Anthem, a dystopian novel written by Ayn Rand in the year of 1937, tells us the story of Equality 7-2521 who begins to discover that he resides in a society where freedom and individual rights have been abandoned, due to collectivism. A collectivist society is when people only focus on the good of the society and not the welfare of an individual. In this kind of society, there is no such thing as “I” or the individual. Every member of the society is seen as “we.” The residents are a whole through mind and behavior. A collectivist society is against rational egoism also known as “rational selfishness” which is an action that is rational only if it amplifies one’s self-interest. If the society had a sense of individuality or freedom everything would have turned out differently. Rational egoism can benefit a society by bringing out diversity in all walks of life, but at the same time, it can be harmful by creating a greedy, unjust society that is only concerned with the self.
Rational egoism is a way for people to gain a sense of self-development or awareness. The concept of “I” would finally exist. Individuality as a whole would flourish. This allows a sense of diversity amongst the people which are helpful during times of difficulty because multiple opinions can arise to bring a solution to the table. For example, “Many men in the Homes of the Scholars have had staged new ideas in the past…but when the majority of their brother Scholars voted against them, they abandoned their ideas, as all men must” (Rand 27).These are the words from the members of the World Council of Scholars when Equality presented his idea about the lightbulb. The members cared more about the fact that Equality was a “Transgressor” and did not care what he needed to say because he expressed rational egoism through discovering electricity. The idea Equality 7-2521 had discovered is an example that rational egoism would have been a cure for the collectivist society because new advancement has the ability to change the society as a whole and it can be made from people who are not assigned jobs from the Scholars or the Council members. Also, through this new advancement people can start having their own voices and opinions expressed instead of others doing it for them.
There are many pros and cons to rational egoism. Rationality means that an individual is able to reason their ideas and beliefs. One of the biggest cons of rational egoism is that everyone will be thinking about themselves first but there will be no one caring about the society as a whole which can be a risk. It needs to be remembered that rational egoism is also known as rational selfishness and there will no such thing as kindness or care in a world when everyone is thinking about themselves and not others. It could be the reason for an unjust society that will lose its sense of community as a whole.
Rand was born in Russia during the time where communism, a form of collectivism, was a danger that society faced. For Rand to grow up in a society where one’s life does not enjoy the freedom or rights, she couldn’t help but encourage rational egoism. Her real world experience of being part of a poor family with no voice in society gives her a genuine platform to dissect the issues of communism and propose a solution, and that solution was rational egoism. Nonetheless, rational egoism can not serve as a cure to society, as both rational egoism and collectivism are on two extreme ends. There needs to be moderation in every society so that individual ideas are accepted but a sense of community is also embedded within the minds of the residents.