A number of my recent book reviews were written decades ago. The odd thing about all of them has been how pertinent they are to the world we live in. Economics In One Lesson, written in 1946, seemed as if it was written to address our current economic woes. The 5000 Year Leap was written in 1981, but is based on teachings from the 1970’s and unveils the glories of our Constitution for many of us who learned very little about our founding documents other that memorizing a few pages.
As I read Anthem, which was first published in 1938 in England, I was reminded of a novel that I was forced to read in High School; 1984 and a movie from that same era; Logan’s Run. At the time I hated the book, yet loved the movie.
As I recall George Orwell’s novel, individualism was curtailed and attempts to break free were punished. In Logan’s Run people had some individual freedoms, but they were required to live in the present. They did not know about their families and were assigned a number rather than a name.
In Anthem, you can see the influence Ayn Rand had on these two works. More importantly, this book feels like it could have been written last year or last week. Many in our society want to place us into nice little groups and manage us. Think about how society pushes us toward the “we.” Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, gays, straights, conservatives, liberals, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Christians, rich, poor, middle class, etc.
It is through these groups that the powerful in our world try to control us. Point out our differences, divide us, and conquer us or at least control us. Our country is becoming a stratified “we” rather than a melting pot “we.” Diversity has come to represent layers of separation rather than homogeny.
Anthem is a glorious story of an individual, Equality 7-2521, who discovers the individual of himself in a world where this is illegal.
“Equality 7-2521 comes close to losing his life for this because his knowledge was regarded as a treacherous blasphemy. In a world where the crowd is one – a great WE, he has rediscovered the lost and holy word – I.”
Anthem also shows us a world living in the past. A world content to live by candlelight. A world where your role is predetermined. A world where life achieves nothing but death. A world that denied progress. This is happening in our world right now in many ways through the environmental movement. I read an article today where Hollywood has produced advertisements against the use of coal for energy.
My guess is that they want to build more windmills to replace the coal-fired plants that currently produce nearly 50% of our nation’s energy. How will people watch their movies by candlelight? If these folks want to live in the past, let them, but I do not.
My last thought and Rand’s most compelling part of this Anthem is her call for freedom:
“I am a man. This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before!
I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them. The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor on the spirit. I guard my treasures: my thought, my will, my freedom. And the greatest of these is freedom.
I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others. I covet no man’s soul, nor is my soul theirs to covet.”
Anthem is a powerful book and Ayn Rand is a powerful writer.