One hundred years later, the real craziness began. In 1887, Elisabeth Nietzsche, the deranged sister of the
deranged philosopher, founded the colony of New Germany deep
in the Paraguayan jungle with her husband Bernard Foerster. Foerster
was a zealous pamphleteer who had been arrested for beating a Jew on a
German streetcar. The couple detected an alarming current of
philo-Semitism in late nineteenth-century Germany (really), and
convinced a few dozen other families to strike out into South America
and found a civilization based on the robust Aryan virtues that Germany
had forsaken. Within a few years a large fraction of the settlers had
starved, gone home, or died horrible deaths from infection. Elisabeth
returned to Germany, Bernard ate strychnine and died in a hotel room,
and the colony quickly forgot its purpose. Several German families still
live there (I visited them two years ago), but none of them cares about Nietzsche or the Jews anymore. Utopian principle: Extreme anti-Semitism. Reason for failure: Even extreme anti-Semites vulnerable to lockjaw.
A few years later, renegade Australians arrived just outside Asuncion
and settled a commune known as New Australia.
They founded their settlement on strict separation of races, sharing of
property, teetotalism, and family values. They quickly erupted in
conflict over just about everything, and within a few years New
Australia disbanded. Utopian principle: Teetotalism, marriage.
Reason for failure: An Australian colony founded on
Finally, after the First World War, Mennonites arrived to colonize
the Chaco region of northern Paraguay. Expelled from Europe, they
settled in Canada, Paraguay, and Mexico in successive waves in the
twentieth century. But nowhere did their experiment fail more
spectacularly than in Paraguay, where the territory they arrived to farm
turned out to be dry, unsuitable, and viciously contested in the only
mechanized war ever fought in the Americas. In the 1960s their fortunes
changed (the introduction of buffalo grass led to a switch from growing
runty, shriveled vegetables to raising healthy dairy cows). But,
predictably, the worldly success of their dairy cooperatives compromised
the integrity of their world-denying community. Mennonites rose to
political power and fell to womanizing and corruption (one of them, a
celebrated Mennonite race car driver, was exiled to Manitoba, so grave
were his perversions). The community has lately continued to re-examine
its purpose. Utopian principle: Withdrawal from the world.
Reason for failure: Even the Chaco is part of the world.
My dozens of Paraguayan nationalist commenters will object that I
have portrayed only a few of the many strains of settlers in their
country, and that I have chosen the strangest and least representative.
They are correct, in that few of today's Paraguayans trace ancestry to
abstemious Australians, to wayward Nietzscheans, or to Anabaptists gone
wild. But for such a tiny country to attract so many eccentrics is
surely worth noting -- and, I hope, noting with some pride.