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Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 6 | Summary



Julian West is shocked at what he calls "such an extension of the functions of government." Dr. Leete counters that protecting people from their enemies, which are "hunger, cold, and nakedness," has always been the function of government. He argues that governments of the past, which sent men off to war and death, were the ones overreaching. Julian claims that government corruption would prevent people in his day from entrusting government officials with such responsibilities. The doctor claims "the conditions of human life have changed, and with them the motives of human action." As a result, in the new social system officials have no means of profiting individually, so the motivations for corruption have evaporated. He says Julian will understand this better as he becomes more familiar with people of this new time.

Julian asks for more information about labor. Dr. Leete explains by comparing the national system of employment to the principle of universal military service of the 19th century. People see it as their duty to do their part and allow themselves to be "distributed according to the needs of industry." He says it is not viewed as compulsory but accepted as "natural and reasonable." In contrast to "workshops filled with children and old men" in the 19th century, working in the industrial army of the year 2000 begins at age 21, after a childhood of education, and ends at the age of 45. Workers are on call in cases of necessity until age 55, but the doctor says they are rarely called upon to assist.


The author begins to provide some specifics about how the socialist government works. Every citizen is part of the national workforce, similar to how people had once been part of universal military service. This advanced society protects its workers by limiting their efforts to their prime years between 21 and 45. Citizens are sheltered in childhood from labor and prepared for work through a system of education. Workers also have a fixed period in which they can expect to dutifully provide their labor, knowing they will muster out at age 45. The author will provide further, almost exhaustive, details about this system of national employment in coming chapters.

Dr. Leete claims the new social system provides no motives for corruption in its government officials because there is no way officials could individually profit. With that motivation eradicated, corruption and greed also vanish. Readers will have to continue reading to learn the specific mechanisms of government that make this possible, but the author emphasizes that because the "conditions of human life have changed," differences in human motivations have also altered.

The language that Dr. Leete uses to describe the adoption of the new system of national employment is a reference to Enlightenment thinking about natural law. The natural law is the philosophical idea that there are universally accepted and recognizable truths that all people can identify through their reason and by observing the world around them. He appeals to logic repeatedly in the text, claiming the new social order is simply the natural next step, an obvious effect from the causes that came before.

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