Magazine article The Futurist

How Socialists Viewed the American Future: Socialists Envisioning a Better Future for the United States Wrestled with Many of the Same Issues Confounding Us Today. (Book Review)

Magazine article The Futurist

How Socialists Viewed the American Future: Socialists Envisioning a Better Future for the United States Wrestled with Many of the Same Issues Confounding Us Today. (Book Review)

Article excerpt

Given our intense interest in the alleged lessons of history, the essays collected in Expectations for the Millennium warrant careful attention by scholars. Futurists should not be put off by the fact that the index has no entry for future, for the volume tells a first-rate futures tale of a Noble Vision's rise and fall, a tale rich in advice for those who are dedicated to promoting a preferable future (or thwarting a preventable one).

Nine essayists drawn together under the editorial direction of historian Peter H. Buckingham of Linfield College explore somewhat esoteric but illuminating aspects of socialism' s near-triumph in the United States--a story now largely neglected by scholars. For a colorful time in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the movement made extraordinary headway helping Americans dream of a future with far more cooperation than competition. Its leading visionaries included such best-selling writers as Edward Bellamy (Looking Backward), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (A Woman's Utopia), and Julius Augustus Wayland (Appeal to Reason), along with Jack London (The Iron Heel) and others of his macho ilk.

Regardless of great variation in style, the leading socialists succeeded in providing a persuasive alternative to the amoral, robber-baron ideology that was then contesting for the souls of Americans. Drawing on farmer populist movements and on the blue-collar campaign of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), America's unique version of socialism came very close to victory.

Readers can learn from the book's artfully written essays the meaning of such still-relevant concepts as Authoritarian Socialism, Golden Rule Christianity, Mechanistic Optimism, Social Darwinism, Socialist Christianity, and Utopian Socialism. The essays shed light on the hard-earned strengths and built-in weaknesses of actual utopian communities. Many of the historical forecasts, presented as scenarios, astonish us with their daring--such as an 1843 expectation that in five or 10 years America would rely on renewable energy sources (sun, wind, wave) and enjoy air-conditioning, plastics, and synthetic fabrics. Similarly, in 1906 Eugene V. …

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