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Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 17 | Summary



Dr. Leete and Julian West observe the central warehouse, which impresses Julian with its "prodigiously multiplied efficiency." Julian asks Dr. Leete about production, and Dr. Leete explains that production nearly perfectly matches consumption and distribution because the nation regulates one to match its records of the other. He calls it "logical in its principles and direct and simple in its workings."

Dr. Leete describes the "line of promotion for the meritorious." He explains how rankings factor into the selection of the highest officials in the nation, including the president who is elected by the highest-ranking retired officials in each profession. The president is considered "the general-in-chief of the industrial army." To reach such a position, he must rise through all the "grades below him, from the common laborers up." He is generally about 50 years of age, and serves for five years but may be appointed to a second term. Dr. Leete claims that "corruption is impossible" because there is no money for bribery. The system of promotion based on merit precludes "demagoguery or intrigue." Julian says the system reminds him a little of "government by alumni" in some 19th-century academic institutions.


Julian West is impressed with the method of national production and its increased efficiency. Dr. Leete explains that what makes it so efficient is national control of both distribution and production. Because the nation tracks each item distributed, it can very accurately predict demand. Because it knows how much should be produced, it can make just enough of each product, thus reducing waste. It is all logical and simple.

Interestingly, those serving in the industrial army currently are not allowed to vote for the president, nor are women. The elaborate system of promotion and "suffrage," or election, is reserved for those who have demonstrated "merit." According to Dr. Leete, only those retired from the highest ranks are allowed to vote in order to prevent corruption or untoward influence in the process. The system is, again, the perfect, logical, obvious system, according to Dr. Leete. He answers each objection Julian raises and shows how the system has anticipated every eventuality.

Modern readers may notice that this election system excludes women who have not yet been mentioned as any part of the industrial army. If only those promoted to the highest ranks of the army may vote, women cannot vote, nor can they be president. Women in America were not able to vote when the novel was published, so contemporary readers would not have been surprised about this facet of the novel. Modern readers, on the other hand, may find this distinctly inconsistent for a society that supposedly believes all its people to be citizens of the nation. It raises the important and obvious question once again about what role women do play in the nation.

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