Anthem by Ayn Rand: Dystopia stories fascinate me because they say so much more about the social issues of the author’s own era than the future. Here we have a collectivist society, where the good of the many outweighs the desires of the one. Our hero is a street sweeper, so designated because when it was his turn for a job, what was needed most was another street sweeper. He dreams of being a scholar, but is shot down for thinking himself better than others by rising above his station. When this was written in the late 1930s, collectivism was a popular idea, though in its extreme eventually contributed to the rise of fanatical nationalist groups such as the Nazi party. This particular story is not an especially memorable tale, since it is just about a misfit in a repressed society who eventually escapes, sees the light, finds the truth, etc. Hurray for individualism. Sometimes I wonder if Rand’s vision of a dystopian future is so popularly maligned because she preached not just cultural individualism, but economic individualism as well. This book in particular emphasizes the importance of every man working in his own interest rather than for the nebulously-defined public good, though she tends to gloss over the drudgery of factory work and those jobs that don’t provide a living wage. Sadly, not everyone has the option of doing the job he wants, or even the job that might serve as a stepping stone to the job he wants. If they did, the world would have a whole lot more artists and a whole lot fewer waiters.
That said, I find Rand’s writings interesting because they represent such a different way of thinking from the norm. Yes, they are preachy, but I don’t find them offensive. After all, the biggest tenet of the philosophy put forth here is the right to choose one’s own path, rather than allowing it to be dictated by another. I can see why that would be an appealing idea, even if in many cases it is woefully unrealistic. After all, we aren’t all lucky enough to inherit copper mines or train companies.
Also posted on BookCrossing.