American power not permanent

Popular wisdom has it that “globalization” might just as well be “Americanization” — that the world is losing its cultural diversity to the sweep of the United States, and that no military political power can stop the deadening march of McDonald’s, Coke, and “Seinfeld” to the far reaches of the earth.

Fareed Zakaria doesn’t agree.

Zakaria, the editor of Foreign Affairs and a writer whose work has led Esquire magazine to rank him among “the 21 most important people of the 21st century,” said that world politics still matter and that the genuine “richness and diversity of the world” will remain safe from brand names.

He also observed that social critics may be mistaking “the decline of quaintness” in foreign cities for the decline of culture.

Zakaria said market infiltration by Nike sneakers and Big Macs are superficial signs of what may really be taking place — which is the democratization of culture in countries as diverse as France and China.

In an April 25 lecture sponsored by the Philomathean Society, the International Affairs Association and Connaissance at Logan Hall, Zakaria acknowledged that the United States enjoys a level of influence unknown even by ancient Rome and Greece. And America is so far ahead in developing the possibilities of the Internet that it will be difficult for European countries, at least, to surpass it in the field of info-technology, he said.

But, he said, American dominance is no more irreversible than Britain’s was on the eve of World War I.

Britain’s vast influence went into decline following World War I, the Depression and World War II — events that were, in fact, politically and economically based, Zakaria said. As dominance shifted to the United States in the 1950s, so also did fashions, because culture follows power.

But Zakaria said the spread of American-brand products is not to blame for cultural shifts throughout the world. “America gets blamed, because America is in the forefront,” he said. “America today holds the position that makes people around the world think [its dominance] will last forever. But it won’t.”


Originally published on May 4, 2000