The Post-American World
Reviewed by: Bruce Riley Ashford
Of the commentary on America’s decline, there seems to be no end. The Post-American World is Fareed Zakariah’s contribution to the subject. He chimes in with a more cheery voice than most, focusing more on the “rise of the rest” than the “decline of the West” and arguing that America’s future need not be so gloomy as some predict.
Zakariah builds his case by referring to three great shifts of the past 500 years. First there was the rise of the West, and then the rise of the U.S., and now there is the “rise of the rest.” “At the politico-military level,” he writes, “we remain in a single-superpower world. But in every other dimension-industrial, financial, educational, social, cultural-the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance. That does not mean we are entering an anti-American world. But we are moving into a post-American world, one defined and directed from many places and by many people.”
This, he argues, is not necessarily bad news for the United States, if we are willing to give up our unipolar aspirations and allow the world to be led by a multiplicity of peoples and powers. Indeed, the U.S. may still be the top dog if it learns to change some of its ways.
Americans can maintain a vibrant economy if they are willing to increase their savings, cut wasteful spending, and expand their science and technology sector. They may also maintain their political influence if they are willing to become less of a hegemon and more of a global power broker and mediator. Indeed, in Zakariah’s world, a healthy United States is necessary to a healthy world order.
In fact, it is the United States that has equipped countries in the rest of the world to succeed: “For all its abuses of power,” he writes, “the United States has been the creator and sustainer of the current order of open trade and democratic government-an order that has been benign and beneficial for the vast majority of human kind…The irony is that the rise of the rest is a consequence of American ideas and actions. For sixty years, American politicians and diplomats have traveled around the world pushing countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology….And it worked: the natives have gotten good at capitalism.”
In the end, Zakariah sees a bright future for the United States. He tells the story of how he immigrated from India in the fall of 1982 and found Americans to be a warm and welcoming people. They were open not only to ideas and inventions, but to other peoples and cultures. This, Zakariah, argues, “has allowed America to create the universal nation, a place where people from all over the world can work, mingle, mix, and share in a common dream and a common destiny.”
If America is to continue to thrive, the author argues, she should continue to be the inviting and exciting place that she was when the author immigrated a generation ago. If so, the post-American world will still be very American.
Fareed Zakariah is as good a guide as any when it comes to global affairs, and The Post-American World is a worthy contribution to the avalanche of books and articles that have bespotted our bookshelves. He is intelligent, articulate, well-read, and above all a model of good citizenship. As for his opinions about the future of the world, and the extent to which it will be post-American, I shall refrain from commenting. Such prognostications are above my pay grade and must be left to men of more credibly furrowed brow.
However, The Post-American World offers us an opportunity to reflect upon citizenship. Zakariah is a man who is grateful for the country in which he is a citizen, and is consciously and consistently seeks to make a contribution to the welfare of the nation. In like manner, we are reminded of our calling to be citizens of the country in which God has put us. It is God who has ordained the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-6) and who has given us this particular context in which to love our neighbors (Mark 12:30-31). For those of us who are American citizens, we pledge allegiance to the United States of America because it is God who has placed us here, and he who has called us to love this country.
Ultimately, however, our allegiance is to God himself. Indeed, the story of America is a small story located within a Grand Narrative that stretches back far beyond America’s origin. This story is the story of the uncreated Triune God who created a good world, and populated that world with his image-bearers, and offers redemption and restoration through Christ Jesus his Son. Indeed, one day God Himself will bring an end to world history, with its suffering, pain, darkness, and evil, and provide for his children a new heaven and a new earth, where there will be no pain or suffering. This is the story which positions all other stories.
Book: The Post-American World (2008)
Author: Fareed Zakariah
Genre: Current Affairs
Length: 292 pp.