Every so often, I encounter a book whose author has managed to give voice to feelings I have, points I want to articulate, and perspectives I want to share. Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World” is one such book.
As an American citizen living outside of the United States for an indefinite period of time, I’ve been privileged to gain a lot of perspective on the world as a whole and America’s position in it. Both living here as well as in Hong Kong a decade ago, I’ve seen things that make me want to run back to my fellow countrymen, shake them by the shoulders and deliver the message: The world is different than we thought!
Much like the ancients who thought the world was flat or that the Sun orbited the Earth, Americans are largely convinced that the United States is the most important country on the planet. Yes, America is the “most” in several different measures, but the ugly truth is… that doesn’t make us the most important country. There are other countries out there and their importance relative to their size, economic output, military power, etc. is definitely on the rise.
I won’t launch into a sermon about how Americans need to get their heads out of the sand and better understand what’s happening in the world. Suffice it to say that Americans need to get their heads out of the sand and better understand what’s happening in the world. Zakaria’s book is a good, balanced place to start.
Zakaria, who was born and raised in India but has lived in the United States for a quarter century, is the editor of Newsweek International. In his book, he describes “the rise of the rest” – the political and economic ascendance of countries such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Kenya. He does not write about the fall of America, but rather how America’s position as the sole superpower will become a lot less lonely, and what that means for America.
The short answer is: we need to get real and get our act together. This rise of the rest presents enormous challenges and enormous opportunities, if we are willing to recognize and act on them.
If I may, let me share one short excerpt that particularly spoke to me. This is from his concluding chapter titled “American Purpose” in which he presents six guidelines for America to operate successfully in this new, post-American world. One point he makes that particularly resonates with me:
“America has become a nation consumed by anxiety, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world now sees itself as besieged by forces beyond its control. While the Bush administration has contributed mightily to this state of affairs, it is a phenomenon that goes beyond one president. Too many Americans have been taken in by a rhetoric of fear.”
I encourage you to seek out and read this book. It is incisive and well thought-out, drawing on the lessons of history and steering clear of partisan ideologies. I hope you enjoy it.
Sounds like an interesting book, hopefully I will get to read it someday. Being an American expat for this long, I am sure you are very well aware of the common issues the rest of the world has with America. So I am not going to indulge.
Yes, the world is changing and changing fast. Look at Japan. The LDP that has ruled Japan for the last 54 years (except for two years in the 1990’s) has just lost the election to the Democratic Party of Japan. The new administration will want Japan to integrate more with her Asian neighbors. South Korea and Taiwan have become fully-fledged democracies. China has developed greatly economically though she has made little progress politically.
Thanks for the book recommendation, Chris! I’ve seen it several times in passing but I think you’ve finally spurred me to pick up a copy. BTW I didn’t know you lived in Hong Kong! How long was it for?
Worth a read! I suspect the ones who do read this book are not the ones who NEED to read it though. Alas…
“taken in by a rhetoric of fear” so true.Suddenly the image came to mineof a playground for kindergarten.How do I teach a boy who had beenthe center of attention and the leaderof his play pals to relinquish his role?Can’t stop the play mates from startingto having their own idea of game and fun.How do I ease the pain and teach himto play fairly with respect to other’s ideas?
Thanks for the book recommendation. Definitely sounds like something I would enjoy reading, and I intend to check it out. When it comes to our country of origin, I think you and I probably share many of the same thoughts. Unfortunately, most of those aren’t so positive…
We discussed his work when you visisted me. I love reading his thoughts and have enjoyed listening to him on the TV. The LINK TV( television without borders ) carries his talk and documentaries often. Thank you Chris.
I am really hopeful, during this Age of Information, that people are really coming together.Though it’s a poor substitute for actually traveling abroad, internet did really become a portal into other parts of the world….and I am really hopeful that people will actually benefit from it all and learn to take a different perspective even if there were some that couldn’t travel.
I read this book earlier this year or last year maybe and loved it. I think that Zakaria is very insightful!
@Wangium – True, but the one problem with the internet is that it makes it equally as easy to be self-selecting in what information you are exposed to. Twenty years ago when we all got our information from the same newspapers and nightly news broadcast, we were all drawing our varying political views from a common source of “facts”. Nowadays, we can easily go out and find only the “facts” (“Obama is a foreigner Muslim!!!”) that support our worldview.@ZenPaper – If you recall the incident several years ago of the American military plane that collided with a Chinese one and landed and was captured for several days by China, there was a similar story passing around on the internet casting the US as the schoolyard bully who couldn’t tolerate when others dished out the same treatment to him.@Dezinerdreams – Yes, I’ve seen some of those perceptions of America. Thankfully, though, I’ve also seen lots of recognition of the things that are positive about America. Time for us to accentuate the positive rather than give in to our less constructive tendencies.@choyshinglin – Zakaria writes extensively about the rise of China and India and what this will likely mean about the balance of power in the region. Interestingly, he sees many positives out of this, even for the United States.@dynamiqvision – Hong Kong was only for three months, not as long as I would like but long enough for me to make lots of effort to immerse myself and explore.@stebow – Isn’t that always the truth?@ZSA_MD – Am not familiar with LINK TV. Will have to look for it as it would be interesting to hear some more of his thoughts.@euphorie – Yes, I suspect we do share many of those same thoughts! I try very carefully, though, not to be negative about my country and instead try to do my little part to push the collective ship in a more productive direction. I realize that there isn’t much I can do, but if I reach out and share perspectives with others, maybe that will help make a tiny bit of difference that those people can then help spread.@TheCheshireGrins – And don’t you find that regardless of your political stripes, his presentation is pretty neutral? Very “Brookings Institution” of him…
I think he’s one of the few bright spots on CNN. Many years ago, I was in Paris and I bumped into someone from the US. I think he and his girlfriend were from Kansas. They lamented that a lot of their friends don’t travel and know so little about the world. Whenever they would talk about their travels – a lot of their friends don’t get it. I think this very insular mentality is contributing to the problem. Great post!
@ElusiveWords – Thanks, Matt. Yes, that insularity is a big part of it. Talking with expat friends here, one of the most common themes is that so many of our friends and family members back in the US just “don’t get it” when it comes to understanding why we would want to live overseas. Thankfully, many of my family members and friends have traveled or are from overseas, so there is a lot greater support. But for some people, it is just puzzlement and scratching heads.
@christao408 – That’s one of the things that I liked best about the book. He makes a lot of good points without making the points biased. He’s very skilled!
Looks like a good read, and thanks for including that passage.
@epiginoskete – You’re very welcome.