Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Post-American World: Recommended

"The Post-American World" by Fareed Zakaria is helpful to Americans too worried about an impending collapse of all we hold dear, and to those too certain that we can continue bestriding the world like a Colossus.

The key point: there is unlikely to be a Fall of the West and there is certain to be a Rise of the Rest. Our nation need neither rot nor shrivel, but our relative advantage over others disappears as they catch up in science, the economy, and so on. While we can screw ourselves up by wasting our time and treasure trying to hold on to other people's stuff, we can avoid this temptation, and remain not only absolutely well off, but secure by means of learning to Play Well With Others.

Some few may mourn laying down what Kipling called "The White Man's Burden" but what of it? Our most important values do not depend on being masters; to the contrary, sharing our world with our co-inhabitants is a necessary part of liberty, democracy and every other value of our Founders.

Fakaria may or may not be correct in detail. His chapters on the history of the West, and on the likely near futures of India and China are fact-intensive; some will prefer a different selection of facts. He's surely a tad too enthusiastic about the export of American jobs to my taste. Still, he's got a rational point of view and most Americans will find enough surprising material on all three subjects to alert one to the need to learn more.

Moreover, the overall concepts are clear: because the advantages earned or taken by the West through science and military technology will come to an end, we need to ensure that this does not mean "The End" for what we hold dear. In the last two chapters, Fakaria argues strongly that the wisest course is simply to promote our values broadly and sincerely; America's values are popular everywhere except with the thugs who rule countries where the rulers are hated. Citing fact after fact, he shows that America is trusted where we play the honest broker, cajoling perhaps but not forcing; this trust itself is a prize beyond all others.

This point bears repeating. The fear, paranoia and violence promoted by some who claim to be American patriots is counter-productive. The Rest is catching up to the West and America can not thrive by cowering in fear and lashing out in panic. The courage to be open will let us lead in a world of equals.

In perhaps the funniest line in the book, Zakaria cites a 2007 interview in which Dick Cheney grumbled that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was feared but not the USA.

"Yes," writes Zakaria, "the Soviet Union was feared by its allies, whereas the United States was loved, or at least liked.

Look who's still around."


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