aspect of Rand's philosophy of egoism, read Anthem. If you have socialist leanings, or simply have always assumed the many is more important that the one, the book may disturb you greatly (it did me, when I read it the first time). It will change the way you feel, and Rand's later work will change the way you think.
Highly recommended. This book is often misunderstood, but if you read it with the understanding that it is a poem, and not a book, your understanding of it will be enhanced.
We are nothing. Mankind is all. By the grace of our brothers are we allowed our lives. We exist
through, by and for our brothers who are the State. Amen.
But Equality 7-2521 has a problem; he doesn't believe in the things that his brothers do. He has questions, which can not even be asked, that he wants answered. He has a friend (International 4-8818), which is forbidden, and then he falls in love with a woman he calls "The Golden One" (Liberty 5-3000). And as if all these crimes weren't bad enough, he's started to do experiments in an abandoned culvert and he's figured out electricity. But he's willing to accept the consequences for his crimes because he's certain that his discovery is so important to Mankind as to absolve him of all blame. He is, of course, wrong. Because in this society, it is not a good thing for an individual to discover new knowledge: "This is a great sin, to be born with a head which is too quick. It is not good to be different from our brothers, but it is evil to be superior to them." So Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000 escape into the wilderness surrounding the city and, after renaming each other Prometheus and Gaea, begin to work out a philosophy where the self, the individual, is important. Prometheus realizes:
At first, man was enslaved by the gods. But he broke the chains. Then he was enslaved by the
kings. But he broke their chains. He was enslaved by his birth, by his kin, by his race. But he
broke their chains. He declared to all his brothers that a man has rights which neither god nor king
nor other men can take away from him, no matter what their number, for his is the right of man,
and there is no right on earth above this right. And he stood on the threshold of freedom for which
the blood of centuries behind him had been spilled.
But then he gave up all he had won, and fell lower than his savage beginning.
What brought it to pass? What disaster took their reason away from men? What whip lashed them
to their knees in shame and submission? The worship of the word "We."
Perhaps in those days, there were a few among men, a few of clear sight and clean soul, who
refused to surrender [the word I.] What agony must have been theirs before that which they saw
coming and could not stop! Perhaps they cried out in protest and in warning. And they, these few,
fought a hopeless battle, and they perished with their banner smeared by their own blood. And they
chose to perish, for they knew. To them, I send my salute across the centuries, and my pity.
Theirs is the banner in my hand. And I wish I had the power to tell them that the despair of their
hearts was not to be final, and their night was not without hope. For the battle they lost can never
be lost. For that which they died to save can never perish. Through all the darkness, through all
the shame of which men are capable, the spirit of man will remain alive on this earth. It may sleep,
but it will awaken. It may wear chains, but it will go on. Man, not men.
Ayn Rand espoused a hard line capitalist philosophy which she called Objectivism--''the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute.'' During a period of years when one type of Collectivism or another (Socialism, Fascism, Communism) was regnant in virtually every nation in the West, she courageously swam against the tide of her time and demanded recognition of the primacy of the individual and of self interest as a force for good. As a result, she has been ignored by the arts establishment, by philosophers and by political scientists, but she has a strong cult following and nearly every young person has, at least, a flirtation with her ideas. There are legions of us who first read her in college and developed a ferocious intellectual crush on her for her iconoclasm and for the pure ferocity of her rhetoric. Here, at last, was someone telling us that the liberal pabulum we had been spoon fed for the first 18 years of life was moral poison. What a glorious moment when you discover that there are other people who, like you, think that individuals matter, that personal excellence should be celebrated, that anything that limits the rights and the abilities of individuals is evil.
One of the most telling indicators of the dichotomy between critics and the common folk is to compare her absence from the Modern Library Top 100 novels of the 20th Century list to the lofty placement of her novels on the lists where readers voted (i.e., Radcliffe's 100 Best Novels, Modern Library Readers' List & Koen Books Top 100) The critics may not respect her much, but we of the hoi polloi sure seem to like her. And, of course, Ms Rand has gotten the final laugh as it is her philosophy that has triumphed and, along with the careful tending of her acolyte and former boy toy Alan Greenspan, given the world a period of unprecedented economic growth and political freedom. The continued refusal of the intelligentsia to acknowledge her, merely serves to make her accomplishment all the more remarkable. When the dust has settled, a few decades or centuries from now, one assumes (okay, one hopes) that Keynes and Galbraith, Marx and Rawls, Dreiser and Lewis and Sinclair--all of the thinkers and writers of the failed Left--will have been consigned to oblivion and the names that are honored will be Hayek, Popper, Friedman, Orwell and Rand. .
The sheer length of her two masterworks, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, makes rereading them a pretty daunting prospect. They tend to be a little too hysterical, a little too repetitive and, with the end of the Cold War, they've lost a little of their edge. But only a little, her essential message is still as important and timely today as it was fifty years ago--the only guarantee of freedom and human progress continues to be the individual acting in his own interest. Every attempt to make one person work for another's benefit erodes all of our liberty and retards our progress as a society and a species. So I highly recommend that you return to these shorter works and The Fountainhead stands up pretty well. It also looks, from the reviews below, like her collected letters and journals make for rewarding reading. This fine short novel is an excellent introduction to her passionate political philosophy and her emotional polemical style.