Study Guide

The Post-American World

by Fareed Zakaria

The Post-American World Summary

Extended Summary

Fareed Zakaria analyzes the nature of what he calls The Post-American World, a title and phrase whose meaning is not as provocative as some readers might expect. When Zakaria discusses the post-American world, he does not mean that America has become irrelevant, that it has been overtaken, or that it has gone into cultural decline. Instead, Zakaria discusses what he calls “the rise of the rest.” It is not that America has become less competitive but rather that other countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China have developed and become more independent. Therefore, America will remain the most powerful country in the world, but it will exercise less power relative to these emerging powers.

In Zakaria’s analysis, America’s political, economic, and military powers have been beneficial to the world. Although newspapers feature headlines about terrorism and people might think these are violent times, Zakaria notes that the economy rapidly bounces back after terrorist attacks, sometimes in the space of a day. There may be political strife, but the economy has grown, which suggests stability. In fact, during recent decades, the economy has grown into an interconnected global network. However, with that growth and that interconnectedness have come great risks. Now that everything is integrated, problems often require international responses. A pandemic flu is more likely today than it was in the past, and the bankruptcy of one nation will affect the economies of more than one nation.

America must harness its remaining power to provide stability for this interconnected world. However, it should not use “hard power” to achieve this goal. The rise of the rest means that America’s diplomacy must be more sophisticated. Among other things, it must recognize the diversity of the world. Zakaria warns against considering the modern world a Western world. He points out that the culture, ideals, and philosophy of the West have existed for thousands of years. The modern world has only existed for a few centuries. Industrialization belongs to modernity, not the West. This distinction may be difficult for American diplomats to accept, considering that they are used to having their way and that they often consider modernity as having a “Western face.” Furthermore, Zakaria notes that Americans have long been isolated from other countries and are often unprepared to deal with the world’s diversity of language, culture, and politics.

To illustrate the variety of growth seen in the rise of the rest, Zakaria contrasts the rise of China with the rise of India. Both countries have seen phenomenal economic growth over a short period of time, but they are still quite different. Politically, China has an authoritarian central authority whereas India has a diverse democratic government. Furthermore, the political goals of the two countries are quite different. China’s goals are focused on growth but also involve sovereignty issues revolving around Taiwan and Tibet. Meanwhile, India’s status as a comparatively recent nuclear power makes it politically distinct from China. Zakaria warns that America must be careful in how it responds to both countries, though it should not necessarily consider either a rival. While both could become superpowers, neither will immediately become a power on the same order of magnitude as America. Although both are growing quickly, America retains many advantages that should not be overlooked.

In particular, Zakaria suggests that America’s greatest strengths rest in its ability to generate ideas. He notes that many of the best universities in the world are found in America. He further suggests that American public education at the high-school level is actually more competitive than many realize, particularly with its focus on critical and independent thinking. Consequently, America has the ability to not only research and develop ideas but also commercialize those ideas. This ability to commercialize research speaks to another of America’s traditional strengths: its flexible economy. This economic strength invites the best minds in the world come to America,...

(The entire section is 1692 words.)