The New American Frontier

The New American Frontier

Michael Lind

AN EMPIRE WILDERNESS:Travels into America's Future.By Robert D. Kaplan. and om House. 384 pp. $27.50

Read Time:
8m 33sec

but so does every discipline that deals with the interpretation of human meanings and motives—philosophy, history, sociology— yet most people do not seek to dismiss the social sciences and humanities as a result.

That day may not be so far off, however, for what really lies behind the Freud Wars is, in Lear’s words, a "war . . . over our culture’s image of the soul." Will we manage to persuade ourselves that we are machines whose behavior is transparently driven by rational choice, social demands, or biological processes? Or will we continue to view ourselves as complex and often opaque creatures, who make and pursue meanings—both meanings that we reflect on and consciously choose and meanings that are hidden from our view? In Lear’s view, Freud, as part of a tradition extending from Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine through Shakespeare, Nietzsche, and Proust, has made "the most sustained and successful attempt to make these obscure meanings [our motivated irrationality] intelligible." In doing so, Freud contributes to the human capacity to be "open-minded": "the capacity to live nondefensively with the question of how to live" and then to reshape our lives accordingly.

After locating Freud within this philosophical tradition, Lear explores some of the ways in which such Freudian concepts as transference and internalization can illuminate aspects of the work of others in the tradition, particularly Plato and Aristotle. Reciprocally, Lear then shows how works such as Aristotle’s Poetics, Plato’s Republic, and even Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus can be drawn on to refine and clarify problematic aspects of Freud’s own work.

Lear aims to breathe new life into both philosophy and psychoanalysis by initiating a dialogue between them on the fundamental questions of who we are and how we should live. Unfortunately, the book, which mostly consists of previously published essays, falls short of that lofty goal. Nevertheless, the best of Open Minded—like the best of the Roth volume—makes clear that while the clinical Freud might be dead, Freud’s understanding of our messy inner lives and complex cultural worlds remains valuable. Ironically, such a view returns us to Freud’s own position. The "treatment of the neuroses," he wrote in The Question of Lay Analysis (1926), may not be the most important application of psychoanalysis. Instead, its greatest contributions may lie in the study of "human civilization and its major institutions such as art, religion, and the social order." If Freud is to influence a second century, these are the realms in which he will live on.

> Howard L. Kaye is Professor of Sociology at Franklin and Marshall College and author of The Social Meaning of Modern Biology (1997).

The New American Frontier

Travels into America’s Future.

By Robert D. Kaplan. Random House. 384 pp. $27.50

by Michael Lind

What if a distinguished American premise of Robert Kaplan’s study of the foreign correspondent returned United States at the turn of the millennihome to explore and explain the United um, An Empire Wilderness: Travels into States, using interpretive skills developed America’s Future. A contributing editor of by studying other societies? That is the the Atlantic Monthly, Kaplan has written

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influential and widely admired books about countries torn by ethnic strife and poverty, including Balkan Ghosts (1994) and The Ends of the Earth (1997). In An Empire Wilderness (parts of which appeared in the Atlantic), Kaplan employs his trademark combination of firsthand observation, social analysis, and historical interpretation to try to make sense of a country as puzzling as any he has visited as a foreign correspondent: his own.

Kaplan’s exploration of the United States concentrates on the country west of the Mississippi, from the border of Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. He finds signs of the American future in an ethnic mix changed by Latino and Asian immigration, and in a reorientation of American regional consciousness along a North-South axis in which the Canadian and Mexican borders are becoming less important. Two West Coast metropolitan areas strike him as models of alternative American urban futures: Portland, Oregon, symbol of a tidy and humane urbanism, and Orange County, a dystopia outside Los Angeles spawned by the car. Kaplan prefers the pedestrian-friendly urbanism of Portland to the sprawl of Los Angeles, while admitting that the latter model of urban life in North America is likely to prevail.

At his best, Kaplan convincingly illustrates the influence of geography on society and politics. For example, he observes that "the different responses of California and Texas to the Mexican challenge are geographically determined: while major urban attractors such as Los Angeles are close to the Mexican border, which makes California vulnerable to illegal immigrants, Texas is not quite in the same situation (El Paso’s population is only 515,000, compared to 3.5 million for only the city of Los Angeles)." Where a less thoughtful journalist or scholar might have been content to observe that Omaha, St. Louis, and Kansas City "all are river cities in the flat middle of the continent," Kaplan describes the important distinctions: "Unlike St. Louis, Omaha has been able to annex its emerging suburbs in order to prevent their separate incorporation. So while St. Louis is a feudal assemblage of 92 separately incorporated cities, Omaha is overwhelmingly Omaha. Only four southern suburbs are beyond its grasp, and everyone, not simply poor blacks and Mexicans, attends Omaha’s public schools."

Yet Kaplan’s attempts to draw analogies between cultures and historical eras are sometimes strained. The friendliness of a Texas waitress inspires a theory of geographic determinism: "Indeed, Texas constitutes just another friendly desert culture, similar in its fundamentals to what I encountered in Arabia and other places, where great distances and an unforgiving, water-scarce environment weld people closely to one another at oases, while demanding a certain swaggering individualism out in the open—as well as religious conservatism."

The dangers of analogy become apparent when Kaplan, who has written incisively on the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, scans the United States for signs of incipient Balkanization. An Arizona map showing Indian reservations, military bases, and other areas reminds the author of maps of Bosnia, prompting him to speculate: "Should the social disintegration I saw in Tucson’s south side ever become pervasive while our governing institutions become infirm and border crossings from Mexico increase substantially, the broken lines on a map that today appear abstract could have deadly consequences." Like both proponents and many critics of multiculturalism, Kaplan contemplates the end of a common American national identity: "Perhaps, as America becomes increasingly a transnational melange—becoming more like the rest of the world as the rest of the world becomes more like us—we will come to resemble some Old World societies in this respect: instead of a nation, we will become a ‘community of communities’ on the same continent." A skeptical reader will wonder whether the United States is really more of "a

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transnational melange" in the 1990s than it was in the 1890s, when enormous European diasporas in America had their own newspapers, neighborhoods, religious institutions, and political machines. Apart from a pool of Spanish-speakers that would quickly shrink without continual Latin American immigration, there is no single foreign-language bloc comparable to the once-enormous German-speaking population of the United States. To judge from today’s high rates of intermarriage across ethnic and racial lines, not only assimilation but amalgamation is occurring more rapidly than it did in the past. As Kaplan himself notes, "A third of all U.S.-born Latinos and more than a quarter of all U.S.-born Asians in the five-county greater Los Angeles region intermarry with other races. Almost one out of ten blacks in greater Los Angeles intermarries, a percentage high enough to create significant changes in black racial identity in years to come."

Kaplan is much more persuasive when he writes about the secession of elite neighborhoods within regions, "as wealthier Americans increasingly live their lives within protected communities, heavily zoned suburbs, defended corporate enclaves, private malls, and health clubs." Indeed, a case can be made that class divisions are growing in the United States, even as the historic disparities between regions and races continue to narrow. "But what if such wide, rigid class distinctions reemerge—with a deepening chasm between an enlarged underclass and a globally oriented upper class—while the dialogue between ruler and ruled becomes increasingly ritualistic and superficial? Will the form of democracy remain while its substance decays?" The real danger facing the United States may be not that it will be split along regional lines into five or six countries, but that it will fissure along class lines into two nations.

Although weakened somewhat by misleading analogies and apocalyptic pessimism, Kaplan’s tour of his own country is an impressive synthesis of observation and analysis that confirms the author’s standing as one of this country’s leading intellectual journalists. Whether or not An Empire Wilderness is, as advertised in the subtitle, "travels into America’s future," Robert Kaplan has provided a rich and rewarding account of his travels into America’s present.

> Michael Lind is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.


THE HAUNTED WOOD: Soviet Espionage in America–The Stalin Era.

By Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev. Random House. 402 pp. $30

Decoding Soviet
Espionage in America.

By John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. Yale Univ. Press. 487 pp. $30

One of the peculiarities of the Cold War was that the battle over its causes and consequences began even as it was being waged. On the one side were the orthodox historians who maintained that Soviet aggression was to blame. On the other were the revisionists who argued that the United States was the culprit: our hysterical fear of communism turned the Soviet Union into an enemy and provoked a witch-hunt of innocent Americans at home.

With the collapse of the Soviet empire and the opening of the archives, the revisionist line, never very persuasive, has been given a fresh pasting. These two new books go some way toward clearing up the question of Soviet espionage in the United States. Both show that Stalin and company were treating the United States as an enemy long before the Cold War began.

Weinstein is no stranger to Cold War con

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