Anthem

INTRODUCTION

Ayn Rand’s working title for this short novel was Ego. “I used the word in its exact, literal meaning,” she wrote to one correspondent. “I did not mean a symbol of the self—but specifically and actually Man’s Self.”1

Man’s self, Ayn Rand held, is his mind or conceptual faculty, the faculty of reason. All man’s spiritually distinctive attributes derive from this faculty. For instance, it is reason (man’s value judgments) that leads to man’s emotions. And it is reason which possesses volition, the ability to make choices.

But reason is a property of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain.

The term ego combines the above points into a single concept: it designates the mind (and its attributes) considered as an individual possession. The ego, therefore, is that which constitutes the essential identity of a human being. As one dictionary puts it, the ego is “the ‘I’ or self of any person; [it is] a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from the objects of its thought.”2

It is obvious why Ayn Rand exalts man’s ego. In doing so, she is (implicitly) upholding the central principles of her philosophy and of her heroes: reason, values, volition, individualism. Her villains, by contrast, do not think, judge, and will; they are second-handers, who allow themselves to be run by others. Having renounced their minds, they are, in a literal sense, selfless.

How does this novella about man’s ego, first published in England in 1938, relate to The Fountainhead (1943)? Anthem, Miss Rand wrote in 1946, is like “the preliminary sketches which artists draw for their future big canvases. I wrote [Anthem] while working on The Fountainhead—it has the same theme, spirit and intention, although in quite a different form.”3

One correspondent at the time warned Miss Rand that there are people for whom the word ego is “too strong—even, immoral.” She replied: “Why, of course there are. Against whom do you suppose the book was written?”4

Although the word ego remains essential to the text, the title was changed to Anthem for publication. This was not an attempt to soften the book; it was a step that Ayn Rand took on every novel. Her working titles were invariably blunt and unemotional, naming explicitly, for her own clarity, the central issue of the book; such titles tend to give away to the reader too much too soon and too dryly. Her final titles still pertain to the central issue, but in an indirect and evocative way; they intrigue and even touch the reader while leaving him to discover for himself the book’s meaning. (As another example, The Strike became in due course Atlas Shrugged.)

The present novel, in Miss Rand’s mind, was from the outset an ode to man’s ego. It was not difficult, therefore, to change the working title: to move from “ego” to “ode” or “anthem,” leaving the object celebrated by the ode to be discovered by the reader. “The last two chapters,” Miss Rand writes in a letter, “are the actual anthem.”5 The rest is the build-up to it.

There is another reason, I think, for the choice of anthem (as against “ode,” say, or “celebration”). Anthem is a religiously toned word; its second definition is “a piece of sacred vocal music, usually with words taken from the Scriptures.”6 This does not mean that Ayn Rand conceived her book as religious. The opposite is true.

Ayn Rand explains the point in her Introduction to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition of The Fountainhead. Protesting religion’s monopoly in the field of ethics, she writes, in part:Just as religion has preempted the