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Collectivism Theme Analysis

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Naturally, the flipside of Rand’s passionate advocacy of individualism is her vehement condemnation of collectivism, which is a broad term for any sociopolitical ideology that bases itself on the belief that all humans must depend on one another. In the foreword to Anthem, Rand writes that “the greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one's eyes shut.”

To demonstrate this point, the society that Equality 7-2521 is born into is a sinister caricature of collectivist ideals. Noble goals, like equality and fairness, are distorted into justifying ludicrously oppressive living conditions. Presumably to contribute to a collectivist ethos, no member of society can have a conventional name, and everyone is instead assigned a numbered platitude like “Freedom” or “Equality”—an indication of the words’ lack of “concrete meaning” that Rand criticizes in her foreword. Before going to bed, men chant, “we are nothing. Mankind is all.” In the name of fairness, citizens are arbitrarily assigned to jobs unrelated to their skill sets, rather than being allowed to pursue their passions. Equality 7-2521, who is intelligent and vigorous, has ambitions of being allowed to work as a Scholar. His hopes are dashed, however, when he is assigned the insulting job of Street Sweeper. Most egregiously of all, the leaders of this society dread the breakthrough invention that Equality 7-2521 devises, and try to destroy it. They claim that Equality 7-2521’s light bulb is “a great evil” because it might lighten men’s toil, and “men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men.” Over time, it is also revealed that this collectivist society actually represents a dramatic regression from a more advanced and prosperous age of individualism that preceded it. Through these and other details, Rand posits that collectivism wastes individual ability and works to the detriment of mankind.

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Collectivism ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Collectivism appears in each chapter of Anthem. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Collectivism Quotes in Anthem

Below you will find the important quotes in Anthem related to the theme of Collectivism.
Chapter 1 Quotes

It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws. The laws say that men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so. May we be forgiven!

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Related Symbols: “We”
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Anthem begins with the main character, Equality 7-2521, claiming that it's sinful for him to be writing his own story. In Equality's society, individuality of any kind is seen as a hideous crime against humanity; therefore, writing something like a diary--something designed to be written and read by one person and only one person--is truly a sin.

Right away, then, Rand shows us that Equality is living in a dystopian society, one in which the freedom to think, to write, and to be alone are all under constant attack. Notice Equality's careful use of pronouns--even when he's talking about himself (one person) he uses the word "we," suggesting that Equality is so used to thinking in terms of the group that the notion of being an individual is utterly foreign to him.


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We were born with a curse. It has always driven us to thoughts which are forbidden. It has always given us wishes which men may not wish. We know that we are evil, but there is no will in us and no power to resist it. This is our wonder and our secret fear, that we know and do not resist.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Related Symbols: “We”
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rand poses a natural question: in a collectivist society, how does she choose a narrator? In other words, what makes Equality different from the people around him--why is he especially suited to write a book or be a hero of individuality? Rand answers her own question by showing that Equality is a naturally curious and adventurous person. Like so many other literary heroes, he feels a constant stirring to go out and explore the world. The difference between Equality and most other heroes of literature, however, is that Equality lives in a world where his curiosity is forbidden.

International 4-8818 and we are friends. This is an evil thing to say, for it is a transgression, the great Transgression of Preference, to love any among men better than the others, since we must love all men and all men are our friends. So International 4-8818 and we have never spoken of it. But we know. We know, when we look into each other's eyes. And when we look thus without words, we both know other things also, strange things for which there are no words, and these things frighten us.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker), International 4-8818
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

As a young man, Equality befriends a man named International 4-8818. In Equality's society, friendship of any kind is a sin, because it violates the principles of collectivism: to be friends with somebody is to prefer them to other people, and therefore to disrespect the basic rules of collectivism.

In general, the passage paints a picture of the contrast between individualism and collectivism. In spite of the fact that Equality's society strives to wipe out all traces of individuality by rewriting the rules of language itself, Equality continues to feel individualistic inclinations. Even if there's no word for the bond between himself and International, both he and International feel the bond. Society may try to wipe out individual thought and love, but in the end, Equality's individualism wins out.

And yet there is no shame in us and no regret. We say to ourselves that we are a wretch and a traitor. But we feel no burden upon our spirit and no fear in our heart. And it seems to us that our spirit is clear as a lake troubled by no eyes save those of the sun. And in our heart -- strange are the ways of evil! -- in our heart there is the first peace we have known in twenty years.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Together, Equality and International discover a secret tunnel. They agree to keep all information about the tunnel to themselves, despite the fact that keeping secrets of any kind is a sin--a violation of collectivism. Henceforth, Equality sneaks into the tunnel and spends time alone. Although Equality feels that he is disobeying the rules of society, he's exhilarated nonetheless.

In one sense, it's clear that Equality's shame at keeping a secret from his society is absurd; Equality has been conditioned to believe in a botched morality, in which individualism of any kind is condemned. In a more general sense, the passage shows Rand's belief that personal morality is the only true morality. Equality has been brought up to believe in a certain set of rules of right and wrong--rules that are simply not true, he finds. Rand celebrates Equality for ignoring society's rules and listening to his own instincts, no matter what.

Chapter 2 Quotes

We do not wonder at this new sin of ours. It is our second Transgression of Preference, for we do not think of all our brothers, as we must, but only of one, and their name is Liberty 5-3000. We do not know why we think of them. We do not know why, when we think of them, we feel of a sudden that the earth is good and that it is not a burden to live.

Related Characters: The Golden One
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Almost right away, Equality becomes interested in a woman named Liberty 5-3000. Although Equality lacks the proper terminology to describe his own emotions, we can tell that he's falling in love with Liberty.

The passage defines Rand's most basic critique of the collectivist society. A society that celebrates unity and group identity violates mankind's most basic emotion--love--by substituted a bland, vanilla "love for one's fellow man" for genuine interpersonal love. In spite of society's prohibitions on love, Equality continues to feel attracted to Liberty, suggesting that ultimately, the human spirit and basic instincts are stronger than society's clumsy attempts to censor freedom and individual identity.

And as we look upon the Uncharted Forest far in the night, we think of the secrets of the Unmentionable Times. And we wonder how it came to pass that these secrets were lost to the world. We have heard the legends of the great fighting, in which many men fought on one side and only a few on the other. These few were the Evil Ones and they were conquered. Then great fires raged over the land. And in these fires the Evil Ones were burned. And the fire which is called the Dawn of the Great Rebirth, was the Script Fire where all the scripts of the Evil Ones were burned, and with them all the words of the Evil Ones. Great mountains of flame stood in the squares of the Cities for three months. Then came the Great Rebirth.

Page Number: 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Equality explains some of the basic elements of his society's history. Some time in the distant past, Equality knows, society was wicked and individualistic. Society's individualism led it to perish--there was some kind of great war, which resulted in "fire" (seemingly of burning books) and destruction. From the ashes of the old, sinful world, a new world was born, one in which individualism of any kind was strictly forbidden.

The passage is important because it illustrates the limitations of Equality's society. Instead of learning from the wisdom of the past, Equality's society chooses to ignore the past almost completely; to reject all the "secrets" of individualistic society (science, technology, medicine, art, etc.). The passage is also interesting in that it describes history in an almost religious way, suggesting Rand's critique of religion itself. (Notice that the "Great Rebirth" comes after 3 months of burning, perhaps an allusion to Christ's resurrection after three days.) Perhaps all religions, Rand suggests, are designed to control people by filling them with fear and inspiring a naive confidence in the status quo.

Chapter 3 Quotes

No single one can possess greater wisdom than the many Scholars who are elected by all men for their wisdom. Yet we can. We do. We have fought against saying it, but now it is said. We do not care. We forget all men, all laws and all things save our metals and our wires. So much is still to be learned! So long a road lies before us, and what care we if we must travel it alone!

Related Characters: The World Council of Scholars
Related Symbols: Light and the Light Bulb
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In Equality's society, all knowledge is controlled by a group of Scholars--a supposedly wise body of elders who control the sum of humanity's knowledge and wisdom. As Equality makes very clear, his own intelligence and wisdom now seems to outstrip that of the Scholars: where the Scholars believe that candles are the best light source, Equality has discovered that there's a much better one, the light bulb.

The passage draws a distinction between the philosophy of the Scholars--to accept the current state of knowledge and refuse to discover anything new--and that of Equality--to be curious and constantly discover new information. The irony of the "Scholars" is that their society is almost totally lacking in information--after the collapse of individualistic society, most of the human race's wisdom was lost forever. The Scholars should be seeking out new information in the hopes of improving their society, but instead, they discourage scientific experimentation or research of any kind (especially the kind practiced by Equality).

Chapter 6 Quotes

Tomorrow, in the full light of day, we shall take our box, and leave our tunnel open, and walk through the streets to the Home of the Scholars. We shall put before them the greatest gift ever offered to men. We shall tell them the truth. We shall hand to them, as our confession, these pages we have written. We shall join our hands to theirs, and we shall work together, with the power of the sky, for the glory of mankind.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Related Symbols: “We”, Light and the Light Bulb
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Equality--armed with the knowledge of how to build a light bulb--prepares to go before the Home of the Scholars and present his findings. Equality is confident that the Scholars will recognize the obvious superiority of his light bulb over the humble candle.

Notice that Equality frames his expectations for the meeting with the Scholars in terms of "the glory of mankind." Even though Equality is in the process of discovering his own individuality, he's still acting out of a sincere desire to help other people. Rand uses this passage is disprove the notion that individualism is incompatible with generosity. Evidently, it's possible to be an individual and to help other people.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"A Street Sweeper! A Street Sweeper walking in upon the World Council of Scholars! It is not to be believed! It is against all the rules and all the laws!"

Related Characters: The World Council of Scholars (speaker), Equality 7-2521
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality presents his light bulb before the Home of the Scholars, but to his amazement, the Scholars don't celebrate Equality's invention; on the contrary, they consider it dangerous and pointless. Here, the Scholars condemn Equality for daring to appear before the Scholars--Equality is just a humble Street Sweeper, who should know his place.

Up to this point, it was possible to believe that Equality's society was sincerely committed to the principles of equality and cooperation. Here, however, it becomes clear that the opposite is true. Whatever lip-service Equality's society pays to equality, it's obvious that the Scholars look down on certain people in society for being inferior. Equality's society is hypocritical: it claims to treat all people equally, and yet clearly doesn't.

The irony of the scene is that Equality is "more Catholic than the Pope"--in other words, he's more committed to helping other people than the Scholars themselves. Equality wants to use his lightbulb for the betterment of mankind--something the Scholars angrily forbid. Ultimately, Rand uses this passage to illustrate the contradictions of a collectivist society: the only society that can truly use its power to help its own people is a society that celebrates individual achievement.

"What is not thought by all men cannot be true."

Related Characters: The World Council of Scholars (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light and the Light Bulb
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

At the World Council of Scholars, Equality presents his discovery of the light bulb, only to be angrily criticized. The Scholars dislike Equality for daring to pursue scientific research on his own. Equality's behavior illustrates his individualism--and therefore it infuriates the Council.

The Scholars ignore the fact that Equality has discovered something that's useful to all people--instead, they focus on the fact that Equality has discovered his invention on his own. In this passage, the Scholars sum up their opposition to Equality's behavior: Equality has dared to think something new, and therefore, he must be lying.

The passage proves that Equality's society is against all human progress. The only way that a society can move forward is if individual people use their intelligence to discover new things. By denying people like Equality the right to do so, the Council is condemning society to an eternity of ignorance.

Chapter 9 Quotes

We have broken the law, but we have never doubted it. Yet now, as we walk through the forest, we are learning to doubt.

Related Characters: Equality 7-2521 (speaker)
Page Number: 69-70
Explanation and Analysis:

Equality, now escaped from collectivist society for good, begins to think critically about the rules he's grown up with. Since he was a baby, Equality has been taught to think in terms of the group--to distrust any kind of selfishness or self-interest. Although we've seen Equality disobey the laws of his society, Equality has still always thought of these laws as being correct. Now that he's abandoned society altogether, Equality begins to realize that his former society's laws were never right--individuality and curiosity aren't sins at all.

The passage establishes doubt as one of the most important weapons for individualism. Nobody in Equality's society questioned society's rules, precisely because everyone believed in these rules. Rand advocates the practice of systematic doubt--the constant questioning of the ideas people are supposed to take for granted. As Equality begins to question the philosophy of collectivism and groupthink, he sees it for what it is: a pack of lies.