An Analysis of Individuality Which is Banned By Law

Topics: Atlas Shrugged

Anthem – What if Individuality ere Banned by Law?

Equality 7-2521 is a street sweeper in a dystopic future where:

We are nothing. Mankind is all. By the grace of our brothers are we allowed our lives? We exist through, by, and for our brothers who are the State. Amen.

But Equality 7-2521 has a problem; he doesn’t believe in the things that his brothers do. He has questions, which can not even be asked, that he wants to be answered.

He has a friend (International 48818), which is forbidden, and then he falls in love with a woman he calls “The Golden One” (Liberty 5-3000). And as if all these crimes weren’t bad enough, he’s started to do experiments in an abandoned culvert and he’s figured out electricity. But he’s willing to accept the consequences of his crimes because he’s certain that his discovery is so important to Mankind as to absolve him of all blame.

He is, of course, wrong. Because in this society, it is not a good thing for an individual to discover new knowledge: “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.” So Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000 escape into the wilderness surrounding the city and, after renaming each other Prometheus and Gaea, begin to work out a philosophy where the self, the individual, is important.

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Prometheus realizes:

At first, the man was enslaved by the gods. But he broke the chains. Then he was enslaved by the kings. But he broke their chains. He was enslaved by his birth, by his kin, and by his race. But he broke their chains. He declared to all his brothers that a man has rights which neither god nor king nor other men can take away from him, no matter what their number, for his is the right of man, and there is no right on earth above this right. And he stood on the threshold of freedom for which the blood of centuries behind him had been spilled.

But then he gave up all he had won and fell lower than his savage beginning.

What brought it to pass? What disaster took their reason away from men? What whip lashed them to their knees in shame and submission? The worship of the word “We.”

Perhaps in those days, there were a few among men, a few of clear sight and clean soul, who refused to surrender the word I.] What agony must have been theirs before that which they saw coming and could not stop! Perhaps they cried out in protest and a warning. And they, these few, fought a hopeless battle, and they perished with their banner smeared with their blood. And they chose to perish, for they knew. To them, I send my salute across the centuries and my pity.

Theirs is the banner in my hand. And I wish I had the power to tell them that the despair of their hearts was not to be final, and their night was not without hope. For the battle they lost can never be lost. For that which they died to save can never perish. Through all the darkness, through all the shame of which men are capable, the spirit of a man will remain alive on this earth. It may sleep, but it will awaken. It may wear chains, but it will go on. Man, not men.

Ayn Rand espoused a hard-line capitalist philosophy which she called Objectivism –“the concept of man as a heroic being, with his happiness as the moral purpose of life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute.” During years when one type of Collectivism or another (Socialism, Fascism, communism) was regnant in virtually every nation in the West, she courageously swam against the tide of her time and demanded recognition of the primacy of the individual and self-interest as a force for good. As a result, she has been ignored by the arts establishment, philosophers, and political scientists, but she has a strong cult following and nearly every young person has, at least, a flirtation with her ideas. There are legions of us who first read her in college and developed a ferocious intellectual crush on her for her iconoclasm and the pure ferocity of her rhetoric. Here, at last, was someone telling us that the liberal pabulum we had been spoon-fed for the first 18 years of life was moral poison. What a glorious moment when you discover that there are other people who, like you, think that individuals matter, that personal excellence should be celebrated and that anything that limits the rights and the abilities of individuals is evil.

One of the most telling indicators of the dichotomy between critics and the common folk is to compare her absence from the Modern Library Top 100 novels of the 20th Century list to the lofty placement of her novels on the lists where readers voted (i.e., Radcliffe’s 100 Best Novels, Modern Library Readers’ List & Koen Books Top 100) The critics may not respect her much, but we of the hoi polloi sure seem to like her. And, of course, Ms. Rand has gotten the final laugh as it is her philosophy that has triumphed and, along with the careful tending of her acolyte and former boy toy Alan Greenspan, given the world a period of unprecedented economic growth and political freedom. The continued refusal of the intelligentsia to acknowledge her merely serves to make her accomplishment all the more remarkable. When the dust has settled, a few decades or centuries from now, one assumes (okay, one hopes) that Keynes and Galbraith, Marx and Rawls, Dreiser and Lewis and Sinclair–all of the thinkers and writers of the failed Left–will have been consigned to oblivion and the names that are honored will be Hayek, Popper, Friedman, Orwell, and Rand.

The sheer length of her two masterworks, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, makes rereading them a pretty daunting prospect. They tend to be a little too hysterical, a little too repetitive, and, with the end of the Cold War, they’ve lost a little of their edge. But only a little, her essential message is still as important and timely today as it was fifty years ago–the only guarantee of freedom and human progress continues to be the individual acting in his interest. Every attempt to make one person work for another’s benefit erodes all of our liberty and retards our progress as a society and a species. So I highly recommend that you return to these shorter works and The Fountainhead stands up pretty well. It also looks, from the reviews below, like her collected letters and journals make for rewarding reading. This fine short novel is an excellent introduction to her passionate political philosophy and her emotional polemical style.

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