The Post-American World

by Fareed Zakaria

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What is the central thesis of Zakaria's chapter 3, "A Non-Western World" in The Post-American World?

Quick answer:

The central idea of chapter 3 is that while Western values influenced the rise of non-Western countries, modernity is not exclusively Western.

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In chapter 3, “A Non-Western World,” Zakaria provides a brief history of the West and the East to explain how the West came to possess such a strong global influence. He discusses how in the coming decades, three of the world’s four biggest economies will be non-Western and seeks to understand what that will mean for the West. He ultimately warns against assuming that modernization is Westernization because the West has existed for thousands of years while the “modern world” has only existed for a few hundred.

Zakaria disagrees with assumptions that the West’s power came from accidental discoveries. He points out how “for the first centuries of the second millennium, the East was ahead of the West by almost every measure.” The East flourished and made important discoveries while Europe was stuck in the Middle Ages. This dynamic switched in the fifteenth century with the European Renaissance thinkers and explorers. He writes, “By the seventeenth century, almost every kind of technology, product, and complex organization (like a corporation or an army) was more advanced in Western Europe than anywhere in the world.” According to Zakaria, the West moved forward while the East stood still for a long time.

Zakaria feels that the East began to catch up to the West’s global influence when they copied ideas from the West. He argues that the West has long been more successful than the East by metrics like economics, and since non-successful people tend to copy those who have succeeded, countries around the world have worked to copy Western culture. But now that non-Western countries have been successful in modernizing, Zakaria is wary of what this means for the West. He explains that “modernity has come with the rise of the West, and so it has a Western face.” But assuming that modernity only belongs to the West overlooks the increasing diversity of contemporary economic and political systems.

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