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Equality (novel)

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Equality (novel)

Author Edward Bellamy
Country United States
Language English
Genre Utopian novel
Publisher D. Appleton & Company
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages xii, 412 pp
Preceded by Looking Backward

Equality is a utopian novel by Edward Bellamy, and the sequel to Looking Backward: 2000–1887. It was first published in 1897. The book contains a minimal amount of plot; Bellamy primarily used Equality to expand on the theories he first explored in Looking Backward.

The text is now in the public domain and available for free.[1]


The story takes up immediately after the events of Looking Backward with the main characters from the first novel, Julian West, Doctor Leete, and his daughter Edith.

West tells his nightmare of return to the 19th century to Edith, who is sympathetic. West's citizenship in the new America is recognized, and he goes to the bank to obtain his own account, or "credit card," from which he can draw his equal share of the national product. He learns that Edith and her mother do not normally wear the long skirts he has seen them in (they had been wearing them so as not to offend his 19th century sensibilities): when Julian tells Edith that he would not be shocked to see them dressed in the modern fashion, Edith immediately runs into the house and comes out dressed in a pants suit. Clothing has revolutionised and is now made of strengthened paper, recycled when dirty, and replaced at very little cost (shoes and dishes are made of variations on the same substance).

Julian learns that women are free to compete in many of the same trades as men; the manager of the paper factory he visits with Edith is a woman. Edith herself is in the second year of the three year general labor period required of everyone before choosing a trade, but has taken leave to spend time with Julian. The two tour a tenement house, in which no one now lives, kept as a reminder of the evils of private capitalism.

Julian opens his safe (a device unknown in 2000 outside museums). Dr. Leete sees his mortgages and securities not as long-obsolete claims to ownership interest in things, but rather in people and their labor. The papers are worthless except as antiques, as most papers of the sort were burned at the conclusion of the economic transition, in a great blaze on the former site of the New York Stock Exchange. The gold coins in the safe are admired for their prettiness, but are also worthless.

Julian learns more about the world of the year 2000. Handwriting has been virtually replaced by phonograph records, and jewelry is no longer used, since jewels are now worthless. Julian is amazed by a television-like device, called the electroscope. World communication is simplified, since everyone now speaks a universal language in addition to their native tongue. Not only are there motor cars, but also private air cars. Everyone is now vegetarian, and the thought of eating meat is looked upon with revulsion.

The book concludes with an almost uninterrupted series of lectures from Dr. Leete and other characters, mostly concerning how the idyllic state in which West has arrived was achieved.

Important quotes


  • "Government is actually now what it nominally was in the America of your day--the servant, tool, and instrument by which the people give effect to their will, itself being without will."
  • "Power over others is necessarily demoralizing to the master and degrading to the subject."
  • "It was not till the kings had been shorn of power and the interregnum of sham democracy had set in, leaving no virile force in the state or the world to resist the money power, that the opportunity for a world-wide plutocratic despotism arrived."
  • "Put workingmen in the places of the capitalists and they would have done just as the capitalists were doing. In fact, whenever workingmen did become capitalists they were commonly said to make the hardest sort of masters."

Wage slavery

  • "The slave received subsistence--clothing and shelter--and the wage-earner who could get more than these out of his wages was rarely fortunate. The rate of wages, except in new countries and under special conditions and for skilled workers, kept at about the subsistence point, quite as often dropping below as rising above. The main difference was that the master expended the subsistence wage of the chattel slave for him while the earner expended it for himself."

Distribution of labor

  • "...the theory that a person has a right in dealing with his fellows to take advantage of his superior abilities is nothing other than a slightly more roundabout expression of the doctrine that might is right."
  • "Even the worker of special ability, who might hope to gain most by it, could not hope to gain so much as he would lose in common with others by sacrificing the increased efficiency of the industrial machinery that would result from the sentiment of solidarity and public spirit among the workers arising from a feeling of complete unity of interest."
  • "For the reason that there was no fair play or suggestion of justice in the distribution of work, everybody shirked it who could, and those who could not shirk it cursed the luckier ones and got even by doing as bad work as they could. Suppose a rich young fellow like myself had a feeling that he would like to do his part. How was he going to go about it? There was absolutely no social organization by which labor could be shared on any principle of justice. There was no possibility of co-operation. We had to choose between taking advantage of the economic system to live on other people or have them take advantage of it to live on us...There being no more moral satisfaction in the one alternative than the other, we naturally preferred the first. By glimpses all the more decent of us realized the ineffable meanness of sponging our living out of the toilers, but our consciences were completely bedeviled by an economic system which seemed a hopeless muddle that nobody could see through or set right or do right under."


  • "If you own the things men must have, you own the men who must have them."
  • "...the old so-called ethics of property absolutely overlooked the whole ethical side of the subject--namely, its bearing on human relations."
  • "The Revolution, that is to say, instead of denying or abolishing the institution of private property, affirmed it in an incomparably more positive, beneficial, permanent, and general form than had ever been known before."
  • "The principle of inheritance, the backbone of the whole property system, at the first challenge of serious criticism abandoned all ethical defense and shriveled into a mere convention established by law..."

Old economics

  • "Their maxim that demand governed supply, and supply would always meet demand, referred in no way to the demand representing human need, but wholly to an artificial thing called the market, itself the product of the profit system."
  • "To have criticised the profit system would have been flat blasphemy. The learned men called it a problem--the problem of the unemployed--and gave it up as a conundrum. It was a favorite way our ancestors had of dodging questions which they could not answer without attacking vested interests to call them problems and give them up as insolvable mysteries of Divine Providence."

Private capitalism

  • "...the profit system, by its necessary nature, operated to stop limit and cripple production at the point where it began to be efficient."
  • "The whole acknowledged art of wealth-making on a large scale consisted in devices for getting possession of other people's product without too open breach of the law."
  • "A vast army of laborers was constantly engaged in manufacturing an infinite variety of articles and appliances of elegance and ostentation which mocked the unsatisfied primary necessities of those who toiled to produce them."
  • "The A B C of any science of wealth production is the necessity of co-ordination and concert of effort; whereas competition, conflict, and endless cross-purposes were the sum and substance of the economic methods set forth by these writers."
  • "...under competition there was no free play whatever allowed for the capitalist's better feelings even if he had any. He could not be better than the system. If he tried to be, the system would crush him."
  • "No inventor could introduce an invention, however excellent, unless he could get capitalists to take it up, and this usually they would not do unless the inventor relinquished to them most of his hopes of profit from the discovery."
  • "...when any new idea was suggested in religion, in medicine, in science, in economics, in sociology, and indeed in almost any field of thought, the first question which the learned body having charge of that field and making a living out of it would ask itself was not whether the idea was good and true and would tend to the general welfare, but how it would immediately and directly affect the set of doctrines, traditions, and institutions, with the prestige of which their own personal interests were identified."

New economics

  • "You see economic science in your day was a science of things; in our day it is a science of human beings."
  • "Would it not have startled the old economists to hear that the secret of the most efficient system of wealth production was conformity on a national scale to the ethical idea of equal treatment for all embodied by Jesus Christ in the golden rule?"
  • "Any economic proposition which can not be stated in ethical terms is false. Nothing can be in the long run or on a large scale sound economics which is not sound ethics. It is not, therefore, a mere coincidence, but a logical necessity, that the supreme word of both ethics and economics should be one and the same--equality. The golden rule in its social application is as truly the secret of plenty as of peace."
  • "If, indeed, [society] had but substituted this collective economic organization for the criminal and judicial system it presently would have had as little need of the latter as we do, for most of the crimes that plagued you were direct or indirect consequences of your unjust economic conditions, and would have disappeared with them."
  • "Truly, it is these secondary consequences, these moral and social reactions of economic equality to create a noble atmosphere of human intercourse, that, after all, have been the greatest contribution which the principle has made to human happiness."
  • "Our economic system puts us in a position where we can follow Christ's maxim, so impossible for you, to 'take no thought for the morrow.'"


  • "The aesthetic equivalent of the moral wrong of inequality was the artistic abomination of uniformity. On the other hand, equality creates an atmosphere which kills imitation, and is pregnant with originality, for every one acts out himself, having nothing to gain by imitating any one else."
  • "As to the pretension of civilized persons to admire gems or gold for their intrinsic beauty apart from their value, I suspect that was a more or less unconscious sham."


  • "Youth is visited with noble aspirations and high dreams of duty and perfection. It sees the world as it should be, not as it is; and it is well for the race if the institutions of society are such as do not offend these moral enthusiasms, but rather tend to conserve and develop them through life."
  • "Youth was as noble in your day as now, and dreamed the same great dreams of life's possibilities. But when the young man went forth into the world of practical life it was to find his dreams mocked and his ideals derided at every turn. He found himself compelled, whether he would or not, to take part in a fight for life, in which the first condition of success was to put his ethics on the shelf and cut the acquaintance of his conscience. You had various terms with which to describe the process whereby the young man, reluctantly laying aside his ideals, accepted the conditions of the sordid struggle. You described it as a 'learning to take the world as it is,' 'getting over romantic notions,' 'becoming practical,' and all that. In fact, it was nothing more nor less than the debauching of a soul."


  • "...with a high grade of intelligence become universal the world was bound to outgrow the ceremonial side of religion, which with its forms and symbols, its holy times and places, its sacrifices, feasts, fasts, and new moons, meant so much in the child-time of the race. The time has now fully come which Christ foretold in that talk with the woman by the well of Samaria when the idea of the Temple and all it stood for would give place to the wholly spiritual religion, without respect of times or places, which he declared most pleasing to God."
  • "But there was a minority of the cultured. Were they bigoted also? Were they tools of ecclesiastics?" "On the contrary, they always held a calm and tolerant attitude on religious questions and were independent of the priesthoods. If they deferred to ecclesiastical influence at all, it was because they held it needful for the purpose of controlling the ignorant populace."
  • "Though the state will enforce no private contracts of any sort, it does not forbid them."
  • "Not only were women the chief attendants at religious functions, but it was largely through their influence on the men that the latter tolerated, even so far as they did, the ecclesiastical pretensions...Less educated, as a rule, than men, unaccustomed to responsibility, and trained in habits of subordination and self-distrust, they leaned in all things upon precedent and authority. Naturally, therefore, they still held to the principle of authoritative teaching in religion long after men had generally rejected it."


As might be expected given the success of Looking Backward, Equality was highly anticipated. A large first edition was ordered by the publishers. In spite of this, the first edition entirely sold out within 36 hours of publication.[2]

Ripley Hitchcock, who was affiliated with Bellamy's publishers, explained the thematic distinction between Looking Backward and Equality as the latter "explain[s] not only [the institutions of Bellamy's future's] righteousness and reason, but likewise the course of historical evolution by which they were born out of the very different order of things existing to-day".[3]

Reaction to Equality was generally not good. Nicholas P. Gilman provides a common criticism for the work in his review for the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Written in 1897, Gilman explains, "Mr. Bellamy has apparently abandoned fiction, and has at length broken the silence of several years with a volume which is neither novel nor a treatise on socialism in scientific form, but a prolonged reduplication of the monologues of Dr. Leete, the part of Looking Backward which has the least interest for most of its readers".[4]

On the other hand, John Dewey (who called Bellamy "a great American prophet") preferred Equality, considering it to be "more populist and democratic" than the "more popular and authoritarian" Looking Backward.[5] Peter Kropotkin also received the book more favourably, arguing that it was superior to Looking Backward because Bellamy had removed the authoritarian aspects. Kropotkin claimed that these elements did not fit the character of the former work in any case, and stated that he believed that if someone suitable could have conversed with Bellamy, they could have convinced him to declare for anarchism.[6]


  1. ^
  2. ^ New York Times articles from July 3, 1897
  3. ^ New York Times article from May 28, 1898
  4. ^ Gilman, Nicholas P. "Bellamy's "Equality."", The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 12, No. 1 (October , 1897), pp. 76. Published by: The MIT Press.
  5. ^ Westbrook, R.B., John Dewey and American Democracy, (Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 454
  6. ^ Rosemont, F. in Patai, D. (ed.), Looking Backward, 1988-1888, Essays on Edward Bellamy, (University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), p.182, p.191

External links

  • Equality at Project Gutenberg
  • Equality — Google Books edition.
  • Equality, available at Wikisource
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