Flights from Modernity: German and Australian Utopian Colonies in Paraguay 1886-1896

By Williams, John F.; Kraus, Daniela et al. | Journal of Australian Studies, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Flights from Modernity: German and Australian Utopian Colonies in Paraguay 1886-1896


Williams, John F., Kraus, Daniela, Knowles, Harry, Journal of Australian Studies


1. Modernity and agrarianism

Founding fathers

Apart from being utopian colonies founded within a few years of each other in Paraguay, William Lane's New Australia and the Neuva Germania founded by Bernhard Forster and Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche appear, superficially, to have little in common. Lane is a romantic figure of the Australian left and the colony he founded has been described, as recently as 1992, as a `failed communist colonial scheme'. Forster and his formidable wife, the philosopher's sister, are rightly associated with the German anti-Semitic right; in the case of Elisabeth Nietzsche, Hitler and national socialism. Superficial impressions based upon simplistic political labelling can be misleading, for the similarities between these two failed colonies are striking. Lane's utopian, agrarian socialism (rooted in mateship) and the mystical racial socialism of the Volksgemeinschaft -- that was central to Nueva Germania -- were based on similar reactions to modern urban society, Aryan suprematism, beliefs in social-Darwinism and eugenics as well as a shared paranoiac fear of miscegenation. (2)

Although Forster had little of Lane's toughness and staying power, in terms of their attitudes, belief structures and prejudices the two men shared much in common. A racist can still be an idealist and the term befits both men, but Forster perhaps rather more so than Lane. Forster's idealism was quickly crushed. At the first hint of adversity he lost heart and, despite his strictures on alcohol, began to drink heavily, leaving the running of Nueva Germania to his wife. Finally, when the colony began to collapse around him, Forster either died from disease and a broken heart or, more likely, committed suicide. Lane, by comparison, possessed what Forster lacked -- a never-say-die-stubbornness and the charismatic leadership qualities shared, ironically, by Elisabeth Nietzsche. After Forster's death Elisabeth left Nueva Germania and its unfortunate settlers to their own devices, for she had other worlds to conquer. Lane's investment in the ideal of a Paraguayan racist utopia was far more obsessive and complete. He was still to be found seeking to drum up support for his Paraguayan scheme in England as the nineteenth century drew to its close.

Nueva Germania was already on its knees by the time New Australia started up. Yet the two settlements were founded within four years of one another, following on from visits to Paraguay by the founder-fathers in the 1880s, when it is possible Lane and Forster may have met. Had they done so, they most surely would have found much in common. Similarities even included physical features: both were haggard-featured men of fair complexion, their faces thin and their eyes deep set. Both affected prolific growths of facial hair; for much of their lives they shared the luxuriously overblown type of moustache also favoured by Friedrich Nietzsche. No word better describes their social values than `wowser'. Lane raged against the evils of drink, tobacco and sex and Forster against meat-eating, drink, tobacco and sex. Both were authoritarian characters with megalomaniacal tendencies. They were religious fanatics: Forster rejected the possibility that Christ may have been a Jew on the grounds that god, his father, could not possibly have been Jewish and increasingly identified with Richard Wagner's version of Parsifal (Percival), the pure white knight of the Arthurian legend and the holy grail. Lane went even further down the path to religious mania, believing that he had a direct line to a creator who was guiding him in his decision making. Yet nothing marks their similarities more than their shared attitude to race and the escapist solutions they found to combat what they saw as the racial degradation of their respective societies. (3)

Aryans under threat

Late nineteenth-century Germany is rarely spoken of in the same breath as late nineteenth-century Australia, that was then popularly thought of in continental Europe -- if it was thought of at all -- as a disparate collection of wild colonies inhabited by adventurous Englishmen. …

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