Bellamy’s utopian society described in his novel Looking Backward that he envisioned existing in the twentieth century was focused on ideals that served as solutions to many of the problems he saw in his current society of the nineteenth century. Bellamy detested the capitalist culture that he resided in, and dreamed for social evolution towards a democratically inspired nationalist state. In order to achieve nationalism, Bellamy believed that, “a democratic, though highly centralized, nation-state needed to control all those aspects of production and consumption currently monopolized by competing capitalist companies”, and these ideas are directly reflected in his vision of utopia (Bellamy-Introduction pg. viii). Although this idea of regulation suggests a loss of individual freedom, the value of individualism is actually strongly, and purposefully, maintained throughout Bellamy’s twentieth century utopia.
Julian West’s experience in Looking Backward supports Bellamy’s beliefs that nationalism protects true individualism. Although many elements of Bellamy’s utopian vision are nationally regulated, they still lead to the option of individual choice. For example, the distribution of wealth in 2000 is based solely off of the nation’s wealth as a whole, and is then divided equally among its citizens. Although this nationalist idea means that every individual earns the same amount of money (in the form of credit), each individual still has the freedom to spend this amount as they choose, and their personal tastes will determine this. Julian West argues with Dr. Leete in Chapter 6 that this single sum of money limits the amount of which each individual could potentially buy. However, Dr. Leete explains that each individual only has the desire to buy those items which serve a necessary purpose, and so it doesn’t matter. Bellamy’s goal in creating equal wealth for all citizens is not an attempt to diminish individual freedom, but instead is an effort to reduce the income gap among the different classes in society.
Similar to this idea is Bellamy’s insistence on regulated production. This nationalist idea of certain sectors of the economy functioning as publicly owned capital and property could possibly suggest a loss of individualism. However, due to this regulated production, the nation prospers from the increased efficiency. Everyone is forced to work in Bellamy’s twentieth century society, regardless of the individual, but he envisions the citizens of this society as eager to work due to their nationalist tendencies. Dr. Leete explains this to Julian West by saying, “the army of industry is an army, not alone by virtue of its perfect organization, but by reason also of the ardor of self-devotion which animates its members” (Bellamy pg. 57). Although these work requirements exist in Bellamy’s utopian vision, every citizen is well-educated and has the freedom to choose a profession that they think best suits them, so this clearly represents the option of personal choice. By nationally ensuring every citizen a decent education, each individual is guaranteed to be qualified to work the job that they want to work within Bellamy’s industrial army. Therefore, this national regulation of the market actually leads to many benefits for the individual.
Bellamy’s twentieth century utopia revolves around the aforementioned nationally ran systems, among others; however he has managed to create an inhomogeneous society unlike many other visions of utopia that follow this same path. In fact, these nationally ran systems function for the direct benefit of the individual, rather than to its detriment. Dr. Leete emphasizes this point in saying to Julian West, “in fact, you will find, Mr. West, as you come to know us, that there is far less interference of any sort with personal liberty nowadays than you were accustomed to” (Bellamy pg. 68). Julian West learns this through comparing his experience in the twentieth century to the inferior society he grew up in.