In 1886 Elisabeth Nietzsche, the bigoted, imperious sister of the famous philosopher, founded a ``racially pure'' colony in Paraguay together with her husband, anti-Semitic agitator Bernhard Forster, and a band of fair-skinned fellow Germans. In 1991 Macintyre, once a foreign-affairs reporter for Britain's Sunday Correspondent , tracked down the survivors of Nueva Germania, as the colony was called; he found a strange, tight-lipped people, still interbreeding to the point of genetic deterioration. Digging into recently opened German archives, he tells how Elisabeth, who returned to Germany in 1893, grafted her anti-Semitic, nationalist ideas onto her brother Friedrich's philosophy, building a mythic cult around him. Elisabeth later became a mentor to Hitler; her stately funeral in 1935 was attended by a tearful Fuhrer. Laced with mordant irony, Macintyre's brilliant piece of investigative journalism adds weight to the view, shared by many scholars, that the Nazis' use of Nietzsche's ideas to justify their evil deeds and doctrines was a perversion of his thought. Photos. (Sept.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1886, Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth, together with her husband, Bernhard Foerster, and 14 German families, founded a colony in Paraguay that they christened ``Nueva Germania.'' Their purpose was to escape a fatherland they believed to be in serious decline and to live in a place where their beliefs--anti-Semitism, vegetarianism, nationalism, and Lutheranism--could flourish. Macintyre vividly recounts the sights and sounds of the villages and jungles, the flora and fauna he encountered in his arduous adventure to locate the remains of this colony. The story reads like a novel, yet Macintyre's journalistic brio is matched by his solid research into German and Paraguayan history and his wealth of detail about Elisabeth's long life and her relationship with her brother. The pathetic group of descendants he finally found would hardly have delighted the founders. Where Macintyre's book rests on a solid research base, Aschheim's book is exhaustively researched; in addition, it is a model of academic scholarship--highly informative yet accessible even to the lay reader. The narrative sweeps from pre-Weimar Germany to the recent reunification. Especially insightful is Aschheim's balanced treatment of whether Nietzsche can be seen to have been a proto-Nazi and whether the Nazi's claiming him as such is justified. A final chapter, ``Nietzscheanism, Germany, and Beyond,'' considers why Nietzsche's influence has been and continues to be pervasive, not only in Germany but throughout the Western world. Both books are highly recommended for most collections.-- Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Mgt. Lib., Washington, D.C.
Macintyre's research and pilgrimage to Paraguay have uncovered a bizarre chapter in the history of philosophy. Elisabeth Nietzsche, sister of the famous philosopher, and her husband, Bernhard Forster, a pre-Hitler German anti-Semite, led a group of Germans into the remote Paraguayan jungle in the 1880s to found an Aryan colony, but were unable to attract enough settlers to make a go of it. Bernhard committed suicide and Elisabeth returned to Germany, where she took care of her brother, now insane. Macintyre demonstrates how Elisabeth's custodianship of Friedrich's philosophic writings contributed to earning him an unfair reputation as a fascist. Macintyre claims that Friedrich Nietzsche would have despised Hitler, much as he detested Elisabeth's husband and broke with the composer Richard Wagner. It was Elisabeth who fawned over Wagner and Mussolini and actively courted Hitler's patronage for the Nietzsche Archive. As for the legacy of Nueva Germania, Macintyre found Elisabeth's once grand homestead turned into a pigsty, her ideals mostly forgotten, and the residents, descendants of the original settlers, degenerate and sickly from intermarriage.
A mad curiosity carries an apparently sane young man to a lost German colony in Paraguay. In the picaresque romp that ensues, Macintyre, former foreign correspondent for Britain's Sunday Correspondent, discovers a forgotten people, exonerates Friedrich Nietzsche, and manages to piece together a rather chilling portrait of the troubled philosopher's far more dreadful sister. Not that Elisabeth Nietzsche was all that obscure to begin with: As editor and executrix of her brother's works, she was responsible for misshaping an entire generation of Nietzsche scholarship through a series of blatant misreadings aimed at serving the Nazi cause. A thoroughgoing racist and anti-Semite, she became convinced early on that the purity of the German nation was under siege, and, with her husband Bernard F"rster, concocted the idea of an elite German settlement abroad that would eventually replenish and invigorate the downtrodden Aryan blood at home. Paraguayof all placeswas chosen as the most propitious site, and a small band of pioneers set sail in 1886 for what shortly became an unmitigated disaster. The land turned out to be untillable; the climate was deadly; and the finances were mismanaged from the start. Within a few years, F"rster killed himself, and Elisabeth returned to Germany to care for her brother (who had lapsed into his final madness). Incredibly enough, the colony managed to survive precariously on its own and maintains itself to this day as a surreal Bismarckian outpost in the Paraguayan jungle. Macintyre weaves together several stories hereNietzsche's stormy relations with Wagner; Elisabeth's influence on the Nazis; the fate of the colonists leftbehindwithout weakening the central narrative of his own journey to Nueva Germania and its gente perdita, a journey that was both the impetus and agent for this weird and marvelous tale. Lurid and delightful: Rider Haggard couldn't ask for more. (Thirty-two b&w photos.)