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Looking Backward

Edward Bellamy

Chapters 15-22

Chapters 8-14

Chapters 23-28

Summary

Leete explains that the government does not regulate the production of art. An author simply has to pay for the first printing of his book. The government then places the book on sale at a price determined by the author. The author's work hours are reduced according to the amount his work earns in royalties. Therefore, people with literary talent can devote themselves entirely to writing, but no one is prevented from trying his or her hand at it. It is much the same with other creative endeavors.

If a group of people wants to publish a magazine or newspaper, they gather enough annual subscriptions to cover the cost of printing it. The subscribers elect an editor, who is then released from other service for the duration of his term. The subscribers, who pay for the editor's maintenance, periodically choose to re-elect or oust the editor. Contributors are compensated from the publication's general credit, and their hours of labor are reduced accordingly. If a man cannot be freed from the nation's service through artistic or literary means, he can retire at age thirty-three, but he will receive only one-half of the yearly credit of other citizens.

The nation can accurately calculate the expected demand for any good or service because it is the sole producer and distributor. Even goods with very small markets are produced, as long as consumers are willing to pay the price for them. Citizens can also petition the nation to produce goods that are not already in production. The price of any product is determined by the value of the labor needed to produce it.

The leaders of trade guilds, workers who have the rank of "general" in the industrial army, are elected by retired members of the guild. Guilds for the same trade are further organized into "departments," headed by "lieutenant generals" elected by retired workers for the same trade. The President of the nation is elected from among retired lieutenant generals by the members of the "liberal professions"--doctors, teachers, artists, and so on--not by the industrial army. The President serves five years, and if Congress is pleased with him, he is then elected to serve the nation on the international council for five more years.

The abolishment of private capital has removed most of the incentives for crime. Because everyone is equal with regard to possessions, neither poverty nor luxury can tempt individuals to commit crimes for material gain. All citizens are now well-educated, so violent crimes, unrelated to material gain, are also nearly non-existent. Those arrested for crimes usually plead guilty because lying is so strongly discouraged in modern society. If an alleged criminal pleads not guilty, two judges argue, one for each side of the case, and a third judge delivers the verdict. The President appoints judges from the pool of retired citizens, and the judges elect the members of the Supreme Court. There is no longer any need for special training to understand law, as the law has been greatly simplified. There are no longer any state governments, and there is very little legislation passed by Congress.

Education, devoted to furthering physical and intellectual development, is free and compulsory until a citizen reaches twenty-one years of age. The greater efficiency of well-educated workers makes such education cost-effective. Moreover, an education makes a citizen's company more agreeable and interesting to his neighbors.

The nation is capable of providing a high standard of living to all its citizens, because it has greatly reduced the waste involved in an economy run on private capital. The nation has no military forces or tax collection department to maintain. The criminal justice system is much simpler and smaller because there are far fewer predatory criminals. There are far fewer sick and disabled, and there is no need for the financial institutions required to regulate and distribute money. Because washing and cooking are now performed by the nation's workers rather that by individuals themselves, a great deal of time and labor is saved. Because the nation is the only distributor of goods, a good deal of waste related to competing distributors is eliminated. Production is firmly pinned to demand, so there are no periodic business crises in which large portions of the labor force are idle.

Commentary

Bellamy builds a case for publicly owned capital by showing how it would contribute to the production of the arts. He does assert nor merely that the arts would not suffer, but even that they would flourish under a system of publicly owned capital. In the nineteenth century, it was usually the wealthy who had the education and the financial backing needed to pursue an artistic or literary career. Under Bellamy's system, anyone who wishes can try his or her hand at the arts, and talent is the only quality needed for success. Moreover, there is less talent wasted, because society encourages every individual to realize his or her full potential.

Bellamy also implies that the press is more honest, because only individuals who are interested in free expression would start a newspaper in this utopia, as there can be no financial motive behind it. Hence, he builds a tacit connection between his imagined utopia and American democratic values. It is not possible, however, to call Bellamy's utopia a democracy when one considers its political system. Voting rights are strictly limited, even though everyone is well-educated and presumably capable of making an informed vote. Although Doctor Leete calls his society's government simple, it actually sounds rather like a complicated, enormous bureaucracy. However, any endeavor to achieve perfection is destined to be complicated and unwieldy at times.

Bellamy attributes most of the crime committed in the nineteenth century to the pressures of poverty. In his imagined utopia, there is very little crime at all, because there is no poverty and no such thing as class distinctions. Law is also easily understood because it has been greatly simplified. In his utopia, there is little need for laws regarding property rights, as there is little individual property over which to quibble. Bellamy further builds his case for publicly owned capital by showing how it makes the legal system smaller, cheaper, and vastly more efficient.

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Stagecoach analogy

by callmeklutchkid, February 16, 2014

I think it's important to include the stage coach analogy in the summary because I think it plays a big role in the set up of the story and it's just overall a big point in the book.

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