Ayn Rand’s Anthem, criticizes collectivism by pointing out that it does not result in ultimate equality, but instead results in the complete denial of individuality. Rand’s argument is that rational egoism is necessary for human progress, as people must act in their own interest, to an extent, in order to survive and thrive. Her idea that the individual should take precedence over the whole is laid out as she depicts the extreme opposite in Anthem. In Anthem, there is no concept of self, and love does not exist; everything is said and done for the benefit of the collective. Rand presents the point that humans cannot exist without individuality, and to act against this instinct is foolish.
Anthem depicts a society based completely on altruism and collectivism. While this seems like a perfect utopia in theory and on paper, Rand shows how it is simply not in human nature for this type of society to work and benefit everyone. First, everyone in this society is assigned a job and a mating partner; no one can make these decisions for themselves. Rand argues that when you eliminate choice, you essentially eliminate any form of freedom as well. The protagonist, Equality, is given the Life Mandate of Street Sweeper, even thought he always wanted to be a Scholar. Equality naturally defies the society as he feels upset that he was assigned a Street Sweeper, and he feels compassion and love for a woman. He also feels guilty and shameful that he experienced these emotions and understands them. The emotions he feels are specific to himself and his situation, and are therefore outside of the collectivist ideology. Rand conveys that emotions are an innately human thing, and even the act of eliminating individuality and choice, cannot change that. No person can exist for everyone else, without having some form of self-interest as well. Therefore, a collectivist society could not be sustained.
Rand grew up in Soviet Russia, and her writing without doubt encapsulates her disdain for it. Because individual rights were denied throughout her communist upbringing, she clearly craved a more capitalistic, and individualistic lifestyle. Individualism was something she was apparently very passionate about, and since she has seen both sides of the coin, having lived in communist Russia and the capitalist United States, her bias stems from experience rather then theories or outside opinions. I would say that I trust her work perhaps more so than others because of this.
There are downsides to her theory of rational egoism, however, many of them involve hypothetical and exaggerated situations. I think there is merit in the theory and people should act in their own self-interest as it is an important factor in human happiness. To me, it's about having the choice to either be selfish or altruistic when you want, or when it is convenient. I don't think acting in self-interest is an inherently bad thing, however there must be limits. Obviously a man shouldn’t kill another man because it benefits himself.