Anthem: Abuse of Socialist System in Dystopian Future
In the book Anthem, Ayn Rand portrays a society where everything is done for the benefit of the group, and the individual is invisible. People are nameless, faceless, and don’t dare to question authority. The author was an individualist philosopher, and is trying to show through this story that a socialist system cannot possibly lead to progress. However, throughout history and even today there are examples of individuals thriving in collective societies, and individualist societies moving backward, due to the influence of those in power.
In Anthem there is a council that controls the rules and regulations that govern all members of society, and maintains control is through a brainwashing program started at birth. This council holds the power to decide on everyone’s fate, and to keep society operating in a way that keeps them in power. They teach the people to not question authority, not have relationships, not to even look in a mirror, and to have no unique identity or it will damage society “We strive to be like all our brother men, for all men must be alike”. In the book the society shown is an extreme version of communism, but today we know that this kind of brainwashing and control happens in many different societies, both collective and individual. In the United States today Donald Trump uses constant messaging through rallies, social media and regular media to create fear in people so they will think exactly like him, even if his message is not true. In general, the type of division politics we see in the United States thrives on telling people what he wants them to believe and tells them they will damage America if they don’t: “Any threat to Trump’s authority is met with anger motivated by fear, and the media have been his biggest threat of all.” He even put people from his family into jobs helping run the country because he could control their views, and fired people who had different views. People believe him without question. They have been trained to believe him just like the residents in Anthem are trained from birth to believe what they are taught, and they lose their ability to think for themselves. And yet the United States is an individualist and capitalist society.
There are also many societies in the world today that have a more collective and social type of philosophy where there are many freedoms and economies are thriving. Clearly Ayn Rand does not feel there is any room for this as seen in the quote: “The word ‘We’ is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.” However, today we see examples like Norway, where there is a system that is both socialist and democratic, where most workers are part of unions and the state looks after many needs like heath care and child care. (Cooper, Ryan.) And while individuals work together and contribute to the common good, they also have strong rights and freedoms as individuals. But because this is also a democratic country, the people in power are elected, must be elected each term. When Anthem was written the type of Communism Ayn Rand was afraid of was very extreme, and it was also led by people in power who could abuse their positions and take advantage of the population because they had too much control. This shows us that the philosophy of the common good is not necessarily bad, but having too much power in the hands of the wrong leader and not having rules for letting the population vote can lead to problems.
Finally, the tool of holding back education and preventing people from learning too much is a method of control that has been used for centuries. When the council recognized Equality 7-2521’s intelligence they made sure he would be a street sweeper and not have the chance to learn become a scholar, out of fear he may question the authority of the leaders: “This was the only thing which moved, for the lips of the oldest did not move as they said: ‘Street Sweeper.’ Again, we only need to look at the United States and the Laws of Ignorance used for many years, when slave owners would repress their slaves and not allow them to learn reading or writing. “Ignorance was the major control instrument of slavery. every master realized that he had to know almost everything, and the slaves had to know almost nothing. An educated Black might realize how horribly he was treated and revolt.” (Ralph, Erickson) This was not happening in a communist system but in the ultimate capitalist system where business owners owned everything including people. However, they wanted to make sure the slaves did not learn too much and threaten their power, so keeping them uneducated was used for control. This is the same system used by the Council in Anthem to control their citizens.
As seen in these examples it is the leaders and the people in power who determine the outcome of a society, not the social structure and philosophy by itself. In both socialist and individualist settings, you can have business success, rights and freedoms, or total repression and lack of freedoms. Brainwashing of people and withholding education are tools of control used in both individualist and socialist settings. And a socialist system can sometimes offer better rights and benefits to individuals, such as in Norway. Most importantly, it shows us that in any system, too much power in the hands of too few people makes it difficult for individuals to progress, and hurts the society. We can recognize that in Anthem, the socialist system was not the reason their society failed, it was the tool used by a few individuals (the council) to control people and maintain their power.
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In the book Anthem, Ayn Rand portrays a society where everything is done for the benefit of the group, and the individual is invisible. People are nameless, faceless, and don’t […]