Mail Call: A New World Order

Our exclusive excerpt of Fareed Zakaria's book, "The Post-American World," prompted applause and new critical thinking worldwide. One reader described "jet-setting Asian urbanites" now apathetic to America. Another warned that the newly "enriched" are not necessarily "ennobled."

What Post-American Means
I read Fareed Zakaria's book excerpt "The Rise of the Rest" (May 12) with the greatest interest. Not only is Zakaria's analysis highly topical and very timely—coming, as it does, as we enter the final phase of the U.S. presidential election—it's a wake-up call for present and future political leaders. It's only a pity that so little of Zakaria's intellect and passion is to be found in the platforms of the two main presidential hopefuls. The place that the United States will ultimately occupy in the globalized 21st century will depend on how successfully it can globalize itself. The only problem I have with Zakaria's book is its title. "The Post-American World" is much too defeatist and pessimistic. Something like "America in the Globalized World," while less provocative, might have been more to the point.
Karl H. Pagac
Villeneuve-Loubet, France

"The Rise of the Rest" is, I have to say, one of the best articles I have read concerning America in a long time. There has been far too much pessimism and negativity lately about affairs in America—let alone in the world—and it is about time that someone put things into proper perspective. Because of all the media frenzy, in the eyes of a lot of people the world seems to be going to hell. I don't think many people realize that we are in fact living in the most peaceful and prosperous time of our species's existence.
Christopher Brinton
Stroud, England

Fareed Zakaria is quite right in explaining how, with the growth of news coverage for immediate consumption, we, as the recipients of information, increasingly run the risk of losing the bigger picture. Even the perpetrators of 9/11 were aware that, by endless repetition on television, the attacks had a much higher psychological toll on the public than they would have had if viewers had seen them just once. The fact that the United States is now losing ground compared with a number of global competitors, however, can hardly be portrayed in equally spectacular terms. The long-term effects of this trend seep in surreptitiously, which means that they don't get fully processed and understood. One can only hope that certain interest groups will refrain from seeking foreign scapegoats for America's loss of its top-of-the-class position. A nation that has always thrived on the thrill of the race, with both its partners and its rivals, should know how to face this challenge.
Werner Radtke
Paderborn, Germany

In response to Fareed Zakaria's observation of the global shift from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism in "The Rise of the Rest": I've been backpacking through India for the past six months, and one of the most fascinating parts of my travels has been the range of responses I get when I tell people I am from America. In villages and smaller towns, many people react with either awe oranger. Whether positive or negative, the response is usually so passionate that it sometimes becomes difficult to answer the barrage of questions about anything from Britney Spears to George W. Bush to Las Vegas. However, when I travel to places like Delhi, Mumbai and Singapore, the response is generally much different. The jet-setting, speak-five-languages, work-hard, party-hard, beautiful-people crowds in these Asian cities are unlike any group of people I've ever met. They're more elegant than the Upper East Side, hipper than Williamsburg and faster than Chelsea. While Americans can be disdained for being imperialist consumers in the villages, Americans are simply behind the times, like old-money hicks, in the fancy enclaves of cities. Anti-Americanism is difficult to handle, but apathy toward America might be even more unsettling. As a child of the 1980s, I've never known America to be anything but an unmatched superpower. It still is, in many respects, but at times it's very unnerving and a bit surreal to be abroad and seeing the headlines that read THE DOWNFALL OF AMERICA (or in the case of your cover, THE POST-AMERICAN WORLD). It's particularly strange to be in the part of the world that is considered the next frontier. Maybe this is why Americans don't travel around the globe as much as others. It's not easy finding out you're not at the center of the universe anymore. That said, it is amazing to be traveling at this moment in global history; being out here has given me a humbled perspective to go home with. In the end, I don't think that is such a bad thing.
Sara Weston
New Delhi, India

While I generally agree with Fareed Zakaria's take on the current and future state of global politics, I think he has overlooked a key point. He asserts that we are now experiencing the "third great power shift in modern history," after the rise of the Western world in the 15th century and the rise of America in the 20th century. This may well be true. However, Zakaria fails to mention that the previous two shifts accompanied great upheaval and turmoil—countless conflicts between the European powers and the two most destructive wars yet known in human experience. The new "rise of the rest" may well be inevitable and, in the long run, beneficial. This, however, does not mean it will be bloodless.
Paul Ator
London, England

Fareed Zakaria's analysis on the "post-American world" was first-rate. Although the United States can pride itself on being the most open, flexible society in the world and having taught distant lands the secrets of American success, it has lost clout. Why do we demand that other nations act morally while we often do not practice what we preach? Look at the recent polygamist scandal related to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in a country that is founded on Biblical principles. How can girls at puberty enter into polygamous marriages with much older men and produce children? How do we allow this to happen in a God-fearing nation? God did not call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war. We have committed more war crimes than almost any nation in the world. We have become a nation exhausted by war. We tend to boast about our model of savoir-faire while thousands of Americans are excluded from the health-care system without any safety net and billions of dollars are squandered in Iraq. In the 20th century, consumption and waste seemed wedded. Even the Great Depression could not make the country shake the habit of acquisition. No administration could believe that America the Bountiful had any economic confines. Americans have amassed a staggering federal debt that cannot possibly be paid off even in their children's lifetime. America has become a debtor nation. The fact is that we have been living in a fiction of prosperity without responsibility. Until now, "power to the people" was only a slogan. Americans can continue to do what they have always done: spend regardless of the consequences. Or they can acknowledge that the forgotten virtue of thrift that Benjamin Franklin preached is not against the American grain but deep within it. The fact is that the apostle of thrift now seems the right philosopher for modern America. Is there any hope that the United States can regain its lost prestige and fundamental values? To achieve this, we certainly need dedicated men and women willing to cherish the concepts of the Founding Fathers. We have been intoxicated with progress so far. We know quite well that on account of our historical and spiritual experience, we have a moral and practical obligation to stand behind a commitment to human rights, fair laws, justice and equality for all. This is not the case today. Can America return to the first seeds it sowed?
Dan Chellumben
Amboise, France

Fareed Zakaria writes that "The World will be enriched and ennobled" by globalization. While I do not dispute the former, is there any evidence that material progress means greater moral character? Recall the rapid modernization of Japan and Germany in the 1800s: authoritarian nations with conservative, militaristic values acquired all the power of industrial economies. We know the rest. Japan's modernization was intimately related to its aggressive empire-building in Asia. The Germans acquired the horrific distinction of being both one of the world's most educated nations and indefensible mass murderers. In this light, we might find the breakneck modernization in the Persian Gulf and China to be alarming. Is it any wonder that societies with almost medieval religious attitudes should use their oil wealth to fund ultraconservative mosques throughout the world? Is it not worrisome that China, with its insecure, angry nationalism, should experience simultaneously a vertiginous rise to power and monumental social change, with all the instability that entails? These concerns may prove unjustified. These societies may well follow the Euro-American-Japanese pattern. They, too, may have money as their religion, an epidemic of obesity, thriving porn industries and no higher ambition among their consumer-citizens than bigger cars, wider high definition televisions and snazzier gadgets. Noble, indeed.
Craig Willy
Roquefort-Les-Pins, France

Fareed Zakaria is absolutely right in stressing the revolutionary character of the economic growth in Asia, Africa and Latin America. For 100 years, between 1870 and 1970, capitalist growth was limited to North America, Europe, Japan and a few lucky, small East Asian tigers. What remains to be seen is if the growth of the "rest," and the sociopolitical issues that are arising because of it, will follow the relatively smooth path of North America or the unstable, violent and terrible experiences that occurred in Europe and Japan. Ensuring the former is the historic mission of American and European foreign policies in the 21st century.
Craig Haston

Fareed Zakaria's piece made good reading but was long overdue. America is a country that does not have a historical repertoire; it was built on the here-and-now dynamics of nation-building. While the rest of the world grappled with social empowerment issues, the American Dream was based solely on the economic empowerment of its people. But here is the irony: America's politicians are now talking social values while the rest of the world is talking economics.
Gautham Venkata-Chalam
Paris, France