I only became of Dr. Zakaria recently, when I read a piece he wrote called "The Arrogant Empire," a incisive piece on the hubristic and messianic foreign policy of the Bush Administration. After a little research I quickly discovered that Dr. Zakaria is some kind of foreign-policy wunderkind, who became an editor of the presitigious magazine Foreign Affairs at the age of twenty-eight. This book clearly demonstrates that his precipitious climb to the top of the intelletual heap of America is certainly well-deserved.
This book is a remarkable guide to the major challenges, both foreign and domestic, that face America in the twenty-first century. The thesis of this book is essentially that too much democratization and decentralization, two notions that are often hailed as universally good, can be disasterous. This argument is not new, as Dr. Zakaria readily admits. What is new is the contextualization of these problems to the modern world.
The author brilliantly analyzes both foreign and domestic policy through the prism of what he calls "Illiberal Democracy." The analysis is both lucid and cogent, and it is remarkable how much insight exists on every page. Dr. Zakaria is a polymath with prodigious analytical ability, and, as a result, both knowledge and sagacity ooze off the page.
The book ranges from topic to topic, yet still remains coherent. Dr. Zakaria ranges from topics such as Islamic Fundamentalism, to the decline of Congressional presitige on the national political stage, to the virtual disintigration of good governence in the state of California. Despite his reputation as a foreign policy maven, his analysis of domestic affairs is also brilliant:
"The deregulation of democracy has gone too far ... although [sic] none would dare speak ill of present-day democracy, most people instinctively sense a problem ... More intriguingly, in poll after poll, when Americans are asked what public institutions they most respect, three bodies are always at the top of their list: the Supreme Court, the armed forces, and the Federal Reserve. All three have one thing in common: they are insulated from public pressures and operate undemocratically."
One aspect of this book that might grate on American sensibilities is the unabashedly proelite stance this book takes. It serves as almost a rallying cry to the elite to save the institutions that save the commoners from themselves. Although that description may be overexaggerated, undoubtedly this book laments for the halcyon days of a socially-responsible elite in America. However, in the end a lot of this analysis seems correct.
Despite this slight misgiving, this is a brilliant book that provides an intellectual framework for many of problems facing Americans in the twenty-first century, ranging from the scourge of mass terrorism to the cultural malaise here at home.