Analysis of Objectivism and book review of “Anthem” by Ayn Rand

It is a sin to write this.

It is a sin to be alone.

It is a sin to think alone.

For, there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone.

It is a fearful word, alone.

Still, we must write.

We wish to speak once to no ears, but our own

                                                                                          ” Anthem” by Ayn Rand.

667

Genre-      Dystopic literature/ Philosophical fiction

Introduction

Ayn Rand’s ‘Anthem‘ is a political statement against collectivism and blatant erasure of individualism, attacking the tenets of Soviet Communism, that, according to her, promulgates serfdom and slavery, disguising as and hiding behind the veil of ostensible freedom of the proletariat.  It is a dystopian novel, the atmosphere same as in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World‘ and to cite a more recent one, Yan Lianke’s ‘The Four Books‘.My review here(Book Review ‘The Four Books’ by Yan Lianke).

Rand and Objectivism

Rand was born Russian(1905) to an intellectual and well-off Jewish family and a witness to the Bolshevik Revolution, and a victim (according to her) when the communists expropriated property from the wealthy, nobles, landlords and aristocrats and distributed to the proletariat. ( The Russian Revolution had had many reasons other than this, though inequality was one notable raison d etre. Rand having had to lose everything, we can very well understand her ire against everything that had to do with communism. Yet, the significance of perspective shouldn’t go unnoticed. Thinking from the proletariat viewpoint, the revolution was a liberating force then. The state surveillance and curbing of individual freedom would have had the most negative impact while shaping the judgments and viewpoints of an intellectual like her).

She had done her Bachelors in History from St. Petersburg State University, Russia, where, she wrote later, she had encountered the distortion of history, art, literature, and past to propagate the Soviet communist propaganda. She turned out to be an excellent propagandist herself, later in the U.S, trumpeting her philosophy and capitalist ideologies, that were soaked up by a liberal crowd pining for change, a business flock hungry for profit and a conservative group who savvied its electoral significance.

She fled to the land of freedom, the USA, obliterated everything Russian( her name was ‘Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum’), took on US citizenship, and started writing novels and propounded her unique and controversial brand of philosophy, called ‘Objectivism’. ‘Anthem’ set the seeds of her philosophy, which was then expounded in detail through her other famous works, ‘The Fountainhead‘ and ‘Atlas Shrugged‘ and also her many non-fiction works.

(I was interested in reading Anthem and about objectivism after reading a newspaper article headlined, why ‘Conservatives and Libertarians embrace Randian philosophy while Academicians reject it‘. Texts about the philosophy were beyond my understanding, I just wanted to find out what the fuss is all about and I love non-fiction. Many GoodReads friends had suggested reading ‘Anthem‘ first to make out the whats and whys and also many simplified explanations were available on the net. If you are not a fan of philosophical-fiction, better not try this one).

Objectivism has four tenets- reality, reason, self-interest, and individual rights and capitalism. Simply explaining, Rand’s philosophy is rooted in Ego or self-serving/ self-actualizing acts to achieve individual happiness and prosperity and through this happiness, the prosperity of a society. The moral goal of each individual should be achieving happiness as the purpose of life through the noblest activity of productive achievement with an absolute reason, living in a society that respects individual rights and promotes laissez-faire capitalism. Note, the many interesting points here for conservatives and capitalists, but, one thing that stands out in her materialistic philosophy, is, she is a self-styled atheist to a fault, that makes it an atheistic philosophy too, one that might not go well with conservative ideologies.

Conservatism, Rand and objectivism

The 40-th US president Ronald Reagen was a fan of Ayn Rand, as his private letters reveal A pamphlet was written by Rand after the 1960 presidential campaign,’ Conservatism, an Obituary‘ in which she states that capitalism is the only alternative to Statism. Though Rand was never a fan of Reagen( as her many speeches suggest) due to his alliance with the religious right and his pro-life stance on legal abortion. Her words-  “the appalling disgrace of his administration was his connection with the so-called ‘Moral Majority’ and sundry other TV religionists, who are struggling, apparently with his approval, to take us back to the Middle Ages via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.

Though both were anti-communists to the hilt, there were many dissonances in their overlapping views on objectivism. Simply put, conservatism and anti-communism cannot be automatically linked to the Randian objectivism. There were obvious discordances at many points. Certain pieces didn’t fit into these groups that easily. But the 60’s conservative youth and libertarians, most of whom embraced atheism, found in the philosophy an excellent propaganda tool and inspiration for political and social contexts. Many were searching for ideologies to pin their faith on, about the role of individuals and government in a society. They misinterpreted Rand’s elevation of individualism into the extreme and set limits on government interference in the most minimalist terms possible. Many of the old conservatives who were religious and pro-life, later tried to let themselves out of the Randian hook or added their own convenient religious component into it. Both groups added a prophetic hue to her major novels, pointing to the dystopia that might alight upon them, given the consequence of electing a liberal government. Rand was an adamant pro-choice proponent and had warned and argued strongly against religious conservatism.

Rand’s philosophy encompassed the cold war struggle b/w free countries practicing capitalism like the USA and ostensible surveillance states curbing freedom and individualism like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. She went on to write novels and was an acclaimed Hollywood scriptwriter.  The novels ‘Atlas shrugged’ and ‘The Fountainhead’ was remade into films, in which she countered and flipped over the communist agitprop of a heroic worker fighting tooth and nail with a sordid capitalist. ‘The Fountainhead’ released during WW-ll tells the story of a self-made heroic architect, Howard Roark, fighting the injustice of people who abuse the labor of others called ‘second-handers’.( Have read the review only. Looks like an interesting read).

Anthem‘ summary

Anthem is a paean to Ego. It is the self-realization of individual potential to the utmost when a person is free.

The novel is narrated in the first person by the protagonist, Equality 7-2521, (yes, that is his name, he does not have a proper name.), a young man languishing in a dystopian, apocalyptic future society under 24/7 surveillance. Not an ordinary society, here individuality has been cleansed right to the level of vocabulary for communication. No one had even heard of the pronoun ‘I’ or if someone knew that, they were not allowed to use. The collective term ‘We” should be used instead. They have been dictated that the reason for their existence, is to serve others. There is no individual existence, but a collective one.  A one- for- all and all- for- one kind.

Our hero happens to be an exception by standing out from the crowd in appearance, intellect, and free-thinking. Actually, there were a few others like him, a minority who had lost the war against a majority, when the era of the Great Rebirth came into existence. In spite of or because of his singularity, he had been assigned the job of a street sweeper, with tedious working hours amidst which he sneaks into an underground tunnel with candlelight and starts writing, thinking and doing scientific experiments, all by and to himself( something that is punishable).

Meanwhile, he falls in love with a lady by the name Liberty 5-3000. Another punishable offense, of giving importance to a person, in particular, a transgression by preference. Time passes and Equality discovers electricity by himself (that is more transgression) and decides to present it in front of the Council of Scholars( unpardonable offense). They freak out and Equality escapes to the nearby forbidden Forest, followed by Liberty and inhales the first air of freedom. They discover a house, an entirely private one and not a collective dwelling, books, and manuscripts from the Unmentionable Times before the Great Rebirth. They see their reflections in the mirror for the first time. From the books, they finally, find out the pronoun, ‘I’ and utter ‘ I Love You’ to each other, instead of ‘We love you’ ( this is exclusively Randian). Equality changes his name to ‘Prometheus'(light bearer, allegorical here) and Liberty to ‘Gaea'(The Earth personified as a goddess)

The climax is when Equality learns that he is extremely happy on his own, the only reason for his existence, tastes freedom and most of all, discovers Ego as the most sacred form of existence of an individual. He decides to go back and fight for the trampled ones in the city. There are other characters going by names like International 4-8818, Fraternity 2-5503 and Solidarity 9-6347. ( You could guess the roles by their constitutional names. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress cited as the first novel written in English in 1678 has characters going by names like Christian, Obstinate, Pliable, Civility, Goodwill and so forth.).

Anthem analysis

It is a short novella(65 pages only), but hidden within are allegories, images, and truth drenched in philosophical viewpoints.  So it takes time since you need to do some significant collateral reading to get to what she means exactly by each sentence.

The philosophical theme is basically ‘egoism’, though she had created the raw materials for ‘objectivism’, that later on, she would expand in her other major works. Collectivism is expressed as nightmarish confinement and subdual and freedom described as the springboard for individual development. Also, with freedom, comes identity( I instead of We) as an individual.

The strained relation between individual and society has been painted in the darkest of tones, as the society tries to control every aspect of individual life from what he should think to when or whether he should procreate.  (Reminds me of China’s one-child policy, now abandoned, censorship of literature in many countries, espionage of apparent dissidents, forced sterilization to limit population in democratic India during the Emergency period of 1976, forced sterilization as a part of Eugenic program in the USA in the first half of the 20th century extending to the 1970s. All of this leads us to the conclusion that this is not just something which happens in dictatorships only, even democracies practice many and more such atrocities. The case of Buck vs Bell, when Carrie Buck was stamped by the Supreme Court as imbecile and sterilized without her consent by Dr. John Bell in 1927, followed by many thousands is a notable one in the US). (For those interested, there is an excellent book about Buck vs Bell case -” Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v Bell” by Paul A Lombardo).

Rand explains the superiority of individual happiness over societal good, freedom to choose what one likes and not to toil for the common good. She makes it clear that progress in any field, science or any other, is possible by amassing knowledge individually and not as a group. Freedom to love has been forbidden in Rand’s dystopia and through Equality and Liberty, she argues that freedom to choose and love should be the foremost, though Liberty’s love has more of a submissive and slavish tinge( I don’t get it. Could be some allegory within allegory, not sure).

Symbolism, Imagery, and Allegories

Anthem is executed in scriptural language with Biblical and Mythological( Prometheus, Gaea) allusions. For eg., we could find the frequent use of the words, ‘ sin, transgression, Unmentionable Times, Unspeakable Word, Evil Ones’, etc.. What Rand is trying to affirm here, is  the frequent adoption of religion by totalitarian governments to emblazon their God-like power on people’s minds and thereby turning them to puppets, who idolize the state and the heads.

Biblical Gospel of Mathew states, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’, but Rand( remember, she was an atheist) conducts literal sabotage( sacrilege) by emphasizing her brand of solipsism and not a collective love. Similarly, Jesus’ famous “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”  is mirrored in  Equality’s proclamation,  “I am the meaning…. I am the warrant and the sanction“. There are many hard-to- not notice allusions like these.

Light and water symbolisms and imagery are also striking and brilliant. Equality’s discovery of electric light( knowledge, truth) in the dark tunnel, his renaming as Prometheus( who stole and carried fire to earth), his decision to spread the light on the darkness of fellowmen( he is a light-bearer), Liberty’s appearance as water- bearer, all these point to a new beginning, a rebirth. Again an allusion to the King James Bible, which reads, in context:” In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. … And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Look at this beautiful interaction between water and light, when Equality meets Liberty, in Rand’s wonderful imagery,

And the drops of water falling from their(her) hands, as they(she) raised the water to their(her) lips, were like sparks of fire in the sun. Then the Golden One(Liberty) saw us(me), and they(she) did not move, kneeling there, looking at us(me), and circles of light played upon their(her) white tunic, from the sun on the water of the moat, and one sparkling drop fell from a finger of their(her) handheld as frozen in the air”.

Randian philosophy: who needs it?

Well, as per Rand, every human being needs to be philosophical. With this, she doesn’t mean that we should sit still and brood over philosophy. What she meant was that all of us should be aware of the reason for existence. And unfortunately, embraced by the far right, neo-fascists, and neo-Nazis.

Face reality independent of any consciousness and not try to re-write it, understand that all things have their own identity, the highest moral goal of man should be achieving happiness and this needs rational respect for reality. (This is o.k.)

There is some misunderstanding about the role of ego/ selfishness in her theory and many have construed this to suit their own goals, notably businesses and conglomerates. She makes it clear in an essay, ‘Philosophy: Who Needs It?’. She differentiates between selfishness as a virtue and selfishness without a self. Rand sharply contrasts her view with one conventional picture of selfishness: the mindless amoralist who does whatever he wants. According to her, a selfish person without self is one who “has no self and no personal interests, only momentary whims”. Whereas selfishness is forming a self, developing long-range goals, moral values, and standards through one’s own independent judgment, and staying committed despite distractions resulting in a self- confident individual. This has become jumbled. (What I have understood from objectivism is plain selfishness to achieve individual happiness and nothing to be justified morally or nothing that stands on a moral pedestal. )

Regarding faith, she argues that this goes along with brute force and mysticism like reason and freedom. She adds, ” no man or mystical elite can hold a whole society subjugated to their arbitrary assertions, edicts, and whims, without the use of force. Anyone who resorts to the formula: ‘It’s so because I say so,’ will have to reach for a gun, sooner or later.” ( Theocracy subjugating the masses(outright autocracy) or the poisoning of secular democracies by extremist uncompromising religious ideologues/ fanatics or a conservative sort of apathy in keeping the church and state separate .)

Regarding capitalism, she elevates the capitalist entrepreneur individualist as the true leader of society. Everything said, like socialism, capitalism has major pitfalls, the foremost being economic inequality and hoarding of a significant proportion of wealth by a small group of rich. And the political consequences are right before our eyes in many countries. We read about it in newspapers every day. To cite a recent one, 30 years of laissez-faire capitalism in Chile brought millions to the streets demanding change. Though Chile is considered a Latin American success story, the main reason behind the protest was economic inequality, the rich becoming richer and the poor poorer in a capitalist system with superadded corruption, paving the way to the young neck-deep in debt, a middle-class struggling to meet day to day expenses and an older generation languishing in privatized pension schemes.

{NYT article URL for ref. ( https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/world/americas/chile-protests.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article)}

Political capitalism is something like a never-ending quid pro quo, an economic and political system in which the economic and political elite cooperate for their mutual benefit. Most of the time, this goes on surreptitiously and under the radar of unsuspecting common citizens, but some states practice it in an explicit, unabashed manner rebuffing the very voters who gifted them the mandate.

The economic elite influences the government’s economic policies to use regulation, government spending, and the design of the tax system to maintain their elite status in the economy. The political elite is then supported by the economic elite which helps the political elite maintain their status; an exchange relationship that benefits both the political and economic elite. This happens everywhere, at all times, in India, the US, France, and many other countries.

We might support or reject her theories per se, depending on our perspective. From what I could make out from the understandable texts, the only take-home message for me, is to face the reality of things, seek identity and be SELF- LESS for self- actualization and for reaching the highest potential.

And, speaking to my own ears just for once, I don’t think I am going to like her theories or philosophy.

References

https://atlassociety.org/objectivism/atlas-university/what-is-objectivism/objectivism-101-blog/3366-what-is-objectivismhttps://atlassociety.org/commentary/commentary-blog/6125-was-ayn-rand-wrong-on-reagan

https://atlassociety.org/objectivism/atlas-university/new-to-ayn-rand/launchpad-blog/5900-celebrity-ayn-rand-fan-ronald-reagan

Philosophy: Who Needs It

https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2015/06/pdf/basics.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Revolution.

23 Advantages and Disadvantages of Capitalism

https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/2015/2/cj-v35n1-2.pdf

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/world/americas/chile-protests.html? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Crime And Punishment’ – By Fyodor Dostoevsky.

17879

Literary Movement   – Realism.

Literary Genre  – Psychological fiction, philosophical fiction.

Setting    –    Russian Empire, St. Petersburg.

 My review

My third try beating the brain out, mustering all idle neurons on the qui vive for delving into the allegories and nuances of Raskolnikov’s thought process that is something akin to a weathercock. The first two readathons seemed like Chinese arithmetic, more like the transcript of Graeco- Roman theatre played in St. Petersburg, that my muddle-pated neurons couldn’t make the head or tail of it nor read between the lines. One of the best ten classic fictions of all times couldn’t be a no-brainer either- Cela va sans dire. So this time, the lecture notes, analysis and summary at the ready and at a click of the mouse helped to see the lost thread in a new light. And the translation by LarissaVolokhonsky and Richard Pevear is on par with the work itself.
               

                 Intellectually exacting and viscerally overpowering, the metaphysical elements are still beyond me. Simply put, it’s a psychological thriller, a rigmarole of a crime, no less than murder, justified by the logic of the protagonist, a new esoteric theory put forward by him, that had been put to test. The rationales of the murder are multifarious- poverty, inequality, tug of war between his moral compass and necessitude to name a few. As Sonia( the protagonist’s future lover) mentions in the story, no matter what, the hideousness of the crime merits confession and so punishment as no one could take a life for whatever reason. 
           

                Dostoyevsky’s novels are the culture media of new ideas and propositions, by and large, those that had been making rounds in 19-th century Russia in particular, insanity theories, for instance. They depict the societal milieu and vices like drunkenness, debauchery, adultery prevalent during the century. The Marxist theory of dialectical materialism( conflict as caused by material needs) is alluded to in a conversation between the protagonist and others in the novel.

             Nineteenth century Russia was a breeding ground of intellectuals and the burgeoning readership buttressed the literati in propounding various theories, out of the box at times, and to make them seep into the minds of masses. Strikingly, many parts of the novel betray the thought processes and religious convictions of the author. Critics inveigh against his support for the Tsars and antisemitism ( ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ has repulsive instances of this), his anti-Jewish stance much more toxic than Charles Dickens, notoriously known for his execrable antisemitism.