Ayn Rand came of age during the ascendancy of collectivism across the globe — not only in communist Russia, from which she escaped in 1926, but also in fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and to an alarming degree in her adopted homeland, America. Rand identified collectivism — the idea that individuals should be subjugated to the group and sacrificed for the common good — not only as a moral evil but as the essential cause of the political evils then engulfing the civilized world.
In the summer of 1937, Rand took a break from working on The Fountainhead to write the novelette called Anthem, a short, highly stylized tale of a future dystopia so saturated in collectivism that the word “I” has disappeared from the language.
First published in England in 1938, Anthem was rejected by collectivist-dominated American publishers in the 1930s — an American edition (slightly revised by Rand) did not appear until 1946.
Anthem is Ayn Rand’s “hymn to man’s ego.” It is the story of one man’s rebellion against a totalitarian, collectivist society. Equality 7-2521 is a young man who yearns to understand “the Science of Things.” But he lives in a bleak, dystopian future where independent thought is a crime and where science and technology have regressed to primitive levels.
All expressions of individualism have been suppressed in the world of Anthem; personal possessions are nonexistent, individual preferences are condemned as sinful and romantic love is forbidden. Obedience to the collective is so deeply ingrained that the very word “I” has been erased from the language.
In pursuit of his quest for knowledge, Equality 7-2521 struggles to answer the questions that burn within him — questions that ultimately lead him to uncover the mystery behind his society’s downfall and to find the key to a future of freedom and progress.
Anthem anticipates the theme of Rand’s first best seller, The Fountainhead, which she stated as “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man’s soul.”
“It is dark here. The flame of the candle stands still in the air. Nothing moves in this tunnel save our hand on the paper. We are alone here under the earth. It is a fearful word, alone. The laws say that none among men may be alone, ever and at any time, for this is the great transgression and the root of all evil. But we have broken many laws. And now there is nothing here save our one body, and it is strange to see only two legs stretched on the ground, and on the wall before us the shadow of our one head. . . .
“We stole the candle from the larder of the Home of the Street Sweepers. We shall be sentenced to ten years in the Palace of Corrective Detention if it be discovered. But this matters not. It matters only that the light is precious and we should not waste it to write when we need it for that work which is our crime. Nothing matters save the work, our secret, our evil, our precious work.”