Perhaps Edward Bellamy anticipated the retrospective examinations that would mark our country's culture in this bi-millennial year. Bellamy, long famous for his utopian novel Looking Backward 2000-1887, regarded the year 2000, traditionally enough, as "the closing year of the twentieth century," the ending of the millennium–not, like current political leaders, as the first year of the twenty-first century and the new millennium. In most other respects, however, this nineteenth-century social critic was far more innovative in making his predictions of the twentieth century's material and moral advances. He placed the dateline "Historical Section, Shawmut College, Boston, December 26, 2000" on his novel in 1887, and with the passage of the actual date, we can appraise the accuracy of the vision with which Bellamy himself putatively "looked backward" on it–much as the arrival of 1984 marked the occasion for numerous assessments of George Orwell's anti-utopian novel.
The hero of Bellamy's utopian novel, Julian West, awakes in the Boston of 2000 from a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep of 113 years. He gazes out upon an urban landscape and can scarcely recognize it as the same city in which he went to sleep, when he sees the new Boston's size and grandeur:
At my feet lay a great city. Miles of broad streets, shaded by trees and lined with fine buildings, for the most part not in continuous blocks but set in larger or smaller enclosures…along which statues glistened and fountains flashed in the late-afternoon sun. Public buildings of a colossal size and architectural grandeur unparalleled in my day raised their stately piles on every side. Surely I had never seen this city nor one comparable to it before…. [Then] I looked east–Boston harbor stretched before me within its headlands, not one of its green islets missing.
Even harder for the awakened West to grasp is the changed social order of 2000. West, who had been among the privileged, prosperous few in his city, finds rather that there is universal–and equal–prosperity for all. Each American annually receives a "credit card," and everyone is entitled to receive the identical amount of credit, against which he or she can draw in charging chosen purchases of commodities or services. Bellamy's so-called credit card functioned much as a bank debit card would today, if each year began with the direct deposit by the US Treasury of an identical (and generous) sum into each cardholder's account. Nor did the citizens of 2000 brook any gender discrimination: Bellamy foresaw the entry of women fully into the work force of the twentieth century, and his utopia provided equal pay (or rather equal credit) for equal work. The payment of these annual credits into each account was funded by "the nation," which in turn owned all the means of production and distribution, and so received the fruits of everyone's paid labor.
But no Marxian revolution had brought about that state of equality and common ownership. Rather, it had resulted from the ultimate, logical development of corporate America, arising from a growth pattern much like that of the continuing takeovers, mergers and aggregations of today. As Bellamy described it, writing in "2000":
Early in the last century the evolution was completed by the final consolidation of the entire capital of the nation. The industry and commerce of the country, ceasing to be conducted by a set of irresponsible corporations and syndicates of private persons at their caprice and for their profit, were entrusted to a single syndicate representing the people, to be conducted in the common interest for the common profit. The nation, that is to say, organized as the one great business corporation in which all other corporations were absorbed; it became the one capitalist in the place of all other capitalists, the sole employer, the final monopoly in which all previous and lesser monopolies were swallowed up, a monopoly in the profits and economies of which all citizens shared. The epoch of trusts had ended in The Great Trust.