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 Looking Backward 123 Years Later

By Dr. Sam Blumenfeld


The year 2011 marks the 123rd year since the publication of Edward Bellamy’s famous utopian novel, Looking Backward, in which the author depicted a happy, socialist America in the year 2000. In Bellamy’s optimistic fantasy, greed and material want ceased to exist, brotherly harmony prevailed.... The book became enormously popular, selling 371,000 copies in its first two years and a million copies by 1900. Its influence on American progressive educators and intellectuals was enormous. 

....when Columbia University asked philosopher-educator John Dewey, historian Charles Beard, and Atlantic Monthly editor Edward Weeks to prepare independently lists of the 25 most influential books since 1885, Looking Backward ranked as second on each list after Marx’s Das Kapital. In other words, Looking Backward was considered the most influential American book in that 50-year period....

Even after the rise of Hitler’s National Socialism in Germany and Marxist-Leninist communism in Russia, Dewey still clung to Bellamy’s vision of a socialist America. In his 1934 essay, “The Great American Prophet,” Dewey wrote:

"I wish that those who conceive that the abolition of private capital and of energy expended for profit... would read with an open mind Bellamy’s picture of a socialized economy. ...he exposes with extraordinary vigor and clarity the restriction upon liberty that the present system imposes..."

"It is an American communism that he depicts, and his appeal comes largely from the fact that he sees in it the necessary means of realizing the democratic ideal…"

...Dewey, who spent his professional life trying to transform Bellamy’s vision into American reality, saw education as the principle means by which this transformation could be achieved. ...

According to Dewey, the philosophical underpinning of capitalism is individualism... High literacy encourages intellectual independence which produces strong individualism.... He then mapped out a long-range, comprehensive strategy that would reorganize primary education to serve the needs of socialization.... By 1955, the reading problem had become so severe that Rudolf Flesch felt compelled to write a book about it, Why Johnny Can’t Read....

Progressives, of course, will never admit responsibility for the human wreckage they have created. In fact, they have deified Dewey, attributing the failures of progressive education to everything but Dewey.

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