The Post-American World
In 2003, a young British historian posed an impertinent question for Americans. In his cocktail-table book Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, Oxford’s Niall Ferguson, who is also Herzog Professor of Financial History at New York University, asks, “Hasn’t the time come for the U.S. to rethink its historic distaste for colonies and play an imperial role?” Less formally, Ferguson acts like the son-in-law from an eminent family who wishes to persuade his bride’s lately powerful family to follow the long out-of-fashion traditions of his own people.
In 2008 came another scholaran émigré to American shoresto answer the question in the emphatic negative. Writing in The Post-American World, India-born Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, columnist for its parent magazine, and CNN commentator, presents convincing evidence that any “imperial role” for America or any other country is anachronistic in today’s world; not even with its military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan ought the United States assume a presence like Great Britain’s in its “empire” days that ended with World War II.
Zakaria begins his survey of the multipolar world with the undisputed hegemony (“multipolar” is Zakaria’s favorite buzz word; “unipolar” and “hegemony” are his most pejorative words) that the United States enjoyed at the time of Soviet communism’s meltdown. Since then, there has occurred the phenomenon that provides the title of chapter 1: “The Rise of the Rest,” whose opening sentence is one Zakaria will never let readers forget: “This is a book not about the decline of America but rather the rise of everyone else.”
However, this is not essentially a book about “declinism,” whose heyday came about two decades ago with Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), which concluded that the United States’ dominance was fast eroding. A skilled journalist such as Zakaria has fascinating ways of raising the bars of distinction for emerging nations without explicitly lowering those of the United States. He notes the tallest building is now in Taipeh, the richest man is Mexican, the largest publicly traded corporation is Chinese, the biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, the leading refinery is under construction in India, the largest factories are all in China, and the United Arab Emirates is home to the most richly endowed investment fund.
Often by deft positioning Zakaria will leave the reader applauding America after he seemingly has downgraded her. After devoting fifteen lines to Europe’s “significant challenge” to U.S. superiority in the economic line, he accords more than double to the United States as the first to create a “universal nation, made up of all colors, races, and creeds, living and working together in considerable harmony.”
In a previous book, The...
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