Competition and Cooperation

At it’s heart, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward is not a story about its main characters, but a personified dialogue between competition and cooperation. Julian West, born in the 19th century to an aristocratic family, was raised to believe that capitalism and competition were the pinnacle of economic ideals. Given this, he justifies the existence of rampant poverty, starvation, and income inequality brought about by this system by telling himself that he and others like him are intrinsically better than the workers on strike or the abject citizens subject to the harsh realities of life in a competitive capitalist society.

Doctor Leete, on the other hand, represents the new idealistic and utopian view of cooperation. In Bellamy’s imagined version of the 21st century, the common good is seen as the ideal rather than individual wealth or gain. We can see this divide clearly in the function of the new government; it controls the wealth, production, legislation, and justice for every single individual. The lack of competition is even seen in the organization of government. Equal personal wealth not only applies to each individual person, but ideally to nations as well. There is no competition between the states within the U.S. and the nation is even cooperating with other western industrialized nations who have also adopted this utopian style of government to help the less advanced and to one day create a world government where everyone is equal on the entire earth. Such is the ideal of Bellamy in his novel.

3 thoughts on “Competition and Cooperation”

  1. I think you are correct in pointing out that Bellamy uses the contrast between Leete and West to exemplify these two extremes with which he felt he was dealing with. I would be interested to know if Bellamy believed that this Utopia he created was really the best option for society, or if he instead believed that it was the most extreme version of the future he wanted to see. It is obvious that Bellamy views this Utopia as a positive but I am less sure if this is how he saw the socialist movement taking form over the next 115ish years.

  2. I agree that this novel drew an interesting contrast between competition and cooperation in American society. However, I think it’s important to mention that at one point it was brought up that Americans are still incentivized to do their best out of personal pride. In this sense, competition is not totally extrinsic in society, rather it exemplifies the difference in ideals in a socialist society vs. a capitalist society.

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