Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Esperanto and Reverse Colonization

A vision of the future!
One of the anxieties of the late twentieth century was “reverse colonization.” There is a classic paper on this subject called “The Occidental Tourist,” which looks at themes of reverse colonization in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Count Dracula’s aim is not only to munch on the dainty dainty neck of Lucy Westerna,[1] but to gain dominion over the West. The count is, after all an Eastern European nobleman.

It wasn’t Dracula alone. Several years ago, I took a class called “Turns of the Century” which looked at, in part, how during the (approximately) twenty years with 1900 at their middle, certain themes predominated and paramount among these fears was that of “reverse colonization”: the fear that the once dominated would become the dominant.

I think we’re at another crisis of reverse colonization now, with conservatives decrying the rise of groups that are not white Algo-Saxon Protestants. Hell, some of the groups finding their voices aren’t even Christian. And, so the conservatives worry about what their role will be in the world of the future.

This piece from the New-York Tribune on September 16, 1906 is much shorter than Dracula, but still has plenty of room for fears of reverse colonization. No vampires though. You can’t have everything.
“This is a very uninteresting place,” said the New Zealander, in Esperanto with a slight German accent, to his wife. “What is it called, Gretchen?”

She consulted her Baedeker.[2] “Why it’s London, of course!”

“But there are nothing but ruins about!” he exclaimed, in amazement.

“Quite so. This used to be the capital of the British Empire, Hans. The British, however, gave up their army and navy out of a spirit of economy.”

“And what did they do with the proceeds?”

“They spent them on education and religion. They were the best educated and most religious people in the world. They believed in ‘One Man One Religion.’ Every adult has a school and a place of worship to himself or herself.”

“You’re an awfully clever little girl,” said the New Zealander, admiringly, as he pressed the New Zealanderess tenderly to his side.

He felt glad he was on his honeymoon.

“I hate to bother you, Bable, mine, but it seems to me that I have heard that New Zealand was once a part of the British Empire. Was that so?” he inquired.

“In the Dark Ages,” she admitted. “But a Liberal government gave back New Zealand to the aborigines. They gave back India to the natives. South Africa to the Dutch, Wales to the Welsh. They even wanted to restore Ireland to the Irish. But they … wouldn’t have it … as a gift.”[3]

“What an extraordinary nation!” reflected the New Zealander, sadly: “let us get back into the airship.”

Gretchen put up her rosetted mouth to be kissed. “I had never wasted a single minute of our honeymoon here, darling,” she said, “if it hadn’t been for Macaulay.”[4] —Pall Mall Gazette
This is, of course, the familiar sf trope, “if this goes on.” In this case, the Pall Mall Gazette is suggesting that if current trends in England persist, England will be destroyed, and you’ll end up with Maoris as the cultural superiors to the British. The Maoris were probably not, in the vision of the Pall Mall Gazette writer ultimately responsible for the collapse of English civilization, given that one of the New Zealanders speaks Esperanto “with a slight German accent.” One of the books in my collection is The German Conquest of England in 1875. You can be excused if you don’t remember hearing about the Germans conquering England in 1875, as it’s a work of fiction by George Tomkyns Chesney.[5] It does show where the anxieties lay.

There were even anxieties of reverse colonization in the history of Esperanto. Critics of Esperanto sometimes were critics of Zamenhof himself, and they wondered if the world should be speaking a language created by an Eastern European Jew. Infamously, Hitler said that when the international Jewish conspiracy took over, we would all be forced to speak Esperanto. As I’ve noted several times, the French worried that Esperanto might actually supplant French in prestige.

Currently, the skies of London are not filled with airships from New Zealand. Esperanto is not the dominant language anywhere. And the city of London still stands.

  1. The blood-sucking vampire goes for the woman whose name sounds like “westerner.”  ↩
  2. Travel guidebook. Still around, though I prefer others.  ↩
  3. Of course, India did get independence, as did South Africa (with a long wait for majority enfranchisement). Parts of Ireland became independent. Currently, Scotland is voting on independence. No cries for independence in Cardiff…yet.  ↩
  4. Thomas Babinton Macaulay, British writer, politician, and education reformer.  ↩
  5. Spoiler alert: The Germans get forced to abandon their conquest.  ↩

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  1. Chesney's story is from 1871 (that is, four years before the events of the story), and so I think it's outside the "No Spoilers" zone, even though it's a relatively obscure work.

    Note that in order to preserve some of the excitement of Mr. Chesney's work, I have made no indication of how the Germans lose.


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