Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Fareed Zakaria, Postcolonial intellectual

I linked to Fareed Zakaria's NewsweekEditorial last month.

That piece shares something quite significant with his latest, and that is a consciousness of the follies of empire.

Though I think his book The Future of Freedom is perhaps a bit too sunny (I actually published a review of it in The Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies), and Zakaria positions himself somewhere to the right of where I place myself politically, I like the drift of his thought.

In this case, I also appreciate the literary reference -- Somerset Maugham's criticism of Henry James:

In his novel "Cakes and Ale," Somerset Maugham derided the celebrated American expatriate Henry James for focusing his writings on upper-class life in Europe in the early 20th century. Maugham complained that James had "turned his back on one of the great events of the world's history, the rise of the United States, in order to report tittle-tattle at tea parties in English country houses."

The analogy is not exact. The war on terror is crucial, winning in Iraq is necessary, Middle East peace is important. But I wonder whether as we furiously debate these matters in America, we resemble Englishmen in the waning days of the British Empire. They vigorously debated the political and military situation in remote areas, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan (some things don't change). They tried mightily, and at great cost, to stabilize disorderly parts of the globe. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the United States of America was building its vast economic, technological and cultural might, which would soon dominate the world.

Then again, this is a piece about America's obliviousness to the rise of Asia. And he has a point that the reduction of all foreign policy issues to Iraq is turning us all into Cyclopeans; we fail to see the substantive structural and attitudinal shift that is to accompany the incipient rise of the Asian economies.

But is Asia-->America today analogous to America-->Europe a century ago? I'm not sure I believe it.

1 comment:

Prathamesh said...

The equation on Europe_>American in the 20th century to American ->Asia today doesnt really convince me.I dont think that it is very wise to treat asia as a homogenous entity ignoring its economic and political diversity.Here are the reasons why i am not convinced about Fareed Zakaria's
:-
1)Asia lacks a powerful organization such as Euro.Though there are organizations like Asean and OPEC,their reach is limited to specific parts of Asia
2)The sense of rivalry and competition among asian nations in the race to become economic powerhouses of asia(eg:China and India).
3)South east economy is not really in a shape to take on US of A,Political Instability and over dependence on Oil might not really help Middle East.That leaves out two major nations China and India:-
Though opening up economy has contributed to india's growth and india is growing at a rate of good 7% an year with its 2% share in global trade,40% illiteracy.it is still a long way to away from qualifying as a developed economy.China is definatly the economic and political giant among the asian nations but its financial structure eg:Its banks are unstable and it is a well known fact that china is on lookout for oil sources(considering that it accounts for arpund 1/3rd of worlds oil consumption).United states on other hand enjoys a huge political clout in middle east(despite Israel-Palestine conflict) and fall of saddam has also given it control over iraq's oil resources.
Asian countries may pose a serious threat to american economy someday.But quite unlikely that it is likely to happen in near future.