Ayn Rand’s Anthem follows the life of Equality 7-2521 through his dystopian society. His society is based on collectivism, as in, everyone works for the betterment of everyone else and no one is looking out for themselves as individuals. The collectivist society is at such an extreme that even the civilians refer to themselves as “We” instead of “I” to show that they are all connected and not individuals. Rand clearly wrote this book to propagate anti-collectivism, although, I am not sure how well her point was received since she wrote about it to such an extreme. Rand is an advocate for rational egoism, a topic she writes about in most of her works whether directly, or indirectly. She seems to believe that rational egoism is a cure for collectivism, however these are two extreme sides to the ideologies.
In Anthem, the society runs on collectivism and Rand portrays that in a negative way. However, her negative angle is only present because its portrayal is so exaggerated. In that society, it is unthinkable to see yourself as an individual. You are a part of your community and you work for the betterment of everyone around you except yourself. If that is the case, then no one is actually benefiting from your work. If you constantly believe that your job is to help your “brothers” for the better, then who is helping you, as a “brother”, for the better? Rand created a collectivist world to express how much collectivism does not actually work for the “betterment of your brothers”. She writes her hero, Equality 7-2521, start to exhibit the beginning of individualism throughout his life in this society, though he is not aware of why his behavior is different from his brothers even though he realizes that he is different. He views himself as better than everyone else even though he is not supposed to.
Throughout his life, Equality 7-2521 seems compelled to make himself a better person than to make himself more useful to his brothers. He asked more questions in school because he wanted answers and his teachers did not like him for being so curious. Curiosity is not helpful to a society. Following rules is helpful. He thought he had more value to society by being a scholar, although, he later realizes that he did not actually think he was more valuable to society, he just wanted to make his own life happier. Being a scholar would improve the quality of his own life which is not something that is allowed to be thought about in that society. Your only function in collectivism is to improve the quality of your society with your brothers, not as individuals. This is a great concept, but very dystopian when you put it to such an extreme that you are sacrificing your own happiness for the betterment of your world. For example, societies function better when everyone complies with the society’s rules, but complying with the rules might make life very unpleasant for you. As is the case with Equality 7-2521. His society is very compliant but the civilians seem to be pretty miserable for the most part. It’s just unrealistic to sacrifice yourself to such an extent.
Rational Egoism can most definitely be a cure for this society, but again, not to an extreme. If Equality 7-2521 were extremely rational egoistic, then he would not have thought about bringing the Golden One with him when he ran away from the society. She may have compromised his freedom if she was unfaithful in her intentions with him. He also wouldn’t have thought about bringing certain civilians into his new world of freedom because they might also compromise his freedom. If one of his fellow citizens joined his new civilization and was actually a spy for the collectivist society, they could create wars between the two societies and break what both societies strive for. Even so, Equality 7-2521 doesn’t seem to care about this concept, caring about it would make him more selfish about whether or not he should introduce people to individuality. He still has a collectivist mindset where he wants his brothers to be happy and he thinks they can achieve happiness through individuality. He is expressing both a collectivist mindset and an individualistic mindset.
Too much rational egoism makes you a very solitary person. Too much collectivism makes you a rug for people to step on for the betterment of others. Neither extreme is good on its own. However, if you practice a little bit of both, it makes the world and your individual life a lot more tolerable and creates a world more closely related to our current one. Although, it seems like Utopia lies somewhere in the right balance of these two extremes.