Ayn Rand

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Alexander S. Peak


Anthem was the first work by Ayn Rand that I ever read, and it remains to this day my favourite piece of Randian fiction.  Unlike Atlas Shrugged, which is one of the longest novels around, Anthem is short—remarkably short.  In fact, the entire novella is less than a hundred pages in length.  Yet let not its brevity deceive you, it is a powerful testament to individualism.


I first read the novella in or around 2005, at a time when I was transitioning from liberalism toward a more radical philosophy: libertarianism.  In my drive to expand my understanding of the exciting and refreshing libertarian perspective, I sought out those authors whose names were often bandied within the movement, and one of the names on the top of that list was Ayn Rand.


Anthem is a story with which it easy to fall in love.  It is a story about humanity, about the spirit of individualism.  Much like Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” it is set in a dystopian future where, thanks to conditioning of one sort of another, breaking from the mould is either discouraged or forbidden.  In Anthem’s case, it is forbidden, but enforcement is weak.


The planners of Anthem’s society indoctrinate the individuals that comprise society into believing that people are a means to the ends of the state, not an ends within themselves.  As such, it is considered a libertarian classic, despite Rand’s quirky and largely-irrelevant insistance that she was not a libertarian.  The novella centres around an individual’s strive to think freely, to love freely, and to live and let live, and thus it is truly timeless.  With such beautiful poetry, it celebrates the survival and ultimate indestructibility of the individualist spirit.  Try as the planners might, they are fundamentally incapable of keeping what Orwell calls “ownlife” from arising in their subjects.


Rand, after authoring the original 1936 version of this work, went on to author two more works of fiction, both of which are widely celebrated: The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957).  It is for this latter work that she is most remembered.  It is Atlas, they say, that is responsible, more so than any other book, for drawing people into the same libertarian movement that she so vehemently rejected.  And, it is Atlas that, to this day, sells so temendously well.  (It has been selling especially well, according to The New York Times, in the wake of the recent economic crisis that America’s government-created central bank caused.)  Yet, for me, it is her little novella that I find most inspirational.


Perhaps Anthem’s most interesting legacy is its notable influence on music.  According to Jeff Britting, singer Pat Boone borrowed words and themes from Anthem for a song in the ’60s.1  Neil Peart of the Canadian progressive rock band Rush cites Rand as a major influence, describing her as a genius.  Anthem, not surprisingly, served as an inspiration for the 1975 Rush song “Anthem” and the 1976 Rush album 2112.  And, Anthem has also been an influence on the Sweedish death metal sextet Arch Enemy, it is believed by some, especially on their album Anthems of Rebellion (2003), which contains such songs as “We Will Rise” and “Despicable Heroes,” as well as an instrumental track titled “Anthem.”


Ideas are powerful.  Moreover, the idea of freedom is, I believe, the most powerful and important among them.  Naturally, we all hope that the dystopia envisioned in Anthem is never realised.  But even if such horror does somehow someday befall man- and womankind, it shan’t be the end of humanity, for the idea of freedom cannot be exterminated no matter how much the planners may wish it to be.  There shall always be, therefore, an Equality 7-2521, an individual who recognises the liberating reality that his life is his to live, who recognises that his sovereignty is his by right.  And even if Rand and all of her literature are entirely forgotten by this hypothetical future date, the spirit of individualism will not be.


There is nothing more timeless.



December, 2009

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1 Jeff Britting, “Adapting Anthem: Projects That Were and Might Have Been,” in Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem, ed. Robert Mayhew (United States: Lexington Books, 2005), 66–67.

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