Anthem’s Ayn Rant

For someone who claims to worship reason, Ayn Rand seems to have no problem neglecting it in her storytelling.

We’re told that in this egalitarian future of Anthem’s, the distinction of personal appearance is taboo, so no one knows what he/she looks like. This comes in spite of the fact that there are windows and other reflective forms of glass, but meh. Toward the end, our hero documents his exploits on thousand-year-old sheets of paper, but let’s not think about that. These are mere scrapes of logic compared to the head-on collisions inherent in the story’s message.

Now, I have no problem with a novel’s ending being little more than a philosophical aria that hammers home the moral. But that aria shouldn’t repeatedly contradict the story that is meant to demonstrate it. I think that should be rather stupid.

“I do not grant my love without reason, nor to any chance passer-by who may wish to claim it.”

Granting love with reason is much like granting the flu via text message. Sure, we’d like to think that we have such mastery over love, that love is nothing if not rational thought.

But anyone who’s experienced it knows that’s not how it happens. Respect, yes, but romantic love?

Nor is that how it happens in Anthem when all is said and done. “The Golden One” first gains the attention of our protagonist by appearing likewise untainted by her enslaving society, and he quite convincingly becomes smitten. He not only lusts after her beauty but also admires her independent spirit. So far, so good.

But when she follows him out to the Uncharted Forest like a spaniel, she becomes wholly enchanting: “They wait obediently, without questions, till it pleases us to turn and go on.” And who can resist a lover who replies to your command with, “Your will be done?” Does not the heart flutter?

Really, if we switched the hero’s sweetheart with H.G. Wells’ diminutive Weena at this point, would anyone notice? And aren’t we advised by Rand to hate those who give up their will so easily? As it turns out, the Randian is to despise the exaltations of others, unless, of course, they happen to be reserved for him.

“I shall choose my friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters.”

At the end, it is curious that The Unconquered should feel compelled to go back and pluck some friends from the City, especially “Fraternity 2-5503, who cries without reason, and Solidarity 9-6347 who calls for help in the night.” Now, before you assume he must have selected these “friends” out of nothing more than pity, let me remind you that the Randian hero is not supposed to feel pity, let alone make decisions based on it. So there must be some other reason for surrounding oneself with a fellowship of losers, right?

“I shall build a barrier of wires around my home… a barrier my brothers will never be able to cross.”

Well, crying and screaming brothers excepted, but we just went over that.

Rand is otherwise proposing that happiness and excellence is only possible through assuming the life of a hermit.

The problem is, the Unconquered’s lightbulb — the symbol of enlightenment and achievement in the novel — is not the product of a hermit. While a single man with uncommon tenacity was able to construct it, he did so with the materials and knowledge of the Unmentionable Times, which was most assuredly a collective effort. Just not to the collective extreme of the Councils for the Candle. But Ayn Rand is only interested in extremes, so there you go.

Brave New World‘s ending has this problem, too. The protagonist, John the Savage, appears to be the rational man who will show us the way to live sanely in his mad, mad world. In the end, however, he retreats into a brutish, religiously fanatical existence of crazed penance and self-flagellation, and we wonder if Huxley intends for this to be the “solution.” We hope not, because John has clearly failed us.

The difference is that Huxley does not endorse the Savage’s response to his society (he regretted later that his novel ultimately demonstrated two kinds of crazy, and no balanced solution), but Rand showcases her lunatic hermit as a very paragon of the animals.

“To be free, a man must be free of his brothers. That is freedom. This and nothing else.”

I thought, Yeah — good luck with civilization, then. But this was foolishness on my part: Ayn Rand is not interested in civilization. “Why should I give a shit,” says she, “about the future generations of man? What does civilization have to do with Me?”

And I have nothing to say to that but “Damn.”

David Foster Wallace once said that when a solipsist dies, everything goes with him. If that’s true, then it’s surprising that Ayn Rand’s death had not punched a black hole into the firmament of space, dragging all us meatsacks into the twinkle of oblivion.

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2 thoughts on “Anthem’s Ayn Rant

  1. Too bad you actually didn’t read the quotations you used. Then you would not have missed the point. Yes, love is emotion, and wonderful emotion. But if it contradicts what your thought tells you and you ignore your reason, you will suffer the consequences and it is your fault.

  2. Even if I were a bonehead (not impossible) and lacksidasically skimmed these quotations, I’d still have a better awareness of them than Anthem’s actual story does.

    I’m curious to know how you think The Unconquered could possibly love the Golden One out of reason. What does he find admirable or respectable about her, besides the fact that she’s hot? If anything, the story is a demonstration that reason hardly comes into play when choosing a mate.

    What you’re describing, though, is a middleground where reason serves to check and justify the emotions of love, which I agree is the best practice when one can manage it. The trouble is that such middlegrounds don’t exist in Anthem or Objectivist philosophy as a whole.

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