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An Important New Book: The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on May 2, 2008

Fareed Zakaria is one of the most thoughtful foreign policy analysists of our day and his new book, The Post-American World, is a must-read for anyone interested in globalization—or the Presidential election for that matter. I know Fareed from the Council on Foreign Relations and his great columns in Newsweek and this book is as important at Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat.

Why? In our discussions about innovation and design thinking, we all talk about social networks, collaborative innovation, consumer cultures, demassing, partnerships, etc. It is a conversation about the new diffusion of power in our society and the rise of many new sources of authority, opportunity and creativity. The hierarchical, centralized model of organization and power is being replaced by a more defused, networked model. In my line of work, I’ve gone from the Voice of Authority as head of the editorial

page to the Curator of Conversations online, on my blog and in the magazine, Inside Innovation.

What Fareed does in his new book is show this diffusion of power and authority is taking place around the world, as the US declines and "the rise of the rest," as he puts it, occurs. He argues that the era of the US as "hegemon," the center of of an economic/political/social/cultural system, is over. (I love the word "hegemon).

When the US was the overwhelming power, everyone else had to learn American culture. The big change in the 21st century is now the US has to learn everyone else's culture. It needs to share power, build coalitions, create legitimacy, in order to lead and prosper. It has to stop being the Voice of Authority and learn to Curate a Global Conversation--or many of them.

This shift is pretty much what corporations are doing today, as their profits shift to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America--and the myriad of new cultures being formed on the web every day. They are hiring an army of social scientists to understand the thousands of village cultures and languages around the world and the tens of thousands of new social networks and their cultures created every day online. Then they try to join in those cultures and conversations, often asking permission, in order to sell their products and services.

Fareed takes this to the political/global level.

The one point that I disagree with him is on the strength of the US economy. He argues that the US faces a political problem as the rest rises but its economy remains very strong. That strength depends on innovation and it isn't clear to me whether or not, as a society, the US can maintain a lead in innovation. The US dollar, a proxy for economic power, has already been pushed out of its role as sole numeraire for the global economy. The euro is now challenging the dollar for that role.

But we'll see. The US was said to be a declining power back in the 70's when OPEC slammed it. Then in the 80s, when Japan challenged it.

Read The Post-American World and let me know what you think.

Reader Comments

Z. Guerin

May 2, 2008 7:07 PM

Decline of America? "Rise of the Rest?" Please... Can you Democrats get any more anti-American. Wait. Don't answer that...


May 4, 2008 10:43 PM

z. guerin... :) you make me smile.

always loved fareed. an educated, orignal and deeply profound voice.

a class of his own.

samuel michael

May 5, 2008 2:44 PM

I may be too soon to pass judgement on the US economy and whether the US economy may be able to maintain its lead based on innovation in the Global rat race. The fall in the value of the US dollar for example has been good for exporters and has helped to some extent to adjust the current account deficits. The current crisis with the credit markets and the recession the US faces was long overdue and the correction has already begun. Expansions and recessions tend to be cyclical in nature and America's future as a leader in innovation depends on how heavily they invest in educating and imparting skills to their workforce to compete in the global marketplace.


May 9, 2008 12:07 AM

Everyone talks about America as if it is an empire and like all empires over time it is experiencing a decline. The US is not and never has been an empire. It has been and will continue to be an economic powerhouse.
Able to spread its extremely attractive culture through mastery of the media.
Able to consistently adapt to a changing world as pointed out in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Able to motivate and inspire (despite some current set backs of late) by something commentators no longer speak of - The American Dream.
For all the faults and issues "it is the worlds last great hope" i do not see anyone soon taking up that role.


May 17, 2008 8:20 PM

Its very interesting that many people mostly american dont view America as an aspiring Empire. Because to most of non Americans its an Empire already, specially the Muslim world. Considering the huge technological advancement and global awarness, it would be implusable to have a colonial style Empire. In the norms of the present day US is a hegemonic Empire, through its proxies mostly. For all those who are educated with the US political involvement in Forigen lands, can clearly point out where US went wrong.

US definately is not "the worlds last great hope", infact a lesser involved US, in the internal matters of other countries, would prevent many catestrophies.


May 21, 2008 12:46 AM




August 27, 2009 5:18 PM

If the world thinks it will be better off without America, then it can simply stop selling us things. The US economy is the World economy. The current recession proves it. When the US consumer stopped buying things the world stopped earning money. They may get paid in Euros or Yen or whatever but the money, all money, is Dollars.


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January 10, 2011 12:15 AM

Fareed's book was fascinating due to its moderate view and combination of realism and patriotism. I'd like to hear more about what the state of America will be should China and others catch up. Last year, 10 elementary schools in my area started teaching Chinese. I'm not a democrat or a republican, an economist or a political scientist. I am a soccer mom. And I can see that my kids need to brace themselves for what America will be waking up to. America is the talented rookie who assumes he will always be on top, and get every NBA championship. The American Dream- if you asked 10 people to sum up what it is in one sentence woulb come out as totally different things, hence it is not the topic of the media because of its unclear meaning to the populous. America's only hope in winning is to recognize their role as part of a 'dream team' and stop being a ball hog.

Bruno Maxx

February 4, 2011 12:49 PM

Dr. Zakaria's book is an important work and I believe his "rise of the rest" shows great understanding of what is happening. I also believe that the talk of an "American Empire" is a bit misguided. The first is that "America" has not, but in some very small ways, ever tried to globally make other people's lands their own, either politically or religiously. (The best case for anything close to empire is confined to North America.) I can grant a case for economic empire, but I believe the history shows that has been a matter of circumstance, particularly after the Second World War and a response to the Soviet Union. Had the Soviets been less threatening and returned to their boarders, America would once again have become isolationist. In any case, since the early 20th Century, all of what may be mistakenly called the American empire has been short lived as compared to the true empires of history. And as Fareed Zakaria points out the economic one is fading, and it seems without a lot of bloodshed as compared to real empires rise and demise.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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