Anthem, by Ayn Rand

In the future, humanity has evolved into an ant-like society, living in nameless cities. A society where science and technology have drastically regressed. A society where everyone must be equal. A society where being taller than the others is already a bad thing, but where being alone, being brighter or having ideas of one’s own is literally a crime.

As no one is to be different, there is no individuality at all. Like the cities, people are nameless–a name is way too personal. They refer to each other as Equality 7-2521, Liberty 5-3000, Unity-0009, and so on.

We, Equality 7-2521, were not happy in those years in the Home of the Students. It was not that the learning was too hard for us. It was that the learning was too easy. 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. The Teachers told us so, and they frowned when they looked upon us.

Not only they don’t have names, but they only use the first person plural we when referring to themselves, and the third person plural they when referring to someone else–there can’t be such a thing as a singular person.

No one is to possess anything. No one is to desire something, or someone. No one is to love, or to hate. No one is to have ambition. They even discourage talking or smiling. So there is only “we”, and the limp willingness of we to follow mechanically the rules, and to work for the common good, the good of mankind. All in the name of equality.

We follow the life of Equality 7-2521, a 21-year-old street sweeper–one is not to choose one’s job either, the group knows better–until the day he stumbles onto something that’ll make him realize that there was a whole other world, long gone. A world where humanity mastered knowledge and science.

Driven by his desire to know more, and by his encounter with Liberty 5-3000, a 17-year-old girl, he’ll understand that we and the common good is not all there is. And that there might be something, somewhere outside the City, waiting for them.

It’s a short and odd book, with much irony. It’s also a stimulating read. I very much liked that for most of the book Rand only used the first and third person plural, we and they, as a very efficient (aka disturbing) way to show us what is a true absence of any notion of individuality. Much more efficient than any explanation could do it justice.

They stepped back, and their eyes were wide and still. “Speak these words again,” they whispered. “Which words?” we asked. But they did not answer, and we knew it. “Our dearest one,” we whispered. Never have men said this to women.

He did also a great job at describing things and actions as seen by a non-individualistic and a non-judgmental character.

They saw us, and their hands closed into fists, and the fists pulled their arms down, as if they wished their arms to hold them, while their body swayed. And they could not speak.

Published in 1938, it’s an obvious denunciation of collectivism (communism, fascism…). But one could also consider the book, whose original title should have been “Ego”, as a way to question our own willingness to enforce equality and correctness–up to where? And using what means?–and our resurgent need to be judgmental.

Anthem, by Ayn Rand, 1938

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