Thursday, May 27, 2010

On "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy ***

Bellamy's Looking Backward is a futurist novel. Written in 1888, it aims to tell what the future will be like in 2000. Or so that was what I thought I would be reading from passages I'd read in other works, which focused on a few technological gains. One of those gains was a canopy that rolls across streets in the rain so that people no longer need umbrellas. Another was a type of music box, not unlike a radio.

But Bellamy's book is not terribly focused on technology. Rather, it is focused on institutions and social change. Written at a time when industrialization had resulted in vast amounts of inequitable wealth, Bellamy aims to tell of a time when all humans will be equal, to show how nineteenth-century culture fails to value people, and is thus un-Christian.

Bellamy's solution to this dilemma may sound somewhat familiar. Today, we might call much of what he is proposing communism--or, perhaps more accurately, national socialism. The basic idea is that industry works best (most efficiently) when it is larger, and the larger it is, the better. Hence, rather than have, say, three car manufacturers, let the government own and control the one car manufacturer. In this way, competition is removed and all can work toward making the best product at the best price at the exact number needed. Sounds great. Planned economies, in theory, should be much better than our mess of capitalism.

Take away money, as Bellamy does, and replace it with a credit card (in his nineteenth-century ideas, this seems more like a punch card with items on it), wherein everyone is limited to purchasing a certain number of goods. Each person gets the same amount on the card, no matter the amount of labor expended. In this way, no one has too much or too little. But why work hard if one will make the same either way? In Bellamy's world, one works for glory--for the good of the common man. There is honor in this, and that is its own reward.

Beyond that, everyone has the job he or she wants and, thus, enjoys. To avoid having an excess of, say, literature professors and a derth of, say, coalminers, work is divvied up so that those with the more desirable careers have to work more hours, while those with less desirable careers work fewer hours. Hence, a coalminer might only have to work four hours a week, while a professor works sixty; some professors might be tempted, therefore, to become coalminers so as to have free time. An interesting theory--but in practice, impossible. More hours can only be granted if there is more work; a shortage of workers would in fact guarantee an excess of work and necessitate more hours not fewer.

But this is fantasy, after all, which is unfortunately where well-working planned economies tend to dwell. Much as I would love to see Bellamy's type of world come to be, people do not have the character to create such a society, and the structure society--contrary to what Bellamy hypothesizes--does not wholly create a people's character, given that people themselves make up the society.

Nevertheless, as a study in late nineteenth-century criticism, Bellamy's book is very interesting--especially given that it was a best-seller in its day. Happily, it's available online here at Project Gutenberg.

1 comment:

tinny ray said...

Good post. You might enjoy the following info about Edward Bellamy and his cousin Francis Bellamy.

The Pledge of Allegiance was the origin of the Nazi salute (and the swastika -although an ancient symbol- was used to represent crossed S-shapes for "socialism" under the National Socialist German Workers Party).

Francis Bellamy (cousin of author Edward Bellamy) was a socialist in the Nationalism movement and authored the Pledge of Allegiance (1892), the origin of the stiff-armed salute adopted much later by the National Socialist German Workers Party. See the work of the symbologist Dr. Rex Curry.

See the image at

The early American stiff-armed salute was not an ancient Roman salute. That is a myth debunked by Dr. Curry, who showed that the myth came from the Pledge and from various facts including that Francis Bellamy grew up in Rome, N.Y., not Rome, Italy, and thereafter the Pledge salute was repeated in early films (some showing fictional scenes of ancient Rome). The reasons above and more led to the American stiff-armed salute being picked up later by German socialists and the National Socialist German Workers Party (under the influence of Adolf Hitler and the U.S. citizen and Harvard grad Ernst Hanfstaengl, a confidant of Hitler) and by Italian socialists under Benito Mussolini (who discovered the salute while he gained power as a socialist journalist writing for socialist newspapers, and later became an ally of the National Socialist German Workers Party).

American national socialists (including Edward Bellamy), in cooperation with Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, popularized the use of the Swastika (an ancient symbol) as a modern symbol for socialism long before the symbol was adopted by the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis) and used on its flag.

See also

The Bellamys influenced the National Socialist German Workers Party and its dogma, rituals and symbols (e.g. robotic collective chanting to flags; and the modern use of the swastika as crossed S-letters for "Socialism" under German National Socialism). Similar alphabetical symbolism was used under the NSDAP for the "SS" division, the "SA," the "NSV," et cetera and similar symbolism is visible today as the VW logo (the letters "V" and "W" joined for "Volkswagen").

The Bellamys wanted the government to take over all food, clothing, shelter, goods and services and create an "industrial army" to impose their "military socialism." See the video documentary at

It is the same dogma that led to the socialist Wholecaust (of which the Holocaust was a part): ~60 million killed under the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; ~50 million under the Peoples' Republic of China; ~20 million under the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

Today, the flag symbolizes authoritarianism in the USA. The historical facts above explain the enormous size and scope of government today, and the USA's police state, and why it is growing so rapidly. They are reasons for minarchy: massive reductions in government, taxation, spending and socialism.