Anthem is a novella by American writer Ayn Rand, first published in Great Britain in 1938 and revised for its first American edition in 1946. The novel is set in some unspecified time and place in the future, many years after human civilization has undergone a cataclysm in which all knowledge was lost and a primitive, rigidly collectivist society was established. In this society, there is no concept of individuality. Even the word "I" has disappeared from the language. The novel describes the efforts of the main character, Equality 7-2521, to reestablish a sense of personal identity and restore the knowledge of the past by objective scientific inquiry. In doing so, he must face many dangers and privations.
Although Anthem did not attract much attention on first publication, the success of Rand's later novels gave it a boost, and it has maintained its popularity for nearly half a century. By the early twenty-first century, 3,500,000 copies had been sold, and 100,000 copies are sold every year. Anthem is especially popular among young people, including high school and college students, who see in Equality's struggle to attain a meaningful sense of self a model for their own emergence into maturity. The novella remains important as an expression of the dangers of totalitarian societies and the importance of individual creativity and political freedom.
Novelist, philosopher, playwright, screenwriter, and author Ayn Rand was born Alice Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905. She was twelve years old when the Bolshevik revolution took place in 1917, and she witnessed the early establishment of the Soviet communist state. As a young girl she had already decided to become a writer, but when she entered the University of Petrograd she chose to major in history, graduating in 1924 at the age of nineteen.
Seeing no future for herself in the communist state, she came to the United States in 1926. Hoping to become a screenwriter, Rand went to Hollywood, where Cecil B. DeMille gave her a job as a movie extra and junior writer. In 1929, Rand married the aspiring young actor Frank O'Connor, and two years later she became a naturalized American citizen.
In the 1930s Rand worked as a screenwriter, but her first success was a play, Night of January 16th, which had a successful run on Broadway in 1934. In 1936, Rand published her first novel, We the Living, which is set in Russia and shows the destructiveness of the Soviet communist system. Rand was a strong supporter of capitalism.
American publishers rejected Rand's next work of fiction, the novella Anthem, which was first published in Great Britain in 1938. It did not find an American publisher until 1946, several years after the publication of Rand's third novel, The Fountainhead, in 1943. Rejected by many publishers, The Fountainhead was finally published by Bobbs-Merrill, slowly became a bestseller, and was made into a movie in 1949. Like Rand's earlier works, the theme of The Fountainhead is the superiority of individualism over collectivism.
During the 1950s, Rand gathered around her a group of admirers who helped to promote the philosophical system Rand founded, known as objectivism. In 1957, Rand's last novel, Atlas Shrugged, was published. This also became a bestseller, and Rand became well known not only as a novelist but as a philosopher. She was a regular speaker on college campuses and was interviewed on TV talk shows by Johnny Carson, Tom Snyder, and Phil Donahue. One of her followers, Nathaniel Branden, created the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which offered taped courses on objectivism.
Among Rand's best-known philosophical works are For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1961), The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism(1964), Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966), Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1967), The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature (1969), and Philosophy: Who Needs It (1971).
Rand died of heart failure on March 6, 1982, in New York City.
Anthem begins with the narrator, a young man named Equality 7-2521, writing in his diary. He is alone in some dark, hidden place and he writes by candlelight. He knows that in his society it is considered a sin to write and think alone, and to have an individual will, but he is determined to record his story. Everything in society is under the control of the state. He was raised not by a family but in the Home of Infants, then at the age of five he was sent to the Home of the Students, where he remained for ten years. His daily routine was strictly regulated, and he was taught that the individual counts for nothing: "We exist through, by and for our brothers who are the State." He was unhappy there because he knew he was different from the others, but he was not allowed to acknowledge it. He thirsted for knowledge but found little to interest or stimulate him because all the scientific and other knowledge from the past had been lost. When he was fifteen, he was sent to the Council of Vocations, which allocates an occupation to everyone, regardless of their abilities or interests. He was told he would be a street sweeper. He worked as a street sweeper for four years, living in the collective Home of the Street Sweepers. Then, two years ago, he committed what he calls a "crime," and his life changed dramatically.
One spring day after work, he and his friend, International 4-8818, discover an iron bar covered by weeds in a ravine. They pull it up and find steps going down into a shaft. Equality 7-2521 descends. He finds a long tunnel with iron tracks, and he realizes that it is a remnant of the past, known as the Unmentionable Times, almost all traces of which have been lost. Returning to the surface, he tells International 4-8818 that he has no intention of reporting his find to the authorities. They agree that they own this newly discovered place and will die before they surrender it. Each night thereafter, Equality 7-2521 sneaks away from the House of the Street Sweepers and goes to the secret tunnel. He does simple scientific experiments and studies manuscripts he has stolen from the Home of the Clerks. He has discovered knowledge that is unknown in the Home of the Scholars. He knows that what he is doing is considered evil because it does not have a clear goal of benefiting humanity, but he feels no guilt or regret.
Equality 7-2521 finds that he is attracted to a young woman who has been assigned to work in the fields. She lives in the House of the Peasants. For men to take notice of women in this way is forbidden. He keeps watching her, and one day she notices him and smiles at him. Although they do not speak to each other, they develop a secret signal of their mutual interest. He calls her the Golden One, even though it is considered a sin to give someone a name that distinguishes them from others. One day they manage to meet and exchange a few words. They fall in love. He feels happy as he goes home. He also knows that although officially everyone is happy, in fact, everyone is fearful. Suspicion falls upon him because he is so clearly filled with joy. He thinks about all the knowledge that was possessed in the Unmentionable Times and wonders what it was that was lost. All the books from those times were long ago burned. He remembers how he once saw a man burned at the stake because he had uttered the Unspeakable Word, and wonders what that word was.
Equality 7-2521 reports that after two years of research and thought, he is discovering how to harness the power of electricity. He calls it "the greatest power on earth." Using copper wires and other materials he found in his secret hideout, he has constructed new devices. He is eager to learn more.
- Anthem was adapted unabridged for audio CD, narrated by Paul Meier, by HighBridge Audio, in 2002.
- Another unabridged audio CD version, narrated by Christopher Long, was released by Blackstone Audiobooks in 2004.
Some time passes before Equality 7-2521 and the Golden One speak again. She reveals that she calls him The Unconquered. They speak affectionate words to each other, knowing that such words and thoughts are forbidden. She gets some water and he drinks it from her hands. They do not understand the emotions they are feeling.
Equality 7-2521 finishes constructing an electric light. He is delighted with his accomplishment and is inspired when he thinks about how it might be used to benefit humanity. He decides to take his invention to the meeting of the World Council of Scholars, convinced that it will be well-received.
Thirty days pass before Equality 7-2521 writes in his diary again. He reports that he was captured the night of his last entry. That night he had forgotten to return on time to the Home of the Street Sweepers. His absence was noticed and he was questioned about where he had been. He refused to answer and was sent to the Palace of Corrective Detention, where he was severely whipped. But he still refused to answer. He lay in a cell for many days recovering from the whipping. Then he remembered that the World Council of Scholars would be meeting the next day. He escaped from his cell and returned to his secret hiding place in the tunnel.
He carries his electric light, which is in a glass box, to the Home of the Scholars, where the Council is meeting. He greets the scholars and tells them about his invention, placing the box on a table in front of them. But when he demonstrates it to them, they are frightened. They tell him he has broken the law by thinking that he has more wisdom as an individual than the collective wisdom of all other men. They condemn his invention in part because it would destroy the Department of Candles and play havoc with the Plans of the World Council. They declare that the box must be destroyed. When he hears this, Equality 7-2521 breaks one of the windowpanes and jumps out of the window, clutching the glass. He runs until he reaches the Uncharted Forest, which is an uncultivated place beyond the reach of the authorities. He knows he is doomed but does not care. He takes courage from the fact that he still has his glass box with him.
He records in his diary his first day in the forest. He is enjoying a newfound sense of freedom. He managed to kill a bird for food, and for the first time saw his own face in the reflection from a stream. He explored the forest until sunset, then found a hollow between the roots of the trees where he plans to sleep that night.
More days pass without him writing. Then he records what happened on his second day in the forest. The Golden One found him. She had heard that he had gone to the Uncharted Forest and followed his tracks. She said she would follow him wherever he went. They embraced, and he told her there was nothing to fear. From that day on, they continue to walk through the forest, sleeping at night within a ring of fires to protect themselves from the wild animals. They plan to build a house someday when they have traveled far enough away from the city.
They are crossing a chain of mountains when they discover a house. They know instantly that it dates back to the Unmentionable Times, protected from the weather by trees. They explore the house and find many things they do not understand and wonder at, such as mirrors and books, which they have never seen before. They decide to make it their home. Settling in to their mountain dwelling, they feel called to a great work but do not yet know what it is.
Standing on the top of the mountain, Equality discovers the meaning of his life, which lies in the expression of his individual thoughts, will, and desires. In this lies his happiness. He owes nothing to anyone else and has no obligation to share anything with anyone else. He will no longer have to think in terms of "we," which results in slavery, but only in terms of "I," in which lies freedom.
He reads many books for days and realizes the full significance of the word "I." He decides he wants to be called Prometheus, after the mythological figure who brought light from the gods in order to aid humanity. He wants the Golden One to be called Gaea, who in mythology was the mother of the earth and of all the gods. He is now certain of his mission. He will continue to study and learn the secrets of the past; he will produce a son and teach him "reverence for his own spirit." He plans one day to return to the city and take some like-minded people back to his house and together they will begin a new chapter in the history of mankind. He envisions eventually being able to free the entire world from its condition of slavery.
Collective 0-0009 is described as the "oldest and wisest" of the World Council of Scholars. After Equality has demonstrated his electric light to the Council, Collective 0-0009 denounces him as an arrogant lawbreaker and declares that he will be turned over to the World Council who will decide what to do with him. He calls for the box which contains the electric light to be destroyed. In making these judgments, Collective 0-0009 reveals himself to be as small-minded as everyone else is in this society, unable to recognize the value of innovation, or of any idea or piece of knowledge that is not already known and approved by general consent.
Equality 7-2521 is the twenty-one-year-old man who narrates the novel. He is also referred to as The Unconquered by the Golden One, and eventually he renames himself Prometheus. Equality has always known that he is different from the other members of his society, who passively accept their situation and do not question the authorities or the collectivist ideology under which they live. He explains that he was born under a curse, which "has always driven us to thoughts which are forbidden. It has always given us wishes which men may not wish." Although Equality is intellectually gifted, he is assigned by the authorities to a lifetime of labor as a street sweeper.
Equality first disobeys authority when he falls in love with the Golden One; such relations between individual men and women are forbidden. He shows his rebellious, independent qualities again when he decides not to report the discovery of the secret tunnel. This is the moment when he takes his decisive step toward a new way of thinking and living. He spends much time alone in his secret tunnel, researching and conducting scientific experiments, reading manuscripts, and writing in his diary. All these things are forbidden. He shows physical courage when he endures a whipping without giving his interrogators the information they seek. He shows courage again when he defies the verdict of the World Council of Scholars and escapes with his precious invention. This marks another turning point for him. Until this moment, he has not fully understood the nature of his society. He naively expects the scholars to embrace his discovery of electricity and to invite him to live in the Home of the Scholars. But when the scholars refuse to listen to him, he is no longer under any illusions about the nature of the society he lives in, and he finds freedom at first alone and then with the Golden One in the forest, where he practices self-reliance. Throughout his adventures, he shows that he is prepared to take all manner of risks in order to follow his individual desire and creativity, his sense that individual life is better than the dull conformity he is presented with, that knowledge from the past must be revived, that something vital is missing from human life as he experiences it in his repressive collectivist society. He has the courage to be independent, to commit what are considered sins so that he can forge a new path for himself and eventually for humanity as well.
Fraternity 2-5503 lives in the Home of the Street Sweepers. He is quiet and cries often, day or night, for no apparent reason.
The Golden One
See Liberty 5-3000
International 4-8818 is a street sweeper who works in the same brigade as Equality. He is a lively young man with a sense of humor and some artistic talent, which he is not allowed to express. He and Equality become friends, even though it is forbidden to make personal friends, and they discover the secret tunnel together. International is too frightened to go down into it, and he wants to report the find to the City Council and claim a reward. This shows that although International has some spark of individuality, he is still cowed by the prevailing ideology, naively believes in its authority, and is willing to do what is expected of him.
Liberty 5-3000 is a young woman of seventeen who lives in the Home of the Peasants and works in the fields. When Equality falls in love with her he calls her the Golden One. Like Equality, the Golden One is different from the others. She has an intelligence and wisdom beyond her years and she not been entirely brainwashed by the authorities. When Equality first sees her, he notes that in her eyes there is "no fear in them, no kindness and no guilt," and he cannot get her out of his mind. For her part, when she first sees Equality, she recognizes him for the defiant rebel he really is. She runs away from the Home of the Peasants and follows Equality into the Uncharted Forest. She understands his ideas and wants to share her life with his, and together they begin to plan for their future. She eventually takes the name Gaea, the mythological goddess of the earth.
Solidarity 9-6347 lives in the Home of the Street Sweepers. He appears to be a well-adjusted young man, but he has nightmares in which he calls out for help.
The Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word
The Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word is a young man who is burned to death in public by the authorities for uttering the Unspeakable Word. He goes to his death proudly and calmly, even with a smile. Equality, then a child of ten, is in the crowd that watches the burning. The Transgressor looks directly at Equality, as if he is trying to communicate something to him.
See Equality 7-2521
Union 5-3992 is a pale, unintelligent boy whom Equality knows when they are both living in the Home of the Students. He is also sickly and has convulsions. Like Equality, he becomes a street sweeper.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Read George Orwell's novel 1984. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast it to Anthem. In what ways does the character Equality resemble Orwell's hero, Winston Smith? Which is the more pessimistic novel?
- Write a diary entry in which you describe your attempts to determine your own course in life, by use of your reason, rather than conforming to what others expect of you. Describe the values you try to live by. In what ways do they resemble or differ from the values that Equality/Prometheus develops in the novel?
- Is Rand's picture of a collectivist, totalitarian society taken to its extreme a fair one? How does it compare to the ideology of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and beyond? Give a class presentation in which you list at least five of the characteristics of the society Equality lives in and then present a historical parallel in the Soviet Union or another totalitarian society.
- What role do feelings, emotions, and intuition play in human life? Should a person's thoughts, decisions, and actions be guided by rational principles only, as Rand's objectivism would dictate? How would society change if this were the case? How would your life change, and the lives of your peers? Give a class presentation in which you discuss the moral and social implications of Rand's objectivist philosophy.
Individuality versus Collectivity
Anthem is a hymn to the virtues of individuality, the need for people to express themselves authentically, to follow their own desires and be true to their own individual natures. In this novel, a philosophy that claims to establish the collective good as the sole organizing principle for human society is shown to be counterproductive. It stifles people's natural instincts, creating a kind of robotic conformity that amounts to little better than slavery. In the society depicted in the novel, the indoctrination in the virtue of the collective rather than the individual has drastically affected the language that people speak. The pronoun "I" does not exist. Individuals are referred to in the plural, as "we" or "they." This makes it almost impossible for people to understand themselves as individuals who are different from all other individuals. The paradox is that the attempt to establish a society in which the common good is the only goal has resulted in the opposite—the enslavement of all and the triumph of mediocrity and ignorance. However, for some unknown reason, Equality 7-2521 has managed to grow up in this repressive society with a sliver of individuality; some part of him has escaped the indoctrination that condemns others to a dreary life dominated by fear of doing something that is not approved of by the group. All that is needed, the novel implies, is the unleashing of a single spark of creativity in one individual to reactivate the potential of human life that is otherwise buried under a false ideology that obscures rather than reveals the truth. Equality, on his journey to becoming Prometheus, learns that nothing is more important than his own individual will and creativity, and only by following these inner impulses can he ensure the future of humanity. The sacred word that he finally learns, "ego," is simply the individual self, different from all other selves and the only arbiter of what is right. Once the individual ego relearns how to assert itself, humanity is freed from the chains of conformity. In this sense, the novel is an anthem (that is, a song of praise or celebration) to the unconquerable spirit of humanity that cannot be totally and forever crushed. All that is necessary is that individuals follow the prompting of their own minds, not the official dictates of those who set themselves up as the spokesmen for the group and the arbiters of right and wrong. These so-called leaders are incapable of conceiving a single original thought and therefore pull everyone down to the same level of dullness and weakness. In contrast, Equality, now Prometheus, realizes the secret of life in his declaration, "I shall live my own truth."
In the group-dominated society depicted in the novel, it is much easier to conform to what others expect than to think and act for oneself. Bringing attention to oneself in any way, whether it is coveting a certain career or cultivating a romantic relationship, invites censure and punishment from those whose job it is to ensure that no one thinks or does anything outside the range of socially approved behaviors. The courage to be different is therefore a significant theme. This involves physical and mental courage. This is seen first in the cruel death of the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word, which the Transgressor endures calmly, even with a smile on his face. His knowledge that he is right gives him the courage he needs to face death. Equality shows physical courage when he endures a whipping without giving his interrogators the information they want. He shows courage again in venturing into the Uncharted Forest; he is prepared to
confront the unknown. His mental courage is apparent throughout the story; he has the nerve to explore the secret tunnel and to pursue genuine scientific inquiry there when he knows it is forbidden. He dares to challenge the basic assumptions of everything he has been taught; therefore, he exhibits a mental toughness that is necessary for any progress to take place. His companion, the Golden One, is also courageous. She is not only prepared to enter a romantic relationship with Equality, challenging the depersonalized relationships between the sexes that is the social norm, she is also prepared to risk her life when she heads off on her own to the Uncharted Forest in order to be with Equality. The message is that those who wish to free themselves from slavery must be willing to risk their own lives in the process. It is better to die than to give up one's freedom; therefore courage is one of the greatest virtues.
Symbolism of the Forest
Set against the uniform dullness of the urban setting—in which the sleeping halls are white and devoid of any furniture other than beds, the Home of the Street Sweepers is "a grey house on a narrow street," and all activity is reduced to an orderly, mind-numbing routine—is the wildness of the Uncharted Forest, which serves as a symbol of freedom. People are taught to fear the Forest, but Equality hears rumors that the Uncharted Forest grew over the ruins of the cities that existed in the Unmentionable Times. This leads him to associate the Forest with vital secrets formerly known and now lost. When he flees to it, the Uncharted Forest turns out to be a place of freedom where he can construct for himself a new life. He describes his first day there as a "day of wonder," and the description he gives as he lies on his back looking up at the sky shows the beauty of what he has discovered: "The leaves had edges of silver that trembled and rippled like a river of green and fire flowing high above us." As often occurs in the romantic comedies of William Shakespeare, the "green world" of the forest contrasts with the hypocrisy of life in the city; it is a place where people can discover their true selves.
Equality eventually renames himself Prometheus, but he has been a Prometheus figure long before he realizes it. In Greek mythology, Prometheus, one of the immortal Titans, was a benefactor of humanity, interceding on man's behalf with Zeus, the most powerful of the gods. Prometheus wanted to help men to keep warm and cook their own food, and so he stole fire from the gods and carried it in secret down to earth. Prometheus, who is also sometimes known as the bringer of light, thus contributed to the advancement of human civilization. It is therefore appropriate that Equality, with his grand designs for the regeneration of humanity and his ability to harness the power of electricity to create light, should name himself after the Titan. Equality's role as Prometheus is clear from the dramatic moment when he demonstrates his electric light to the World Council of Scholars. As he connects the wires, "slowly, slowly as a flush of blood, a red flame trembled in the wire. Then the wire glowed."
The Soviet Union in the 1930s
Anthem was written in opposition to the kind of collectivist society that Rand had experienced in the 1920s in Russia, and which continued its hold over the peoples of the Soviet Union during the 1930s and beyond. The 1930s were a particularly brutal and tragic time for the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin, who was the Soviet leader from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953, launched a massive campaign, known as the Great Purge, in which up to two million people died. Victims included members of the Communist Party and other perceived political enemies. From 1936 to 1938, the Moscow Trials were held, in which over fifty Party officials were accused of conspiring with the West to assassinate Stalin and restore capitalism. They were all convicted and most were sentenced to death. Although it was not widely known at the time, the defendants' confessions of guilt were extracted under torture, and the rigged trials were merely for show. Other victims of the Great Purge included peasants, ethnic minorities, and others declared to be against the Soviet regime, such as former members of other political parties. The collectivization of agriculture under Stalin's regime was also responsible for a famine that killed over fourteen million people during the 1930s. It has been argued by historian Robert Conquest in The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine that the famine was deliberately created in order to ensure that the peasants would not be able to oppose the communist government.
The Red Decade
In the United States during the 1930s, there was more enthusiasm for socialist and communist ideas than at any other point, before or since, in U.S. history. At the time, the tyrannous nature of the Soviet Union's collectivist system was not as widely known as it later became, and capitalism was proving, as it seemed at the time, to be an unstable economic system that had produced the worldwide Great Depression. For several years in the early 1930s, unemployment in the United States was about 25 percent; the Gross National Product fell by 31 percent between 1929 and 1932; and there were thousands of bank failures. Hardships were widespread since, in those days, there were no government programs to alleviate economic distress; millions of American citizens lost their jobs and their savings and were barely able to survive. As a response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected in 1932, launched what he called the New Deal. The New Deal marked the beginning of an expansion of the role of the federal government in such a way that it affected the life of every American citizen. It included the Social Security Act of 1935, the creation of public sector jobs, welfare, unemployment insurance, and other measures designed to regulate the economy to offset the negative effect of normal business cycles. Ayn Rand regarded Roosevelt as a collectivist who was initiating a socialist program. She even thought that some of his advisors were communists. However, because of the perceived weakness and inequities of capitalism, many intellectuals and journalists admired the Soviet Union, seeing communism as a bold experiment in a new economic system and refusing to acknowledge the seriousness of the crimes committed in the name of Stalinism. In such circles, individualism in a competitive market, which had been the bedrock of American tradition, was looked on less favorably. As a consequence of this way of thinking, during the 1930s the Communist Party of the United States of America experienced a period of growth and was very influential in labor unions, which also grew in strength and influence. Many people believed that it was essential to subordinate individualism to the need for collective action to combat the exploitation of the poor by the rich. It was for these reasons that some historians describe the 1930s as the "red decade" in American history.
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1930s: The Great Depression causes hardship for millions of Americans; in nearly half of all households, the breadwinner is either unemployed or underemployed, enduring cuts in hours and wages. President Franklin D. Roosevelt creates the New Deal to alleviate the worst effects of the Depression.
Today: The U.S. economy is the largest in the world. Gross Domestic Product shows steady growth. However, most of the increase in living standards since 1975 has gone to the top 20 percent of households. Rising oil prices create inflationary pressures; budget and trade deficits, among other factors, cause a decline in the value of the dollar worldwide in 2007.
- 1930s: The New Deal creates a political coalition that enables the Democratic Party to become the dominant force in American politics. The coalition consists of the urban working class, ethnic minorities, farmers, Southerners, and liberal intellectuals.
Today: The political coalition established by the New Deal no longer exists. Since the 1980s, the South has become predominantly Republican. The politicization of the Christian evangelical movement, whose adherents overwhelmingly vote Republican, has also eroded support for the Democrats since many of these so-called "values voters" are drawn from the working classes who might otherwise be expected to vote Democratic.
- 1930s: Under the direction of the Communist International (Comintern) based in Moscow, communism grows as a worldwide political movement. In Germany and Italy, communist parties are banned; communists in European countries and the United States ally with social democratic movements to create the Popular Front, which opposes fascism.
Today: Communism has significantly diminished worldwide. The only communist countries remaining are China, Cuba, and North Korea. China is no longer a rigidly communist system; its economy is increasingly market-oriented with a growing private sector, although political controls on the population remain significant.
When first published in England in 1938, Anthem received generally positive views. A reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement described it as a
"fantasia with a moral" about the dangers of "collective tyranny … whether labelled Communism or Fascism." In the London Sunday Times, Dilys Powell declared that "this parable against the submergence of the individual in the State has the merits of simplicity and sincerity" (quoted in Michael S. Berliner's essay "Reviews of Anthem" in Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem). When first published in the United States in 1946 by the small Los Angeles press Pamphleteers, Anthem received little attention from reviewers; the 1961 publication of the novel by a major press, New American Library, fared no better. In 2002, an audio version of the novel was reviewed by Mark Pumphrey for Library Journal. However, Pumphrey showed little enthusiasm for what he called "this long-forgotten exercise in paranoia," commenting also on "the extremist tone" of the author. Literary scholars have generally followed reviewers in giving short shrift to Anthem, although this was partially remedied by the publication in 2005 of Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem, edited by Robert Mayhew, which contained essays on all aspects of the novel. One of these essays, Harry Binswanger's "Anthem: An Appreciation," is the text of remarks Binswanger made at an event in New York City in 1998 that marked the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the novel. Binswanger writes of the novel's "unalloyed benevolence" in the sense that it recognizes "that great things can be accomplished, and that, ultimately, nothing can hold one back but one's own errors—errors that cannot stand the light of the will to understand."
Aubrey holds a Ph.D. in English. In the following essay, he examines how Rand's nonfiction book For the New Intellectual sheds light on the ideas contained in Anthem.
If Anthem is a hymn to the creative potential of the individual, it is also a hymn to the United States, Ayn Rand's adopted country. In her youth, Rand admired the United States from afar, seeing it as the land of individualism, rationality, and freedom. She never had any love for her own country, even before the communist revolution of 1917. She despised Russia as the embodiment of a life-negating mysticism that spoke to the worst aspects of human nature. When Rand came to the United States in 1926, it did not take long for her to fall in love with her new country, which she believed represented endless prosperity and progress. She retained her admiration and love for the United States throughout her life; however, in the 1930s she worried that the United States might be betraying the secret of its success and adopting the ideology of collectivism and altruism that had led the Soviet Union down a path of tyranny. Collectivism is the idea that society matters more than the individual; altruism, the unselfish concern for the welfare of others, emphasizes the virtue of self-sacrifice, which is the opposite of Rand's creed of egoism, which lauds self-interest as the motivating factor in human action. Anthem serves as a warning of what Rand saw as the collectivist, altruistic idea taken to its logical extreme—the complete absence of any concept of individuality, and how this allows society to lose everything that is most valuable about human life, including creativity, the search for scientific knowledge, and the essential differences between each human being.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- The Fountainhead (1943) is Rand's most popular novel. It follows the career of Howard Roark, an architect and one of Rand's ideal men. Roark is guided by his own values, not those of other people, unlike his rival, Peter Keating, and the villainous newspaperman, Ellsworth Toohey. In this struggle between good and evil, the former, revealing itself through the qualities of individualism and integrity, triumphs.
- George Orwell's novel 1984, first published in 1948, depicts a totalitarian society of the future in which every aspect of life is controlled by the Party. This was the book in which Orwell introduced such terms as Big Brother and the Thought Police, which have since become part of contemporary language. As in Anthem, 1984 features a couple, Winston Smith and Julia, who fight back against the stranglehold that the Party has on their lives.
- We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, is a dystopian, futuristic novel that was first published in the Soviet Union in 1921. It is available in a 2006 Modern Library edition. We is set in the thirtieth century in a totalitarian state that denies individual freedom and emphasizes the collective good. As in Anthem, characters are given impersonal names; the protagonists are the mathematician D-503 and I-330, a woman he falls in love with.
- Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1991), by Leonard Peikoff, is a comprehensive account of Rand's philosophy of objectivism by one of Rand's followers. Much of the book consists of summaries of Rand's philosophical tracts, and Peikoff explains all her major ideas.
Anthem, and the place of the United States in Rand's thinking, can be further understood by a reading of her nonfiction work, For the New Intellectual (1961), in which she explains the outlines of her philosophical system. Much of the book consists of excerpts from her four novels, but she also includes an essay in which she surveys and interprets the history of human societies. She argues that they fall into three main categories, run by three types of men. First is Attila, "the man who rules by brute force" and sees violence as the only solution to problems. Second is the Witch Doctor, the religious man, the man of faith who, unable to act effectively in the world, "escapes into his emotions, into visions of some mystic realm where his wishes enjoy a supernatural power unlimited by the absolute of nature." The third type of man is the Producer, also referred to as the "man of reason," the thinker, the intellectual.
In her survey of history, Rand argues that most societies have been ruled either by Attila or the Witch Doctor, or a combination of the two; however, a profound shift occurred in the Renaissance, which dethroned the Witch Doctor—the controlling power of religion over human affairs—and loosened the hold of Attila, who was unable to understand or control the new tide of intellectual and political freedom that had been unleashed. The Industrial Revolution changed the situation still further. The rise of science and political freedom meant that for the first time, Producers, the men of science and reason, became the leaders in society. This was most fully embodied in the United States. Rand's praise of the Founding Fathers, who rejected the ideas associated with both Attila and the Witch Doctor, is fulsome:
The Founding Fathers were … thinkers who were also men of action … They proclaimed man's right to the pursuit of happiness and were determined to establish on earth the conditions required for man's proper existence, by the "unaided" power of their intellect.
For Rand, the rule of reason was necessarily accompanied by political and economic freedom, in the form of capitalism. She admired capitalism as embodied in the United States during the nineteenth century, when the country was largely free of government regulation. In Rand's view, the capitalistic system produced two kinds of men, "the producer of wealth and the purveyor of knowledge—the businessman and the intellectual." These types working together become the benefactors of mankind: the businessman "carries scientific discoveries from the laboratory of the inventor to industrial plants, and transforms them into material products that fill men's physical needs and expand the comfort of men's existence."
How does this theory apply to Anthem? The society against which Equality/Prometheus rebels is clearly dominated by Attilas and Witch Doctors—brute force backed up by an apparently secular ideology that in fact contains strong elements of pseudo-religious faith. The Attila element is not difficult to discern. Those who in any way oppose the governing authorities are subject to torture and death. The Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word—that word being "ego," a word that acknowledges the existence of an individual self—has his tongue cut out and is burned to death on a pyre as the mindless masses hurl insults at him. Even speaking about the Unmentionable Times, that period before humanity regressed and the tyranny of the collective was imposed, would earn a person three years in the Palace of Corrective Detention. Equality learns firsthand about the violence the regime is capable of when he is whipped, and after he shows his invention to the Council of World Scholars, he is threatened with being burned at the stake or whipped "till there is nothing left under the lashes." This is a society that will tolerate no dissent, and as such it resembles Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, the worst totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century.
In addition to Attila, the Witch Doctors are also in full control in this nightmare society of the future. In communist ideology there is no place for God or religion, but it nonetheless has its dogmas, which are every bit as rigid as any theological system and demand just as much blind faith from its adherents. In Anthem, the worship of God has been replaced with a worship of the group, which is declared always to be sovereign, no matter how weak or stupid or cruel it might be. In order to enforce the dogma, the architects of this society have developed a pseudo-religious language with which they have indoctrinated their citizens. Equality, for example, is aware that what he is doing, writing in his diary and thinking thoughts that are not shared by the group, is a "sin." The mere fact of being alone is a "great transgression and the root of all evil." As in a religion, there is a creed, and men and women repeat it to themselves if they are "tempted" to think or do anything that is not sanctioned by the group:
We are one in all and all in one.
There are no men but only the great WE,
One, indivisible and forever.
The collective "we" is therefore presented as a quasi-god and described in terms similar to the Christian creed's description of God. This pseudo-religion has its own hymns, sung in the mandatory Social Meetings, in praise not of God but of Brotherhood, Equality, and the Collective Spirit. As in any religion, there are saints: the Saints of Labor, the Saints of the Councils, the Saints of the Great Rebirth.
The effect of this kind of mind control within an ideological framework is to inculcate fear, shame, and guilt in people about their own individual natures. They learn to self-censure their own thoughts and actions so that they can avoid transgression. As Rand puts it in For the New Intellectual, the Witch Doctor makes a man "reject his own consciousness." In this way, morality is turned "into a weapon of enslavement."
The exception, of course, is Equality, who simply does not feel guilty about his heretical thoughts. At the age of twenty-one, when the novel begins, he is already a free man in the sense that he is capable of thinking his own thoughts, having his own desires, and following his own reason. As the novel progresses, he learns how to break free entirely from the demands of the group and steer his own course in life according to the dictates of his reason. He is therefore, in the terms Rand employed in For the New Intellectual, a Producer, the creative genius in society, able to discover new knowledge because he employs the unlimited powers of his intellect to understand the laws of nature. He does this not for any altruistic purpose—altruism, in Rand's philosophy, is a negative thing—but simply because of an innate love of learning, of using his own mind, of being curious about things. He does "work which has no purpose save that we wish to do it." The Producer is at once the philosopher, the scientist, and the intellectual. His is the most important role in society because he alone can steer humanity on the course that will ensure the freedom of each man and woman. He does this by following his own self-interest, which alone makes him happy. Happiness, purpose, and freedom all lie within the individual self, not within the collective: "Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me; the guiding star and the lodestone which point the way. They point in but one direction. They point to me. "
Source: Bryan Aubrey, Critical Essay on Anthem, in Novels for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
Rhodena Townsell and William Allan Kritsonis
In the following excerpt, Townsell and Kritsonis reveal the importance of reading Rand's works, placing special emphasis on Anthem.
WHO IS AYN RAND?
Understanding Rand's history is essential to understanding and appreciating her storylines. Ayn Rand (Alissa Rosnbaum) was born in Russia, in 1905. She taught herself to read at the age of six and had decided that she wanted to become a writer by the age of nine.
As a youth, Rand witnessed two Russian wars: The Kerensky Revolution (The February Revolution) and the Bolsheviks Revolution (The October Revolution). The February Revolution brought a victory against communism and The October Revolution restored communism.
During the Bolsheviks Revolution, Rand's family fled to the Crimea (a republic in the Ukraine). Her family, once upper middle class business owners, faced near-starvation. The government seized the family pharmacy. Rand witnessed the shortcomings of communism firsthand. She came to hate collectivism.
Rand loved the romantic fantasy of western style writing. She was introduced to it through American history during her last year of high school. Rand took America as her model of what a nation of free men could be. She felt that this was her destiny.
After the Bolsheviks Revolution, Ayn Rand returned to live in Russia. She attended the University of Petrograd. The communist government was running the university. Opportunity for free inquiry was gone. Rand was not satisfied as she studied philosophy and history. Her one escape was the cinema. She loved western films and plays. She wanted to be free of government censure and pursue her desire to write. When she left Russia in 1925 to visit relatives in the United States she secretly vowed never to return to her homeland. Rand's goal was to live in Hollywood and pursue a career as a screenwriter.
Rand struggled for several years at various non-writing jobs. She sold her first screenplay, Red Pawn, to Universal Pictures in 1932. This book is said to be the most autobiographical of her novels. It described the tyranny of Soviet Communism. Red Pawn is a dramatic story about a beautiful woman who becomes the adored mistress of a commandant of a Soviet prison for men convicted of political crimes. The heroine becomes the commandant's mistress in order to free her husband who, unknown to the commandant, is one of his prisoners. This work contains philosophical insights that reach their climax in the book Atlas Shrugged (Page by Page, 2006). The topic for the screenplay was obviously influenced by Rand's childhood in Communist Russia.
Ms. Rand was able to get many of her books and plays published. The Fountainhead, written in 1943, eventually became a movie. It was rejected twelve times before it was published in 1943. It made history by becoming a best seller through word-of-mouth. This is the book that gained author Ayn Rand recognition as a champion of individualism.
Rand's most famous book, Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957. In this novel, she dramatized her unique philosophy as an intellectual mystery writer with a story that integrated ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics and romance. Although she considered herself primarily a fiction writer, she realized that in order to create heroic fictional characters, she had to identify the philosophy, which makes such individuals possible.
Kritsonis (2007) says that some theorists hold to a natural view of moral constructs. This means that they believe that right conduct can be made on rational grounds. All men are created equally. Their creator gives them the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All of Ayn Rand's heroes … hold this view.
Every book by Ayn Rand published in her lifetime is still in print. Hundreds of thousands of copies are sold each year, so far totaling more than twenty million. Several new volumes have been published posthumously. Her vision of man and her philosophy for living on earth have changed the lives of thousands of readers and launched a philosophic movement with a growing impact on American culture.
The Anthem was written in 1937, but was not published in the United States until 1946. The book was rediscovered when a dinner guest in Rand's home related that he wished for a book about a collective society. Rand told him that she had already written such a book and the rest is history.
Rand was married to American actor Frank O'Connor for fifty years. She preceded him in death and died on March 6, 1982, in New York City.
HOW IS RAND'S PHILOSOPHY REFLECTED IN THE ANTHEM?
To understand how Rand's philosophy is reflected in this novella, one must first know the story. The following is a brief synopsis:
The society described in The Anthem (1938) has arisen from the remains of what could have been a great nation that has been destroyed. All of the vestiges of modern conveniences have been buried away and are no longer spoken of by the citizens. The people are figuratively and literally kept in the dark. Great fires had raged over the land. In these fires, the Evil Ones (scientific men of a modern society) and all the things made by them were burned. The fire was called the Dawn of the Great Rebirth. It was the script Fire where all the scripts (books) of the Evil Ones were burned, and with them all the words of the Evil Ones. Great mountains of flame stood in the squares of the Cities for three months. This began the Great Rebirth.
The central character in The Anthem (1938), Equality 7-2521, was taken from an anonymous mother at birth and raised in a common institutional building with other boys born in the same year. The same holds true for the female infants born in this society. Equality 7-2521 is ostracized because he fights with the other children. Fighting one's brothers is a sin.
At the age of five, Equality 7-2521 is sent to the Home of the Students to study. Again he stands out because he learns too quickly and asks too many questions. He tries to forget his lessons but he has a scientific mind and it shows. Equality 7-2521's teachers are not pleased with his inquisitiveness and they scorn him. He feels that his only hope is to be chosen to study as a scholar when he turns fifteen. At the age of fifteen, all people are assigned a profession.
Equality 7-2521 is crushed when he is not chosen by the great council to begin further studies. He is instead chosen to become a street sweeper. Street sweeping is one of the lowest jobs to be bestowed to a man. Equality 7-2521 finds that many of his co-laborers are mentally and/or physically handicapped. One other normal man appointed to become a street sweeper is called International 4-8818. He is tall and strong and loves to laugh. It is not proper to smile at others; therefore, the teachers shun International 4-8818. International 4-8818 is artistic and draws with pieces of coal. This creates another problem because only those living in the Home of Art are allowed to draw. Equality 7-2521 and International 4-8818 become friends but they never say so in words nor do they allow others to know because it is a sin to show preference for one brother over another.
Equality 7-2521 relates that the newest discovery in this society was made only a hundred years ago. It was the making [of] candles from wax and string. Before this discovery came the latest technology of making glass. Equality 7-2521 is curious about many things and lets his mind run to the old ones. They are the men who live to reach the age of forty. At forty, men are thought of as being worn out. Men are sent to the Home of the Useless, where the old ones live. The old ones no longer work; the government takes care of them. The old ones do not live much longer. When they do live to age forty-five, they are called the ancient ones. This is as much as one can expect.
Equality 7-2521 accepts his fate and keeps his allegiance to his fellowmen. As he goes about his job as a street sweeper he … collects and experiments with the materials that he finds in the yard of the scholars. He hides his collection at the city cesspool until he makes his next discovery. As he [is] cleaning one evening he discovers an iron bar among the weeds. Underneath the iron bar is a black hole. The hole is a tunnel. This tunnel has existed since the unmentionable time. It soon becomes a place where Equality 7-2521 goes to study in secret.
Equality 7-2521 studies in secret for two years and he realizes that he has learned more during this time period than he had learned in all of his years in the Home of the Students. He learned things, which are not in the scripts. He has solved secrets of which the Scholars had made no record. He came to see how great the unexplored was, and to realize that many lifetimes would not bring him to the end of his quest for understanding. He also realized that he did not wish to end his quest. He wished nothing but to be alone and to learn. It was the first peace that he had known in his twenty years.
Equality 7-2521's next great discovery was a female. The men in this society are forbidden to take notice of women and vice versa. This woman, Liberty 5-3000, had been assigned to work the soil. She was a farmer and she lived in the Homes of the Peasants. Street Sweepers had to keep the road to the Homes of the Peasants clean.
Liberty 5-3000 was young, thin, blonde and strong. She was a perfect match for Equality 7-2521. They both knew it, and thus began to communicate in subtle ways. He began to think of her as the Golden One. He called his interest in her another great sin. It was the sin of preference. It was a sin to give men names that distinguish them from other men. Later in the book she reveals that she has come to think of him as The Unconquered. This would become his name.
The laws after the Great Rebirth say that men may not think of women except for the Time of Mating. This is the time each spring when all the men older than twenty and all the women older than eighteen are sent for one night to the City Palace of Mating. The Council of Eugenics assigns mating partners to each man and woman. Children are born each winter, but women never see their children and children never know their parents. Twice Equality 7-2521 had been sent to the Palace of Mating and he felt that it was an ugly and shameful matter. Equality 7-2521 vows that the Golden One will never be sent to the [Palace of Mating]. He did not yet know how to prevent it but he knew that he must.
Equality 7-2521 realizes that there is a word, one single word, which is not in the language of men, but which had been. It was an unspeakable word, which no men may speak nor hear. Street Sweepers often found it upon scraps of old manuscripts or cut into the fragments of ancient stones. But when they speak it, they are put to death. There is no crime punished by death in this world, save this one crime of speaking the unspeakable word. When he was ten, Equality 7-2521 [saw] a man burned alive in the square of the City. The man's tongue was torn out so that he could speak no longer. He died with a smile on his face. Equality 7-2521 always wondered, what was the Unspeakable Word?
Equality 7-2521 is eventually caught up in his discovery of the light bulb and does not return to his dormitory on time. Once caught, he refuses to tell the secret of his whereabouts. He is beaten and imprisoned. He hopes that the council of great minds will be grateful for his discovery of electricity and make him a fellow council member. This hope [is] short lived because his electric light bulb frightens the council. They tell him that his unwanted discovery would cause chaos in their world. His discovery could not easily be explained nor would it be accepted. They call for his death. I end here to say that the philosophy espoused by the society in The Anthem (1938) is total collectivism.
Collectivists believe that the sole purpose of man is to serve one another. Equality 7-2521 repeated the following words whenever he was tempted: "WE ARE ONE IN ALL AND ALL IN ONE. THERE ARE NO MEN BUT ONLY THE GREAT WE, ONE, INDIVISIBLE AND FOREVER."
We believe this book has the power to cause a reader to pause and reflect. We encourage leaders to read this book in its entirety in order to enjoy its nuances and discover the ending.
Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Objectivism is the belief that there is no greater good for man than to seek to satisfy his own desires. In her novels, Rand dramatizes her ideal man as a physically strong, blue-eyed blond who lives by his own effort and does not give or receive the undeserved. Her heroes honor achievement and reject envy. Rand laid out the details of her world-view in nonfiction books such as The Virtue of Selfishness (Rand, 1964).
Objectivism holds that there is no greater moral goal than achieving one's own happiness. A person cannot achieve happiness by a wish or a whim. This requires rational respect for the facts of reality, including the facts about human nature and human needs. Happiness requires that one live by objective principles, including moral integrity and respect for the rights of others (Rand, 1964). Again, Kritsonis (2007) calls this belief natural law.
Objectivists believe the following:
- Reality exists as an absolute. Facts are independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
- Reason is man's only means of perceiving reality. Reason is his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
- Every man is an end unto his own self. Man exists for his own sake. He must not sacrifice himself for others or accept the sacrifice of others for himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
- Laissez-faire capitalism is the best system of politics. Under this capitalism, a limited government protects each person's rights to life, liberty, and property. It forbids that anyone initiate force against anyone else. Champions of objectivism are achievers who build objectivism as optimistic. They hold that the universe is open to human achievement and happiness and that each person has within him the ability to live a rich, fulfilling, independent life. This is the idealistic message in Rand's novels. Her novels continue to sell by the hundreds of thousands every year to people attracted to their inspirational storylines and distinctive ideas. Individuals run businesses, invent, create art and ideas that depend on their own talents and on trade with other independent people to reach their goals.
WHEN IS IT PERMISSIBLE FOR LEADERS TO BE SELFISH?
In relation to the Virtues of Selfishness (Rand, 1964), one comes to understand the importance of shielding himself from those who would rob him of the time and talent that is necessary for ethical behavior. For example, adequate rest is one of the main requirements for the maintenance of a healthy body and a sound mind.
History tells us that great leaders in battles retreated so that they would live to fight another day. The study of Ayn Rand and her works leads one to think about his or her own personal philosophy of life. You must first know what you believe and understand and why you believe it before you can lead others.
If a leader is so busy meeting everyone else's needs that he does not pause to rest then mistakes, burnout and/or collapse will occur. The average principal must respond to an average of 500 questions per day. A leader must take time to reflect or disaster is certain to follow.
WHERE SHOULD ETHICAL LEADERS LOOK FOR GUIDANCE?
The days of, "That's the way we've always done it," are gone. Understanding the ethical decision-making process has become a critical tool for those who lead America's schools. It is not clear that any amount of scientific inquiry can tell us whether a decision is fair, just, or equitable. When making ethical decisions, the decision-maker must also look beyond his own religious beliefs and personal values. This was a problem in Atlas Shrugged (Rand, 1957). A grand transportation system eventually collapsed because business matters were not based on the best practices for the business. A decision maker has to consider his rights and beliefs but ethical decisions must take into consideration the rights and interests of other stakeholders. This is the point where it becomes essential for leaders to be strongly rooted. Ethical leaders must balance their beliefs with a plethora of rules and regulations. Everyone needs philosophy. Philosophy is essential in each person's life. Those who do not think philosophically are the helpless victims of the ideas they accept from others (ARI, 2006).
Educators in a democratic society must educate students and attempt to provide them the motivation to be the best that they can be. Educators must attempt to give everyone the same educational opportunities as we wrestle with "No Child Left Behind" legislation. With all of the pressures from the state level, we must also try to resist the temptation to … try and apply the cookie cutter method that Rand describes in The Anthem (1938).
When making ethical decisions, the decision-maker must also look beyond his religious beliefs and personal values. A decision maker has to consider his rights and beliefs, but ethical decisions must take into consideration the rights and interests of other stake holders. For example, permitting student led prayer at football games was ruled unconstitutional because it did not take into consideration the rights and interests of persons outside … Christianity. Decisions must not be based on personal religious beliefs. Decisions should not violate the moral rights of persons with different beliefs.
Decision-makers must be aware of the difference between the right to hold an opinion on a matter of private concern, and the right to use that opinion as the basis for moral decision-making. We must strive to help each student realize his potential as a worthy and effective member of society. Educators, therefore, must work to stimulate the spirit of inquiry, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and the thoughtful formulation of worthy goals (NEA, 2006).
There are many sources for guidance that an ethical leader must refer to and adhere to in order to remain employed. Those obvious sources are: the educator's code of conduct, the local board policy (this will include federal, state and local guidelines), district/campus handbooks and district/campus plans. The ultimate source of guidance comes from within the leader himself. This would be his creator's plan. This plan is built experiences and input from many sources, including authors such as Ayn Rand.
In conclusion, Ayn Rand's childhood experiences resulted in her taking a strong stance against collectivism. This stance is obvious in her novels, especially The Anthem (1938). As leaders, our actions and reactions are revealing in many ways. By studying the works of Rand and other philosophers like her, administrators have cause to stop and revisit their own philosophy. It is our personal belief that the study of Rand and her works will lead ethical leaders to reflect on their own personal philosophy of life. We also believe that one must first know what he/she believes before he/she can ethically lead others. "If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything."
Source: Rhodena Townsell and William Allan Kritsonis, "Who in the World is Ayn Rand?," in Doctoral Forum: National Journal for Publishing and Mentoring Doctoral Student Research, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2007.
James S. Valliant
In the following excerpt, Valliant challenges Barbara and Nathaniel Branden's biographical portraits of Rand and argues that, with the publication of such novels as Anthem, Rand proved to be ahead of her time.
… Ayn Rand came to America at the age of 21—a young woman, alone in the 1920s—half-way around the world to a country where she still barely spoke the language, determined to become a writer, an artist, in that new language. Less than twenty years later, after the publication of The Fountainhead, she was selling the movie rights to her best-selling novel, which was being praised by The New York Times for its literary mastery.
Rand's novels represent a remarkable achievement. They involve complex plots that can last over a thousand pages and which are explained in long and complex philosophical passages. Yet, they are still "best-sellers" that keep readers in page-turning suspense through exciting twists and turns across vast and thrilling tableaux.
We the Living, Rand's searing indictment of the Soviet Union—indeed, any dictatorship—was based in part on her own experience in Russia. First published in 1936, it predates the assassination of Leon Trotsky by four years, the publication of Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago by two decades, and that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's work by two-and-a-half decades. Of course, with respect to their philosophies these authors are miles apart, and Rand, in contrast to so many anti-communist writers, opposed both socialism and mysticism in any form. Although Rand was certainly not the first Russian to complain about Russia's experience with communism, she was among the earliest to gain an audience outside of that country.
Anthem, Rand's depiction of a future totalitarian dark age in which the word "I" has been removed from the human vocabulary, was first published in 1938, eleven years before the publication of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, and seven years before Animal Farm. Unlike Orwell, Rand labored under no illusion that a totalitarian state could long remain a technologically advanced society, and, again, she seemed uniquely able to perceive the dictatorship implicit in any form of collectivism. (24)
Ayn Rand saw much more clearly, and much sooner, than even its most celebrated critics the nature and causes of Twentieth Century totalitarianism.
These novels were just etudes in relation to the concerto that would follow, but The Fountainhead would be rejected by a dozen publishers. Despite all the advice she received to temper her views, Rand refused to compromise and held fast to her controversial positions.With very little help, Rand was almost entirely a "self-made" success.
Conservatives hated Rand for her atheism, liberals for her defense of capitalism, and everyone objected to her egoism, but Rand refused to modify or moderate her views to please the critics, and she stuck to her beliefs through thick and thin. The battles she waged over her innovative play, The Night of January 16th, and the widely anticipated film version of The Fountainhead show how hard she was willing to fight, like her hero Howard Roark, for her artistic integrity—as the Brandens admit.
That Rand never surrendered her controversial stances for popularity would be tested again and again throughout her life—as when a "Texas oil man once offered her up to a million dollars to use in spreading her philosophy, if she would only add a religious element to it to make it more popular." (25) She refused.
Rand astonished her own publishers by getting them to agree to print every word she wrote in her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. With the same energy and acumen, Rand had gotten Jack Warner to film every single word of the climactic courtroom speech of her hero, Howard Roark, in the film version of The Fountainhead.
Clearly, Rand could be as "hard-thinking" (Peikoff's term for Rand), hard working and fiercely independent as any of the characters in her novels.
The Brandens contend that Rand was blind—perhaps even dishonest—when it came to certain "personal areas," especially in her relationship with the Brandens. Mr. Branden says that keeping his affair with Rand a secret involved an otherwise undefined "network of lies and deception." (26) That Rand and Branden worked closely together—and (at the time) had the highest admiration for one another—was certainly no secret, however. If nothing else, the original dedication of Atlas Shrugged to both O'Connor and Branden makes this obvious.
Actually, the extent to which Rand was serious about honesty can be seen from the fact that only with the full knowledge and consent of both of their respective spouses did Rand begin her affair with Nathaniel Branden.
We shall return to these "personal areas" shortly. On all other matters, they provide substantial evidence of Rand's impressively rigorous honesty.
Ms. [Barbara] Branden repeatedly tells us that a strict respect for the facts was Rand's normal policy, both in theory and in practice. Ms. Branden even reveals that she was "always impressed with the range and exactitude of [Rand's] memory," a capacity Ms. Branden elsewhere calls "remarkable." (27)
Through their research, even scholars who are critical of Rand have almost entirely verified the truth of Rand's various assertions regarding her education and youth, long a subject of doubt and speculation in some quarters. (28) Despite such verification, these scholars persist in treating Rand's statements skeptically while they simultaneously fail to subject the Brandens' assertions to the same testing of credibility. Indeed, most uncritically (and often extensively) rely on them in their own work.
Describing his first impressions of Rand, her husband, Frank O'Connor, is quoted by Nathaniel Branden as follows: "One of the most striking things about [Ayn] was the absence of any trace of deviousness. The total honesty …" (29)
Branden writes that "[w]ith the exception of certain personal areas where she could be appallingly unconscious, [Rand] had the most profound and passionate respect for the facts." (30) More than this, he concedes, Rand was an honest writer who strove for clarity, lucidity and precision. Rand wrote exactly what she meant, getting straight to her point, pulling no punches.
Rand was also true to her values, an attitude which today is regarded as downright rude in dry, academic circles. If Rand admired something, her praise was an exultant hymn—when she admired someone, she hero-worshipped. Conversely, if Rand did not think highly of something or someone, her attack could be merciless. Her sense of justice demanded this attitude, according to all sources.
It seems that Rand embodied in her very personality—as well as in her philosophy—a passionate concern for truth and justice.
By Ms. Branden's account, Rand got intoxicated exactly once in her entire life, at the final dress-rehearsal of the disastrous stage adaptation of her first novel, We the Living, titled The Unconquered, in 1940. She did not like the effects of alcohol, but she did not object to the social drinking of others….
Rand was no socialist; in fact, she regarded taxes as immoral. Yet, unlike many a socialist hypocrite, she was, going by the Brandens' accounts, a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen. (As an egoist, Rand was dubious of self-made martyrs.)
Rand is also repeatedly described by both Brandens as being remarkably generous to others with both her time and her money. Ms. Branden writes that, "Ayn often was warm and generous with her friends, generous with her concern, her time, her attention …" (32) She also relates that an old friend of Rand's recalled "that Ayn and Frank, despite their difficult financial circumstances [at the time], loaned small sums of money to out-of-work writers who were having an even more difficult time." (33) We also hear that, in later years, Rand "gave gifts of money, informal scholarships to young people who could not otherwise complete their education and in whom she saw intelligence and promise." (34) Each of the Brandens reports experiencing Rand's various kinds of generosity, personally.
Rand's gratitude was apparently no less than her generosity, "so much so that people who knew her were often startled by the extent of her gratitude, when they did her the smallest of services …" (35). Rand's charm, brilliance and, especially, her gratitude were the very attributes Rand's publisher, Bennett Cerf, most recalled of Rand in his own memoir, At Random. (36) Ms. Branden reports that this graciousness and charm were felt by people even in the last decade of her life. (37)
Despite her atheism, and surprisingly to those who might not grasp her concept of egoism, Rand loved Christmas, "an excuse to give parties and exchange gifts with friends." (38)
In comparison to the "great minds" Johnson writes about, and even the average Joe, Ayn Rand was a sober, non-promiscuous, peaceful, rights-respecting, honest, hard-working and generous individual. Rand also exhibited a degree of integrity unknown to a majority of the "giants" of modern intellectual history.
The Brandens all but say that Ayn Rand was a genius of the ages, but they fail to give comparison to others who are said to have achieved that status. Was Ayn Rand harsh to questioners following a lecture, as they report? In comparison to Beethoven's social manner, Rand was a pussycat. Was Rand alienated from her culture and those around her? In comparison to Van Gogh, Rand was a party animal. Was Rand authoritarian with her students? Mullah Rand?
To justify what they were willing to "tolerate," Rand must be portrayed as a genius. To justify their break with Rand, Rand must be portrayed as a monster. Ms. Branden writes of Rand that both her "virtues" and her "shortcomings" were "larger than life." (39) The whole enterprise is suspect in light of their obviously similar agendas.
The Brandens' criticisms of Rand are, mostly, but not exclusively, personal and psychological rather than philosophical. They briefly review several of Objectivism's principal ideas, not always in the language Rand herself used to explain those ideas, but they do so in a generally laudatory manner. In fact, they appear to be repeatedly assuring their readers that they still support most of Rand's ideas—and that they had good reason to be caught up in Rand's spell, as it were. Their thrust is that Rand often did not live up to her own stated ideals because of deep psychological issues which Rand herself never acknowledged.
There are some significant philosophical differences, however. Mr. Branden rejects the use of the term "validate" with regard to metaphysical axioms, thinks Rand's novels subtly but pervasively encourage psychological repression, (40) and thinks Rand gave insufficient attention to benevolence. (41)
Still more profoundly, Branden endorses such assertions as Haim Ginott's "labeling is disabling." (42) Without disputing that it may be counterproductive in a psycho-therapeutic context to pour concrete onto a patient's current self-estimate, surely even the field of psychology is conceptual, and Branden seems to have veered sharply away from the author of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, if not the necessity and objectivity of concepts themselves.
Branden also now generally rejects making Rand-style ethical judgments about others, and he says that he prefers a non-judgmental, psychological approach to human evaluation. For example, he now rejects the normative evaluations of the great philosophical systems in history—and some of their originators—which Rand had developed in For the New Intellectual. (43) Branden does not argue with Rand's evaluations, but he nonetheless claims Rand's approach unnecessarily alienates intellectuals.
Branden asserts that the severity of Rand's moral judgments was a relic of religious thinking—which he had, he suggests, purged from his own psychology completely. He prefers now to see things simply as "harmful" or "beneficial," rather than "good" or "bad." (44) Branden thus appears to accept the modern notion that passionate normative evaluation is "unscientific" or non-objective, hence, religious. Ironically, it is the psychological dimension of evaluations, i.e., emotions, which Branden now emphatically rejects.
Branden's own confessions to having slavishly and "violently" suppressed his "true self" in order to identify with Rand (discussed in chapters three and four) do not suggest any disturbing religiosity on his own part to Branden. Nor does his self-defined role as Rand's "enforcer" (also discussed in chapter three) strike him as "a remnant" of anything of the sort. The fact that in those days Branden could be what he regards as too "judgmental" and "intolerant" does not suggest anything about his own psychology to the famous psychologist, either.
For her part, Ms. Branden uses concepts that Rand would have wholeheartedly rejected. She refers, for example, to Rand's "feminine instincts," (45) the "intuitive aspects of her nature," (46) and areas of "subjective preference." (47) Rand herself would have demanded definitions of these concepts—whether used about her or anyone else—and almost certainly would have rejected the terminology. Ms. Branden does not give definitions and leaves it up to the reader to rely on what Rand herself would have regarded as sloppy modern thinking. It is not too much to ask that Ms. Branden should explain her philosophically contentious terminology to, say, the average student of Rand's philosophy.
In any case, the thrust of their critique is not aimed at Rand's philosophy, but rather at her failure to live up to it. But they do concede that Rand had remarkable qualities, that she was a woman of rationality, artistic integrity and independence, that she conscientiously read her critics but never yielded to them. She made it her policy to respect the rights of her fellow man and to be an exactingly honest person.
And she was exciting to be around. New ideas flowed daily from a mind with a seemingly unlimited range. Her brilliance and charm could be irresistibly compelling. That is why, they say, they devoted their lives to the woman as well as her ideas….
Source: James S. Valliant, "Rand and Non-Rand, at the Same Time and in the Same Respect," in The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics: The Case against the Brandens, Durban House, 2005, pp. 15-52.
Berliner, Michael S., "Reviews of Anthem," in Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem, edited by Robert Mayhew, Lexington Books, 2005, p. 56.
Binswanger, Harry, "Anthem: An Appreciation," in Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem, edited by Robert Mayhew, Lexington Books, 2005, p. 309.
Central Intelligence Agency, World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html (accessed July 20, 2008).
Conquest, Robert, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Hall, Thomas E., and J. David Ferguson, The Great Depression: An International Disaster of Perverse Economic Policies, University of Michigan Press, 1998.
Kangas, Steve, "Timelines of the Great Depression," http://www.hyperhistory.com/online_n2/connections_n2/great_depression.html (accessed September 16, 2008).
Miller, Laurence, "Ayn Rand," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 227, American Novelists since World War II, Sixth Series, edited by James R. Giles and Wanda H. Giles, The Gale Group, 2000, pp. 251-60.
Powers, Richard Gid, Not without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism, Yale University Press, 1998, pp. 117-54.
Pumphrey, Mark, Review of Anthem (audiobook), in Library Journal, Vol. 127, No. 19, November 15, 2002, p. 116.
Rand, Ayn, Anthem, Dutton, 1995.
———, For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Random House, 1961, pp. 8, 9, 13, 14, 18, 23, 24, 26.
Review of Anthem, in Times Literary Supplement, May 7, 1938, p. 321.
Branden, Barbara, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Doubleday, 1986.
This is a sympathetic biography of Rand. Branden first met Rand in 1950 and was her close associate for nineteen years.
Brown, Susan Love, "Ayn Rand: The Woman Who Would Not Be President," in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, edited by Mimi Reisel Gladstein and Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999, pp. 275-98.
Brown argues that Rand accepted stereotypical gender roles in which men are associated with reason and superiority, and women are defined only in their relations to men. She illustrates how this works in Rand's fiction, including Anthem.
Conquest, Robert, The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties, Macmillan, 1968.
This was the first book that revealed the full extent of the terror unleashed by Stalin in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, in which millions died. It is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand more fully the collectivist system that Rand opposed in Anthem.
Gladstein, Mimi Reisel, The New Ayn Rand Companion, Greenwood Press, 1999.
This guide to all of Rand's works, including fiction and nonfiction, includes a useful chapter summarizing books written about Rand. Gladstein's short section on Anthem (pp. 38-40) is mostly a plot summary.
an·them / ˈan[unvoicedth]əm/ • n. 1. a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause: the song became the anthem for hippie activists. ∎ (also national anthem) a solemn patriotic song officially adopted by a country as an expression of national identity.2. a choral composition based on a biblical passage, for singing by a choir in a church service.