cover of Looking Backward: 2000-1887
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Looking Backward: 2000-1887 is a utopian science fiction novel by Edward Bellamy, a lawyer and writer from Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts; it was first published in 1888. According to Erich Fromm, Looking Backward is "one of the most remarkable books ever published in America".
It was the third-largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It influenced a large number of intellectuals, and appears by title in many of the major Marxist writings of the day. "It is one of the few books ever published that created almost immediately on its appearance a political mass movement". In the United States alone, over 162 "Bellamy Clubs" sprang up to discuss and propagate the book's ideas. Owing to its commitment to the nationalization of private property, this political movement came to be known as Nationalism, not to be confused with the political concept of nationalism. The novel also inspired several utopian communities.
The book tells the story of Julian West, a young American who, towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up one hundred and thirteen years later. He finds himself in the same location (Boston, Massachusetts), but in a totally changed world: It is the year 2000 and, while he was sleeping, the United States has been transformed into a socialist utopia. The remainder of the book outlines Bellamy's thoughts about improving the future. The major themes include problems associated with capitalism, a proposed socialist solution of a nationalisation of all industry, the use of an "industrial army" to organize production and distribution, as well as how to ensure free cultural production under such conditions.
The young man readily finds a guide, Doctor Leete, who shows him around and explains all the advances of this new age; including drastically reduced working hours for people performing menial jobs and almost instantaneous, Internet-like delivery of goods. Everyone retires with full benefits at age 45, and may eat in any of the public kitchens. The productive capacity of America is nationally owned, and the goods of society are equally distributed to its citizens. A considerable portion of the book is dialogue between Leete and West wherein West expresses his confusion about how the future society works and Leete explains the answers using various methods, such as metaphors or direct comparisons with 19th-century society.
Although Bellamy's novel did not discuss technology or the economy in detail, commentators frequently compare Looking Backward with actual economic and technological developments. For example, Julian West is taken to a store which (with its descriptions of cutting out the middleman to cut down on waste in a similar way to the consumers' cooperatives of his own day based on the Rochdale Principles of 1844) somewhat resembles a modern warehouse club like BJ's, Costco, or Sam's Club. He additionally introduces a concept of "credit" cards in chapters 9, 10, 11, 13, 25, and 26, but these actually function like modern debit cards. All citizens receive an equal amount of "credit." Those with more difficult, specialized, dangerous or unpleasant jobs work fewer hours (in contrast to the real-world practice of paying them more for their efforts of, presumably, the same hours). Bellamy also predicts both sermons and music being available in the home through cable "telephone" (already demonstrated but commercalized only in 1890 as Théâtrophone in France). Bellamy labeled the philosophy behind the vision "nationalism", and his work inspired the formation of more than 160 Nationalist Clubs to propagate his ideas.
Despite the "ethical" character of his socialism (though he was initially reluctant to use the term "socialism"), Bellamy's ideas somewhat reflect classical Marxism. In Chapter 19, for example, he has the new legal system explained. Most civil suits have ended in socialism, while crime has become a medical issue. The idea of atavism, then current, is employed to explain crimes not related to inequality (which Bellamy thinks will vanish with socialism). Remaining criminals are medically treated. One professional judge presides, appointing two colleagues to state the prosecution and defense cases. If all do not agree on the verdict, then it must be tried over. Chapter 15 and 16 have an explanation of how free, independent public art and news outlets could be provided in a more libertarian socialist system. In one case Bellamy even writes "the nation is the sole employer and capitalist".
- "My friends, if you would see men again the beasts of prey they seemed in the nineteenth century, all you have to do is to restore the old social and industrial system, which taught them to view their natural prey in their fellow men, and to find their gain in the loss of others."
- "Moreover, it must not be forgotten that the nineteenth century was in name Christian, and the fact that the entire industrial and commercial frame of society was the embodiment of the anti-Christian spirit must've had some weight, though I admit it was strangely little, with the nominal followers of Jesus Christ."
- "It was the sincere belief of even the best of men at that epoch that the only stable elements in human nature, on which a social system could be safely founded, were its worst propensities. They had been taught and believed that greed and self-seeking were all that held mankind together, and that all human associations would fall to pieces if anything were done to blunt the edge of these motives or curb their operation. In a word, they believed — even those who longed to believe otherwise — the exact reverse of what to us seems self-evident; they believed, that is, that the antisocial qualities of men, and not their social qualities, were what furnished the cohesive force of society ... It seems absurd to expect anyone to believe that convictions like these were ever seriously entertained by men ..."
- "The enfranchisement of humanity ... may be regarded as a species of second birth of the race ..."
- "With a tear for the dark past, turn we then to the dazzling future, and, veiling our eyes, press forward. The long and weary winter of the race is ended. Its summer has begun. Humanity has burst the chrysalis. The heavens are before it."
- "... buying and selling is essentially anti-social in all its tendencies. It is an education in self-seeking at the expense of others, and no society whose citizens are trained in such a school can possibly rise above a very low grade of civilization."
- "... I had visited a world incomparably more affluent than this, in which money was unknown and without conceivable use.... These exchanges money effected -- how equitably, might be seen in a walk from the tenement house districts to the Back Bay -- at a cost of an army of men taken from productive labor to manage it, with constant ruinous breakdowns of its machinery, and a generally debauching influence on mankind which had justified its description, from ancient time as the 'root of all evil'."
Though Bellamy tended to stress the independence of his work, Looking Backward shares relationships and resemblances with several earlier works — most notably the anonymous The Great Romance (1881), John Macnie's The Diothas (1883), Laurence Gronlund's The Co-operative Commonwealth (1884), and August Bebel's Woman in the Past, Present, and Future (1886). For example, in The True Author of Looking Backward (1890) J.B. Shipley argued that Bellamy's novel was a repeat of Bebel's arguments, whilst literary critic R. L. Shurter went so far as to argue that "Looking Backward is actually a fictionalized version of The Co-operative Commonwealth and little more". However, Bellamy's book also bears resemblances to the early socialist theorists or 'utopian socialists' Etienne Cabet, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen and Henri Saint-Simon, as well as to the 'Associationism' of Albert Brisbane whom Bellamy had met in the 1870s.
Reaction and sequels
In 1897 Bellamy wrote a sequel, Equality, dealing with women's rights, education and many other issues. Bellamy wrote the sequel to elaborate and clarify many of the ideas merely touched upon in Looking Backward.
Directly 'anti-Bellamy' responses:
- Bachelder, J. A.D. 2050. Electrical Development at Atlantis (1890)
- Harris, G. Inequality and Progress (1897) [which assumes Bellamy advocated an absolute equality of goods]
- Michaelis, R.C. Looking Further Forward: An Answer to "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy (1890)
- Morris, William, News from Nowhere (1890)
- Roberts, J.W. Looking Within: The Misleading Tendencies of "Looking Backward" Made Manifest (1893)
- Sanders, G.A. Reality: or Law and order vs. Anarchy and Socialism, A Reply to Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and Equality (1898)
- Satterlee, W.W. Looking Backward and What I Saw (1890)
- Vinton, A.D. Looking Further Backward (1890)
- West, J. [pseud.] My Afterdream (1900)
- Wilbrant, C. Mr. East's Experiences in Mr. Bellamy's World (1891)
Direct and positive utopian responses / unofficial sequels:
- Berwick, E. 'Farming in the Year 2000, A.D.', Overland Monthly (1890)
- Bellamy, C.J. An Experiment in Marriage. A Romance (1889) [Bellamy's brother]
- Chavannes, A. In Brighter Climes, or Life in Socioland (1895) by A. Chavannes
- Chavannes, A. The Future Commonwealth (1892)
- Claflin, S.F. Nationalism. Or a System of Organic Unity (189x)
- 'Crusoe, R.' Looking Upwards; or Nothing New (1892)
- Emmens, S.H. The Sixteenth Amendment (1896)
- Flower, B.O. Equality and Brotherhood (1897) [A positive response to Bellamy’s Equality; see also 'The Latest Social Vision', Arena v.18, pp. 517–34]
- Flower, B.O. The New Time (1894)
- Fuller, A.M. A.D. 2000 (1890)
- Geissler, L.A. Looking Beyond (1891)
- Giles, F.S. The Industrial Army (1896)
- Gillette, K.C., The Human Drift (1894)
- Griffin, C.S. Nationalism (1889)
- Gronlund, L. Our Destiny. The Influence of Nationalism on Morals and Religion (1890) [first syndicated The Nationalist, (March–September 1890)]
- Hayes, F.W. The Great Revolution of 1905: Or, The story of the Phalanx (1893)
- Hertzka, T. Freeland, a Social Anticipation (1890)
- Howard, E. To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898)
- McCowan, A. Philip Meyer’s Scheme (1892)
- Moffat, W. White, G., and White J., What’s the World Coming To? (1893)
- Porter, L.B. Speaking of Ellen (1890) [not a utopia]
- Salisbury, H.B. 'The Birth of Freedom', The Nationalist (November 1890, Mar-Apr 1891)
- Schindler, S. 'Dr. Leete’s Letter to Julian West', The Nationalist (September 1890)
- Schindler, S. Young West: A Sequel to Edward Bellamy's Celebrated Novel "Looking Backward" (1894)
- Stone, C.H. One of Berrian’s Novels (1890)
- Worley, F.U. Three Thousand Dollars a Year (1890) [a gradualist utopia]
- Hillman, H.W. Looking Forward (1906)
The result was a "battle of the books" that lasted through the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th. The back-and-forth nature of the debate is illustrated by the subtitle of Geissler's 1891 Looking Beyond, which is "A Sequel to 'Looking Backward' by Edward Bellamy and an Answer to 'Looking Forward' by Richard Michaelis".
The book was translated into Bulgarian in 1892. In 1900 Bellamy personally approved a request by Bulgarian author Iliya Yovchev to make an "adapted translation" based on the realities of Bulgarian social order. The resulting work, titled The Present as Seen by Our Descendants And a Glimpse at the Progress of the Future ("Настоящето, разгледано от потомството ни и надничане в напредъка на бъдещето"), generally followed the same plot. The events in Yovchev's version take place in a environmentally friendly Sofia and describe the country's unique path of adapting to the new social order. It is considered by local critics to be the first Bulgarian utopian work.
Beyond the purely literary sphere, Bellamy's descriptions of utopian urban planning had a practical influence on Ebenezer Howard's founding of the garden city movement in England, and on the design of the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles.
During the Great Strikes of 1877, Eugene V. Debs opposed the strikes and argued that there was no essential necessity for the conflict between capital and labor. Debs was influenced by Bellamy's book to turn to a more socialist direction. He soon helped to form the American Railway Union. With supporters from the Knights of Labor and from the immediate vicinity of Chicago, workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike in June 1894. This came to be known as the Pullman Strike.
The book had a specific and intense reception in Wilhelminian Germany including various parodies and sequels, from Eduard Loewenthal, Ernst Müller and Philipp Wasserburg till Konrad Wilbrandt and Richard Michaelis.
Looking Backward was rewritten in 1974 by American science fiction writer Mack Reynolds as Looking Backward from the Year 2000. Matthew Kapell, a historian and anthropologist, examined this re-writing in his essay, "Mack Reynolds' Avoidance of his own Eighteenth Brumaire: A Note of Caution for Would-Be Utopians".
In 1984, Herbert Knapp and Mary Knapp's Red, White and Blue Paradise: The American Canal Zone in Panama appeared. The book was in part a memoir of their careers teaching at fabled Balboa High School, but also a re-interpretation of the Canal Zone as a creature of turn-of-the-century Progressivism, a workers' paradise. The Knapps used Bellamy's Looking Backward as their heuristic model for understanding Progressive ideology as it shaped the Canal Zone.
A one-act play, Bellamy's Musical Telephone, was written by Roger Lee Hall and premiered in Boston in 1988 on the centennial year of the novel's publication.
- Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward 2000-1887, with a Foreword by Erich Fromm, Signet, 1960. ISBN 0-451-52412-8
- See Fromm's Foreword to Looking Backward, p. vi.
- Bellamy, Edward (2000). Looking backward: 2000-1887. Signet. p. Introduction. Walter James Miller confirms "more than 162 Bellamy Clubs".
- Edward Bellamy. "What 'Nationalism' Means". The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature (1844-1898); Vol. 52, No. 3 (September 1890); p. 289.
- Arthur E. Morgan, Edward Bellamy, New York, Cloumbia University Press, 1944.
- Arthur E. Morgan, Plagiarism in Utopia: A Study of the Continuity of the Utopian Tradition With Special Reference to Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward", Yellow Springs, Ohio, privately printed, 1944.
- Robert L. Shurter, The Utopian Novel in America, 1865–1900, New York, AMS Press, 1975; p. 177.
- Carl J. Guarneri, The Utopian Alternative, Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1991), p.368, p.401
- Jean Pfaelzer,The Utopian Novel in America, 1886–1896: The Politics of Form, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press; pp. 78-94 and 170-3.
- This list was derived from G. Claeys Late Victorian Utopias: A Prospective, (Pickering and Chatto, London, 2008), J. Pfaelzer, The Utopian Novel in America 1886-1896: The Politics of Form, (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1984), K. Roemer, The Obsolete Necessity: America in Utopian Writings, 1888-1900, (Kent State University Press, Kent, 1976), K. Roemer, Utopian Audiences, How Readers Locate Nowhere, (University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 2003), C.J. Rooney, Dreams and Visions: a study of American utopias, 1865-1917 (1997), F. Shor, Utopianism and radicalism in a reforming America, 1888-1918, (Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut, 1997), and especially L.T. Sargent British and American Utopian Literature, 1516-1985: An Annotated, Chronological Bibliography (Garland Publishing, New York, 1988).
- Ivaylo Runchev (1985). "The Beginning". Narodna Mladezh. Retrieved 1 July 2013. "Фактически налице е произведение, отличаващо се от оригинала дотолкова, че следва да се говори за нов роман, първия ни български утопичен роман. ("Basically this work differs from the original to such an extent, that we can consider it a new novel, the first Bulgarian Utopian novel.)"
- (Edward Bellamy, Ein Rückblick aus dem Jahre 2000 auf das Jahr 1887, Translation Georg von Gizycki, editor Wolfgang Biesterfeld. Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 1983 ISBN 3-15-002660-1 (Universal-Bibliothek 2660 ), Afterword of Biesterfeld, p.301f.)
- Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1889.
- Edward Bellamy, "How I Came to Write Looking Backward," The Nationalist (Boston), vol. 1, no. 1 (May 1889), pp. 1–4.
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