There are natural limits to the size and scope of all socialnorganizations. Primitive societies often cannot extend beyondna hundred members without breaking up into smallerngroups. Modern techniques of distribution, communication,nand political control have allowed fairly small elite classes tonmanage rather large territories, although it now appears thatnthe Soviet Union was too large for the organizationalncarrying capacity of the Communist Party. The UnitednStates almost broke apart in the 1860’s, and our continuedngrowth in population and complexity may make some formnof fissioning as necessary as it is attractive.nThere are other scenarios. In a recent essay (Populationnand Politics Since 1 ISO), William H. McNeill has explorednthe political consequences of the accelerated rate of populationngrowth in 18th-century Europe. Going from a growthnrate of about 0.2 percent per annum, the rate jumped up tonbetween 0.5 and 1.5 percent. In England “improving”nlandlords were able to organize agriculture on a morenrational plan, while England’s economic and industrialngrowth managed — just barely — to defuse a growing socialnrevolution. In France, the ruling class was not so lucky.nFrench traditions made it more difficult for farmers andnlandlords to modernize agricultural methods, and thengrowth in French rural population meant not only foodnshortages but also a large number of peasant sons who couldnnot find work in the country. The result, put simply, was thenFrench Revolution, which solved the population problem byndrafting the young men.nAmerica had had its own revolution — or rather secession—na few years before, sounding a new variation onnancient European themes. In the beginning we were anthinly settled people along a narrow strip of seaboard, butneven the modest civility of Philadelphia and Charleston wasnunknown to the inhabitants of the backcountry who spentntheir lives in a search for fresh game and rich land. The mostntypically American heroes, in life as well as in fiction, werenmen who (like Daniel Boone) could not bear the sight ofnsmoke rising from a neighbor’s chimney and had to light outnfor the territories, whenever they had a surfeit of order andngentility. The frontier was an escape valve for the restless,nand even in my father’s generation there were men (mynfather included) who were able to hunt and fish their waynacross North America.nToday, our fishermen invest tens of thousands intonhigh-tech gear and handsome outfits from Orvis, and there’snhardly a Yalie in the country who doesn’t make a lovely castnwith a fly rod. The sad state of American manhood wasnbrought home to me recently by Michael Pollan, executiveneditor of Harper’s. Writing with unconscious irony in thenNew York Times Book Review, Pollan reveals that “Flyfishingnwould hold little appeal if not for the shelf full ofnclassics that comes with it, and until snowmobiling ornpickerel-fishing acquire a halfway decent literature, peoplenlike me will have no trouble leaving them alone.” ThenSki-doo company ought to run Pollan’s statement as annendorsement.nThe descent in virility from men like my father to thencurrent crop of literary fly-fishermen is only a small sign ofnwhat has been happening. Since the Second World War, wenhave gone from being a nation of small-town outdoorsmennto a nation of suburbanites who talk about the zen ofn16/CHRONICLESnnnstanding in a trout stream or hand out Greenpeace pamphletsnin other people’s neighborhoods. When I visitnWisconsin lakes I used to fish as a boy, they are swarmingnwith realtors from the Chicago suburbs. Armed withnelectronic fish-finders, graphite rods, chemical scents, andnsound-emitting lures, they go after the stupid and sluggishnwalleye with enough technology to bring in a whale. Thenquiet beach in South Carolina, where our family built annisolated house in the 1960’s, was teeming with condos,nresorts, and look-alike houses (at least until Hurricane Hugoncame along). There is hardly any wilderness or lonelinessnleft in America, only marked trails, parking lots, andncampgrounds that look like RV parks. Out in Montananrecently with this magazine’s books editor, we did somenfishing in Yellowstone Park and noted, with some astonishment,nhow many vacationers stopped to take pictures of ournquaint activity. But Mr. Williamson pointed out the onengreat consolation of places like Yellowstone: they draw thentourists as flies are drawn to a dead carp and take some of thenpressure off the rest of Montana.nThis is not an exclusively aesthetic or even a moralndilemma. Our political system was developed for an independentnpopulace of farmers and small-town shopkeepersnwho knew how to mind their own business. Increasednpopulation means more government, more police, morenregulations. But the no-limits-to-growth Pollyannas have noncomplaints about this development, either. In fact, theynappear not to know what we are talking about. So long asnprofits continue to rise and the interdependent worldneconomy is prospering, they do not worry about air andnwater quality, the abuse of precious resources, the loss ofnwilderness. In one important sense they are right. Theirnentire world view is based on growth at any cost, whichnmeans America must have more and more people to buynmore and more useless junk to satisfy their degradednappetites. We have already spent the capital of previousngenerations and mortgaged our children’s destiny (throughnthe growing.national debt). The national economy is like thenSocial Security system: it can only retain the appearance ofnsolvency if more and more taxpaying consumers are recruitednas investors. Let us just once falter, and the entire Ponzinscheme of this growth economy will come crashing down.nSo far I have confined myself largely to the domesticnconsequences of population growth. However, expandingnsocieties frequenfly look for solutions beyond their ownnborders: conquest and colonization. Imperial methods,nMcNeill points out, always seem to backfire, because as thenmaster group becomes urbanized and affluent, its populationnno longer grows. The Roman solution was to incorporatenthe conquered nations into the imperial system, enfranchisingnthe peoples and ennobling their leaders. What goodnthat was to the old Roman stock and their descendants, it isnhard to imagine, and in the later stages of the empire it wasnhard to find representatives of the old senatorial familiesnamong the Roman nobility.nChristian Europe, in the past several centuries, went onnan even greater binge of conquest than the Romans andnsubdued most of the world’s surface to its ambitions: thenAmericas, Africa, India, and much of China. Inevitably, wenlost our nerve, symbolized by the will to procreate. In then