"It is one of the few books ever published that created almost immediately on its appearance a political mass movement."|
In earlier essays, we examined how Perennialist Seer-Masters struggle against evil to overcome it. This essay, the first in a series, is an explication of how inspired, enlightening, transformative works of art within the Perennial Tradition function to overcome evil in persons and society and create just, egalitarian, intelligent societies.
Perennialist classics are literary, artistic, and musical works of art created by Perennialist Teachers or those persons significantly influenced by the Perennial Tradition. A Perennialist classic is a work of art belonging to the highest rank or class, serving as an established model or standard, and possessing enduring significance. Such classics present Perennialist knowledge in a manner to function as archetypes.
In all historic eras, humankind has ordered its life according to specific societal archetypes, patterns of behavior, and objectives. When these elements become injurious and deadly--as at present--then we can overcome these destructive societal archetypes, patterns of behavior, and objectives only by understanding--and realizing--the true Form of these elements and thus establishing their Truth.
Perennialist classics participate in the primary "work" of the Perennial Tradition: bringing to terrestrial reality the order and activity of the Sovereignty of the Higher Realm. 1
One of the closest approximations to this Sovereignty of the Higher Realm was explicated by the Perennialist savant Jesus of Nazareth.
In his teaching of a Higher or Supersensible Commonwealth in which all humankind are brethren, Jesus taught about an Empyreal Commonwealth which he said is not visible because its essence is "within us."
Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
"May thy Empyreal Commonwealth be realized,
And thy will be actualized,
In the terrestrial realm as it is in the Supersensible Realm."
Jesus taught that we can become one with a Higher World and can then realize--make real--what we discern as structures and elements of that Higher World. We can learn to go beyond ordinary truth or knowledge to knowledge about this further evolutionary step which man can take as he realizes the new world of the brotherhood of man, the infinite value of the individual soul, and the ethic of love.
The new world we are realizing is in large part within those who are members of it through participation in it. Perennialist classics present archetypes from the Higher Realm and when we contrast these Higher Patterns to present capitalist, greed-driven social anarchy and murder the evil of the latter is clearly exposed for all to see.
In this essay, we'll explore how Edward Bellamy's novel, Looking Backward, became an archetype for a commonwealth, egalitarian, just society. We begin with Bellamy's entire book and then a brief analysis 2 of Looking Backward.
Though Bellamy tended to stress the independence of his work, Looking Backward shares relationships and resemblances with several earlier works--most notably, the anonymous "The Great Romance (1881), John Macnie's The Diothas (1883), Laurence Gronlund's The Cooperative Commonwealth (1884), and August Bebel's Woman in the Past, Present, and Future (1886). Critic R. L. Shurter has gone as far as to argue that "Looking Backward is actually a fictionalized version of The Cooperative Commonwealth and little more."
Reaction and Sequel
In 1897 Bellamy wrote a sequel, Equality, 3 dealing with women's rights, education and many other issues. Bellamy wrote the sequel to elaborate and clarify many of the ideas merely touched upon in Looking Backward.
The success of Looking Backward provoked a spate of sequels, parodies, satires, and skeptical dystopian responses. A partial list includes:
- Looking Further Forward: An Answer to "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy (1890), by Richard C. Michaelis
- Looking Backward and What I Saw (1890), by W. W. Satterlee
- Looking Further Backward (1890), by Arthur Dudley Vinton
- Speaking of Ellen (1890), by Linn Boyd Porter
- Looking Beyond (1891), by Ludwig A. Geissler
- Mr. East's Experiences in Mr. Bellamy's World (1891), by Conrad Wilbrandt
- Looking Within: The Misleading Tendencies of "Looking Backward" Made Manifest (1893), by J. W. Roberts
- Young West: A Sequel to Edward Bellamy's Celebrated Novel "Looking Backward" (1894), by Solomon Schindler
- Looking Forward (1906), by Harry W. Hillman.
The result was a "battle of the books" that lasted through the rest of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The back-and-forth nature of the debate is illustrated by the subtitle of Geissler's 1891 Looking Beyond, which is 'A Sequel to '"Looking Backward"' by Edward Bellamy and an Answer to "Looking Forward" by Richard Michaelis.
William Morris's 1890 utopia News from Nowhere was partly written in reaction to Bellamy's utopia, which Morris did not find congenial. . .
During the Great Strikes of 1877, Eugene V. Debs opposed the strikes and argued that there was no essential necessity for the conflict between capital and labor. However, Debs was influenced by Bellamy's book to turn to a more socialist direction. He soon helped to form the American Railway Union. With supporters from the Knights of Labor and from the immediate vicinity of Chicago, workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike in June 1894. This came to be known as the Pullman Strike.
Criticism of Bellamy's Looking BackwardMost of the criticism of Bellamy's novel came from doctrinaire defenders of capitalism, such as Richard Michaelis, the author of Looking Further Forward, An Answer to Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy, 1890.
"Mr. Bellamy . . . has this much in common with the Anarchists and Communists of Chicago: he has become incapable of passing a fair judgement upon our present institutions, conditions and men; he overlooks all difficulties in the introduction of his proposed changes, he really believes his socialistic air-castles must spring into existence very soon and without obstruction, and he populates his fairy palaces with angelic human beings, who would never by any possibility do anything wrong. The surmise, that all men and women in a communistic state would put off all selfishness, envy, hate, jealousy, wrangling and desire to rule is just as reasonable as the supposition, that a man can sleep one hundred and thirteen years and rise thereafter as young and fresh as he went to bed.
"Mr. Bellamy . . . would . . . deprive all the clever and industrious workers of a large or a largest part of the products of their labor for the benefit of their awkward, stupid, or lazy comrades! And this would be what Mr. Bellamy is pleased to style justice and equality!
"And for the purpose of reaching this state of mock-equality, Mr. Bellamy would as a matter of course have to sacrifice competition, the gigantic power that elevated us all and Mr. Bellamy with us to the present state of evolution! It is true that competition has been and is now abused, but every institution is subject to abuse and the misuse of a thing does not demonstrate that the thing in itself is wrong. Nobody can deny that competition during the centuries of Christian civilization has developed the brains and muscles of the human race and that the continuous best efforts of humanity, stimulated by competition during these many centuries, have lifted our race to a standard where the mode of living of common laborers is more comfortable and desirable than the everyday existence of the Kings of which Homer sings.
"Every generation has to battle with certain problems, and it is the lot of ours to overcome the diffiulties and labor, that have been increased by the change in the methods of production since the discovery of steam power.
"We have to find ways and means not to avoid productive work (--spoken of by Mr. Bellamy as an evil--), but to cure the brain cancer of our days: the permanent uncertainty of subsistence and the fear of poverty. And we accomplish this by cooperation and mutual insurance companies, without retrograding to communism, that most barborous state of society."
Michaelis' "novel" depicts 2000 America as the scene of a cabal having surreptitiously seized the reins of power. All the descriptions of human cooperation and brotherhood are depicted as elaborate hoaxes. Michaelis can only attempt to refute Bellamy's monumental archetype of a socially equal society by pontificating that "capitalist competition" is a magical element necessary to any human society.
Erich Fromm: The Meaning and Significance of Bellamy's Looking Backward
"Not . . . until popular government had been made possible by the diffusion of intelligence was the world ripe for the realization of such a form of society. Until that time the idea, like the soul waiting for a fit incarnation, must remain without social embodiment. Selfish rulers thought of the masses only as instruments for their own aggrandizement, and if they had interested themselves in a more exact organization of industry it would only have been with a view of making that organization the means of a more complete tyranny. Not till the masses themselves became competent to rule was a serious agitation possible or desirable for an economic organization on a co-operative basis." Edward Bellamy, Equality, 1897
We must build on the immortal wisdom of such archetypal books as Bellamy's Looking Backward, creating cooperative commonwealth communities. Our long-range strategy must be to create successful small cooperative communities and gradually leaven the larger society, helping to raise the intellectual and spiritual level of people worldwide. As persons gain intellectual acuity, they can become member of these cooperative communities, spreading these new political-economic configurations over the entire world.
1 The Greek words referring to this are:
2 Taken from the Wikipedia article on Looking Backward
- Basileia, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion, a rule or reign, an exercise of authority
- Ouranos: the realm of Higher Being; the supersensible realm
3 To read Bellamy's Equality, go here.
Grundlun's Cooperativse Commonwealth