A Critique of Edward Bellamy's Socialist Science Fiction Book LOOKING BACKWARD by C.A.F. Lindorme 1890
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Modern science, in its application to moral philosophy, it would appear, stands again before the Sphinx of social life, missing the wand to make it speak the releasing word. But what in heathenish antiquity and in Christian revival the eccentricity of an ideal apotheosizing was inadequate to perform for the individual, our strictly scientific arguing accomplishes, by giving the individual its right place in society, and reflecting its responsibility upon the latter. The individual roots with its being in society, and society, as a matter of course, or of equity, enters with its share of responsibility. And as here, to the same degree as with the individual, the maxim obtains, that prophylaxis is preferable to cure, it is in the behaving of society towards the individual, by education, guidance, elevation, that the dire doom is mitigated to which the individual is exposed at the hands of unrelenting fate.
Never! Socialism is subjugation, and we want freedom. Socialism forces us into a system. We force unto the freedom of the will. The power by virtue of which socialism pretends to overcome all difficulties is discipline, outward compulsion. The power by which we aim to establish happiness is love, spontaneity. There is no human quality which by socialism is more utterly annihilated than independence. Than independence, mental selfhood, there is no human quality which by our proposition is more apt to develop into gratifying beautiful proportions.
Socialism is right enough in its negative critique. It is an absurdity in its positive propositions of reform. The socialistic theory complains of the actual fetters of society, and to release of these fetters it invents a system the very idea of which is fettering, binding all future development, in a mummification worse than ever were Egyptian castes, upon an invention of the present. The adherents to the socialistic dream revolt against the supremacy of privileged classes bearing down the poor, and the remedy, which their dream of happiness conjures up in their morbidly excited imagination, is an extension of the mental misery from which they suffer to all those who so far escaped the despotism of those privileged classes. The so-called laboring classes, by which illegitimate generalization a special branch, the laborers of manufactory, designate themselves, as though besides themselves laborers there were none on earth, suffer by a tyrannizing industrial system, in which all independence is stunted in the outset by an illimited sway of capital, and the remedy, which they devise against such tyranny, is a system where the very breakfast-table, to begin with, is never more subjected to individual will and pleasure. The industrial laborers rightly criticise the iniquities which are enacted by the power of legalised corporations, and the remedy they plan against these iniquities is, to make out of mankind one single corporation, pick out as the releasing form of human organisation the very organism which is known now as the moil of humanity.
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There is a book out with the title, “Looking Backward,” by Edward Bellamy, which by a superficial critique is considered to be an illustrative strengthening of the socialistic theory.
Nothing more illusory than this opinion. The book, if not explicitly, is implicitly an endorsement of our standpoint. The means of which Bellamy avails himself to make his narrative possible is, what in scientific literary language is called a petitio principii; in his book all the agencies which act toward the desired end are virtuous. Now, then, how do they get so; how is this most desirable of all ends brought about? Bellamy, in order to flatter the socialistic prejudice, gives as cause the taking of society to Socialism. But this is an absurdity, not to say sneaky psychology; it ignores willfully the weighty truth that the freedom of human will, in which and from which only moral reform can be borne, is not a gratis gift of nature, but a conquest of the mind; it lets morality, virtue, instead out of an individual effort of the mind, soul and intellect, result from the establishment of a mere outward form; the highest aim of striving humanity and the deepest intimacy of exerting man, from a petty arrangement of the more inferior points of human life.
There could not have been written a book more convincing, for those who want to see, of the fallacy of the socialistic hypothesis, than “Looking Backward,” by Edward Bellamy, and well may the socialistic leaders, with regard to it, say:
“May friendly fate preserve me of fair friends,
And I don't fear to face my fiercest foe.”—(Schiller.)
It is an admirable talent which the author of “Looking Backward ” displays, in showing that the socialistic system of utter abolishment of individuality, and of the merging of the same into the uniformity of general equality, in want and affluence, in wealth and penury, in eating and drinking, working and loitering, studying and recreation, is impossible, except by complete elimination from among the springs in society of egoism, and the installation, as sovereign ruling powers, of love and virtue. But there is no greater fallacy than the one on which Bellamy's book rests, that there can be found a system, or that the socialistic system be one, which eliminate egoism from among the springs of society, and establish love and virtue as the ruling power, quite machinalement, without any moral leverage of man. The contrary is the truth. Eliminate egoism from society, establish love and virtue as the ruling powers, and we may leave it as a pastime for lunatics to make systems for society.
Reason Magazine looks at Looking Backward.
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