"Looking Backward by Inspecting Now" A critical reading of Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward: 2000-1887"

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Looking Backward: 2000-1887, written by Edward Bellamy, was a demonstration of what America could eventually become. Addressing a society that struggled with troubling times, both social and economic, Bellamy painted the picture of a utopia, void of war, hunger, hatred, greed, and all other cultural defects. Although the story follows Julian West from his awakening after a 113 year long nap to Boston in the year 2000, most of the book is dedicated to the explanation of the 20th/21st Century world he now has to learn to live in. Through Dr. Leete, Bellamy's ideological twin, we learn along with Julian about a post-revolutionary society that has been freed of the shackles of capitalism and transcended in to a vision of utopic beauty. But beneath every utopia is a dystopia waiting to claw its way to the surface. While Boston 2000 may seem to be the pillar of socialist perfection, cracks are showing in the marble and they can not be filled in.

The first thing Julian West questions Dr. Leete about is the problem of labor strikes and with his explanation, the first fracture is uncovered. Dr. Leete explains that before monopolies occured employers and employees had a close relationship seeing that, "... when a little capital or a new idea were enough to start a man in buisness for himself, workingmen were constanly becoming employers and there was no hard and fast line between the two classes" (Bellamy 74). During this period of time the need for unions and strikes had yet to even cross through the minds of employees because working conditions were controlled by employers who knew what it felt to be employees and more than likely worked side by side with their own. Leete continues on to say that the problems started when the economy changed from dealing with many, small concentrations of capital to only a few, large concentrations. With this transformation, employees lost their importance to the employer due to a growing void between the two. As corporations bought up more and more smaller buisnesses the void only grew larger and the working conditions grew worse. This, of course, is the reason labor unions and strikes began. Workers needed a way to protect their rights, a way to keep from being exploited and the only thing they could hold above the ever growing corporations was the threat to stop working and halt production. Eventually the government decided to take over all industry, making it the biggest, and only, monopoly. The problem here is the assumption that a government would treat its workers any better than a large corporation. Governments have proven themselves again and again over the decades to be just as fallable as any other organization, and just a susceptable to greed and corruption. "All forms of government are susceptible to political corruption... In some nations, corruption is so common that it is expected when ordinary businesses or citizens interact with government officials. The end point of political corruption is a kleptocracy, literally "rule by thieves"" (Political Corruption). If government can not be trusted before it is in control of industry, how could it possibly be trusted once it is?In Boston 2000 every person is educated to a college level, is given a job, and works until retirement at age 45. To Bellamy this is the perfect solution, fixing the problems of unemployment, under-education, and people being over worked. All three of these problems plagued the time Julian West hailed from, but the "industrial army' fixed them. Unfortunately, this can only be a temporary fix to an obscure but serious crack. The problem at the base of this solution is the strict balance between population size and the amount of jobs available. If the population suddenly went through a quick growth or reduction, there could easily be too few or too many jobs. If there are not enough jobs then Boston 2000 reverts back to its 1887 counterpart in the unemployment department. Unless, of course, the government decides to provide for these excess people in the same way they provide for those who are physically unable to work. But this raises other issues such as; Who gets a job? Who is allowed to stay at home and still get paid? How is this decision made? This scenario would more than likely lead to public unrest and descent. On the other hand, if the population suddenly decreases there will not be enough people to fill the jobs that need to be done once the children are old enough to take over. Sub-replacement fertility is not a hard thing to imagine, especially since 42% of the world's population live in nations with sub-replacement fertility, with immigration and population momentum being the only things keeping the nations from suffering a population decline. A large factor leading to sub-replacement fertility is increased urbanization. The world of Boston 2000 is the epitome of urbaization. With the extreme equality in every possible facet of life, there is no reason for people to live in less expensive, rural areas. A second, but just as important, factor is increased equality for women. Growing participation in the work force has been shown to lead women to decide to delay and even decline having children. Bearing children is also seen to be as less of a social duty than a personal choice in many developed countries. Boston 2000 is the perfect breeding ground for this second factor, with women being perfectly equal to men and expected to work the same amount. Boston 2000 would be shaken to its very core by a large change in population size and may not be able to pick itself back up again.

Out of all the cracks that spider across the surface of Bellamy's utpoic Boston, there is one that is longer and deeper than all the others. Coincidentally it is also the biggest problem in any socialist or communist model. The best way to illustrate this problem is through allegory. A man living in a socialist utopia one day breaks his leg while working. Unable to effectively work, the man stays home while his leg heals. Luckily the state will provide for him food, clothing, and whatever else he may need. After a few weeks go by, the man's leg is healed and he has gotten used to lounging about and still getting everything he may need. So he pretends that his leg still hurts enough to keep him from work. After a while others begin to question the man's sincerity and a few begin to catch on and like the idea. One man's deception and greed thus leads to the greed and deception of other people, collapsing the once stable society. Greed is an unavoidable part of nature that shows itself only when all needs are met. If a person needs something to live, they will work towards acquiring it with a singular tenacity rarely seen anywhere else. But when all needs are met, that same person realizes that there are a few things that they want, eventually leading to greed. Greed can not be bypassed in any way, it is a part of not just human nature, but nature as a whole. Until mankind as a whole can over come this part of their psychology a socialist utopia is not quite possible.

While Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000-1887 shows us an amazing world that anyone would be privileged to live in, it would just not be possible to sustain, or even create. There are too many factors pushing against this model for it to stand on its own two feet. From governmental corruption, to population balance, and human nature, if a society such as this one was ever to pull itself through the first painful years it would still be destined to fall. A building is only as strong as the material it is made from, and Edward Bellamy's Boston is built from nothing but matchsticks.

Works CitedBellamy, Edward. Looking backward, 2000-1887. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview P, 2003.

"Political corruption -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 05 May 2009 .

"Sub-replacement fertility: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article." AbsoluteAstronomy.com. 05 May 2009 .