What does Zakaria mean by the “rise of the rest" in The Post-American World?
Fareed Zakaria associates “the rise of the rest” (which is the name of the introductory chapter of his book) with six basic trends that he describes:
1) “The third great power shift of the modern era” (p. 2). As Zakaria explains, the first power shift was the rise of the Western world of European powers; this rise became especially dramatic from the late eighteenth century onward. The second was the rise of the United States as a dominant world power from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. By “the third power shift,” Zakaria means the ability of other countries from various world regions to equal or overtake the US as global leaders.
2) The rapid economic growth of many countries, especially in Asia, but also in Africa and Latin America, and the relative decline of poverty.
3) The emergence of a genuinely interdependent and participatory international system that allows many countries to play an active role in world affairs.
4) The global spread of symbols of wealth, prosperity, and economic power such as skyscrapers and gigantic factories.
5) “The diffusion of power from states to other actors” (p. 4), such as international organizations, NGOs, transnational corporations, drug cartels, and terrorist networks.
6) Dramatic growth in the global mobility of jobs, capital, and people.
Note: References are to Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World, New York – London: W. W. Norton and Company, 2009.
Zakaria says that a major development in the rest of the world is what he calls "post-Americanism." By this, he means that other countries have now grown and developed to the point that the United States doesn't have economic hegemony over them anymore. A period of "unchallenged superpower status" for the United States is coming to an end. On this point, Zakaria agrees with many American politicians and other observers who argue that the United States is slipping relative to the rest of the world. Where he disagrees is in his characterization of this development. He does not argue that the United States is declining, but rather that the economies of the rest of the world are growing. He does not view this as a cause for anxiety, because it is far from certain that these developments will impact the United States in a negative way. He claims that, if Americans are willing to adapt to these changes politically and culturally (American businesses have long been adapting to these realities) then these developments can be mutually beneficial. The United States remains, according to Zakaria, one of the freest, most economically flexible nations in the world, and this can be to its advantage. If the country turns inward, embracing parochialism, then the United States and the world will be the worse for it.
When Zakaria talks about the “rise of the rest” he is not talking about American decline in absolute terms. Instead, he is talking about how other countries that were once poor and weak are becoming richer and stronger both in absolute and in relative terms.
What Zakaria is saying in this book is that countries like India and China are rising. They are becoming wealthier and are even starting to become more internationally important. He notes that not all of the biggest things are in the US anymore. He mentions how the tallest building in the world at the time of his writing was in Taipei and the world’s biggest movie industry was in India. To Zakaria, these sorts of things mean that the rest of the world is becoming more competitive with the US. It does not mean that the US can no longer influence the rest of the world. However, it does mean that the US can no longer simply tell other countries what to do.