Because I tend to read so randomly, I just listened to the audiobook of the 2008 release of Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World.
Sadly, he’s now released an updated edition.
So this is only the first dose of complaining about this book. Dedicated readers can look forward to another one.
That’s because while I found many of the ideas in the book to be relatively bland, I found enough of its underlying philosophy interesting that I will actually, oh my Heavens, now acquire the new version, and actually re-read the damned thing, in its May, 2011 revision.
How is it that such a thing occurred, with a book I feel pretty lukewarm about?
Simple. What this book is about is incredibly important. I’m all over the idea of American hegemony being re-examined in light of the post-Cold-War environment, with the “rise of the rest” as Zakaria likes to refer to it — that is, the coming shared hegemony between Europe, the U.S., and other countries. Zakaria even addresses some of the issues of global inequality — maybe not to my satisfaction, but at least he gives it some fan service.
It’s just that Zakaria is such a centrist that he comes across as namby-pamby at times. He presents good, balanced arguments, but he’s missing the passion that this stuff should evoke in a writer.
I tend to like Zakaria. He and I don’t see eye to eye on many things, but I do like his internationalist approach.
What I object to in the 2008 edition of this book is not entirely ameliorated by the simple fact that Zakaria was writing before the global financial crisis, before Occupy Wall Street, before Occupy Oakland, before the Arab Spring. The May, 2011 edition will still have been written before Occupy Wall Street — and Zakaria will have to do some fast talking in 2011 to convince me he wasn’t asleep at the wheel when writing in 2008 about developments in the Muslim world. Zakaria is a reasonable man, but like so many “establishment” policy people, he’s willing to look the other way about far too many things.
In short, Zakaria’s 2008 outlook was far too rosy, too optimistic. He comes across sometimes as an apologist for brutal dictatorship. More importantly, he seems to be completely unaware of the utter dehumanization generated by global corporatism. He writes convincingly against inequality in places, which I appreciate. But he doesn’t go far enough in acknowledging that the entire global structure is on fire and at grievous risk of collapse. I don’t really disagree with him that the United States should be willing to play ball with dictators when it serves the development of human rights overall. I believe that human rights absolutism produces far more entrenched repression than the encouragement of reforms — and the latter often requires the U.S. to smile and shake hands with monsters. I’m not going to debate that fact. But I also don’t like it when commentators pee on my head and tell me it’s raining. Here, Zakaria could have won me over with a strongly-worded, impassioned chapter about encouraging human rights reforms.
And he could have DEFINITELY won me over more effectively if he’d written the book two years later…and dampened some of his 2008 Polyannaisms with a good hard dose of 2010 or 2011 WTF.
Hindsight’s 20/20, but Zakaria should have seen a lot of things coming…and did not.
So…onward and upward, to Zakaria’s May, 2011 revision. We’ll see what he left out this time. I can always find something to bitch about…it’s in my nature.