As a proactive supporter of rational egoism, Ayn Rand offers her criticism regarding collectivism through her novel Anthem. The main protagonist, Equality 7-2521, lives as a street sweeper in an utopia based on collectivist principle. Ayn Rand exaggerates collectivism to a point where individualism is forbidden therefore when expressing yourself the words, “We” and “Us” are taught. Jobs and mates were pre-determined for the residents and mirrors were not present which made individualism lost in the city. Equality 7-2521 took the liberty of acting on his own by secretly communicating with the Golden One and created a lightbulb with using electricity. He showed the Council of Scholars his discovery of the lightbulb but rather than praising at the significance of the lightbulb, he was punished for attempting to act as an individual.
Collectivism may be present to bring order and safety for the society, but it stifles discoveries and excitement. Ayn Rand used the eldest and wisest council member, Collective 0-0009, to represent collectivism which is a principle that prioritizes the group instead of the individual. Under collectivism, any act or thought that does not involve the group is considered immoral and wrong. Even though Equality 7-2521 thought the lightbulb was a significant power for the city the Council did not think so, therefore it was decided by the Council that it would be destroyed. The Council would rather settle with candles and fire since it was discovered and considered safe by the group. Throughout Equality 7-2521’s life in the city as a street sweeper, he lived his normal life, but ever since he started to act upon his self interests he felt self fulfillment. He began to live his life under the rational egoism principle.
Equality 7-2521 ran away with the lightbulb to the forest and encountered the Golden One there where they discovered an abandoned house and learned the word “I” and “Ego”. He could not understand how man refused to live for himself and his own individual rights. Why sacrifice man’s rights for a city that follows “We” and ignores individuality? Is it immoral to pursue your desires, have interests, and make your own decisions?
Ayn Rand compares collectivism and rational egoism to be black and white. You are either one or the other. However in the Anthem, collectivism is taken to the extreme and the protagonist discovers fulfillment when becoming a rational egotist. Rational egoism is not necessarily better than collectivism. She states that it is irrational to not pursue your self interests but is it immoral? Since rational egoism justifies an action is rational only and if it maximizes one’s self-interest. For example, Robin Hood robs from the wealthy because he wants to ease the lives of the poor villagers. It may give him self fulfillment and satisfaction but does it justify his immoral act? If everyone were to follow this example, we would be living in a society where we can say robberies are acceptable as long as it benefits the robbers and third parties even if the victims were to suffer a loss.
There can be a balance between rational egoism and collectivism. Equality 7-2521 may have acted on his self interests but he decided to show the Council of Scholars his discovery because he thought of the benefits the society would gain as a whole knowing that he would be punished for his selfish actions. If the lightbulbs were to be released in the city, rational egoism and collectivism would have occurred provided that there would be no harm done to both the individual and society.