We—A Prophetic Novel from Russia
Russian naval architect and author Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote his brilliant and visionary novel We in 1920. It takes place in the 26th century, where he shows us the end result of progressivism—given enough power and enough time. He shows us how the humans in a progressive dystopian future will be absolutely certain that they are living in a perfect utopia.
It may sound like every page is really dark, but We is refreshingly lighthearted and even goofy, which is appropriate given the naivety and arrested development of the main character and his people, who have never been exposed to a dangerous idea, and who have never had to make a tough decision.
We learn all about our future “utopia” through a few months in the life of the main character, who is simply documenting his day-to-day observations for the benefit of humans elsewhere in the solar system. You see, outside of Earth, humans have yet to understand how absolute conformity benefits everyone absolutely.
During this period in the life of the main character, he meets a woman who risks everything to introduce him to ideas and emotions he has never known before. He documents his daily flip flops between his loyalty to her and his loyalty to his government.
The main character is not just anyone in his utopian world. He is the architect of the ship that will carry the philosophy of earth to all humans so that maybe the ship won’t have to convert them through force. This ship is being built as the novel progresses.
Is the new woman in his life just using him because he is the architect and future captain of the ship? Does she really love him? We suspect that like Mata Hari, the answer is both.
The main character is immature and weak—of course. He makes many right decisions and many wrong decisions. We never know until the last page whether he will develop the strength of character that will ultimately lead to an era of renewed freedom—or to the permanent enslavement of all humanity.
Although Zamyatin was a Bolshevik, he was disturbed by the willingness of other Bolsheviks to censor artists and writers. Given just a few early indications, before Stalin, he correctly foresaw many of the atrocities of Stalinism, and we can see how many more of his prophecies would come true in the future if progressivism were given enough power and enough time.
We was a direct influence on the novel 1984, and was an indirect influence on the novel Brave New World. Excellent movies that seem indirectly influenced by We are: Brazil, THX-1138, and Equilibrium. These are all quite intense, so afterwards, I recommend Idiocracy.
We is deceptively lighthearted. It will leave you disturbed for a very long time.
In We, I have a discovered a novel that beautifully illustrates my own recent epiphany: