A man falls into a deep trance in 1887 inside a vault under his house. The house burns down, but he is unhurt. No one realizes that he is hidden inside the vault, so he lies there in a state of suspended animation for 113 years, at which point he is discovered and reanimated. What he finds is that society has evolved into one where everyone's prime interest is the good of the community. As a result, everyone is equally well off and greed and lust have been eliminated because they are no longer necessary.
Most of the book involves long discussions between the young man, Julian West, and the person in whose house he was awakened, Dr. Leete, regarding the social and economic conditions at the end of the 19th century and how they evolved into what West found to be the case at the end of the 20th century. These discussions are interesting, but can become tedious at times. Basically, a system in which only a few benefitted, at the expense of the majority (1887), evolved into a system where everyone benefitted equally (2000). In the evolution to the late 20th century organization, everyone was much better off than even the fortunate few had been a century earlier. Something like that.
The book does a good job, I think, in describing the evils of the capitalist system and how, without proper controls, it works for the few by oppressing the majority. The proposed evolved system where all benefit equally sounds nice, but I'm not sure that I believe it would be so easy to eliminate personal greed and acquisitiveness without some serious controls as well. Bellamy didn't seem to think this necessary. Once everyone was equally well off, the seeds sin disappeared, so to speak, and all was hunky dory, or something like that. My understanding of human nature, however, is that the people at the top get at least as much enjoyment out of life by wielding power over those below them, including an enjoyment of the pain their power inflicts on those below them. Kinda like the kid who gets his jollies by pulling the wings and legs off live bugs.
Some will dismiss this as socialist clap trap. In some ways it is that, but in the U.S. anyway, most people who oppose socialism don't understand the concept. There is no requirement that a socialist system necessarily devolves into Stalinism or Maoism. Similarly, there is no assurance that a capitalist system will somehow magically not
devolve into a system where in the owner class (i.e. the one percenters) will totally disdain the workers to the point of poisoning and starving them with impunity, as was the case in the late 19th century, and as is becoming the case again in early 21st century America. Interestingly, it seems to me that between the 1930s and 1960s, or so, American society was evolving into one where the common good became generally more important. Sadly, we are reverting back to the model of the 1880s, and most people are relatively less well off than their predecessors were 40 or 50 years ago. We have far to go before we achieve the utopia described in Looking Backward
, and won't achieve it any time soon without finding ways to reign in the brutish and malign behavior of the capitalists and financiers.