May 4, 2008


After America: Fareed Zakaria's 'Post-American World' (PETER BERKOWITZ, April 30, 2008, NY Sun)

[T]he emergence of a truly global economy is, in Mr. Zakaria's judgment, the dominant fact of international politics today. The emergence was decisively advanced by America's victory in the Cold War, which made free-market capitalism the only viable economic system, and thereby unleashed the flow of capital across borders and permitted a vast extension of the international order. Revolutions in transportation and telecommunications amplified the effects, dramatically increasing the volume and pace of the international flow of goods and information.

With new wealth, however, has come a new surge of disruptive nationalist passions for honor and influence. Nor is nationalism the only challenge generated by globalization to international order. Globalization and Americanization may not be equivalent, but whatever globalization touches bears the mark of American culture and Western opinions about individual freedom and human equality. By weakening traditional practices and established hierarchies, the spread of democratic mores and mass cultures brings instability. At the same time, beneath the trend toward homogenization of culture and politics, Mr. Zakaria discerns a complex mixing of the local and the global.

This complex mixing is the key to understanding China and India, the most important of the rising powers. China has a population of 1.3 billion — more than four times the size of America's — and an economy that has been growing at a mind-boggling and record-breaking 9% a year for nearly three decades. By combining autocratic rule with capitalism, China has managed a feat, at least for the time being, that many thought impossible, and which has ominous implications. For if in China political liberalization does not follow economic liberalization — as it has with remarkable consistency around the globe — then it is reasonable to fear that at home and abroad, Beijing will pursue its interests and exercise its growing muscle in ways that are at best indifferent to the claims of freedom and equality.

As the world's second-fastest-growing economy and home to 1.1 billion, India, too, has achieved a new prominence on the world's stage. It is a more natural ally to America: Its elites speak English as a native tongue; it is a multiethnic and multireligious democracy; it possesses a genuine and robust private sector, and its leading religion, Hinduism, encourages toleration by emphasizing the multiplicity and diversity of gods. For India, the question is whether its bustling economy and society will be able to overcome its government's sluggishness and corruption.

As for America, its challenge is to learn to increasingly share power not only with Beijing and New Delhi but with a host of rising and diverse players.

Kind of peculiar to recognize the "dominant fact of international politics today" but not that what it will destabilize most is places like China and India that are unstable states to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 4, 2008 10:05 AM
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