Fareed Zakaria and Our Tumultuous World

Zakaria’s new book on revolution through the ages may be familiar, but it’s still spot on.

Anita Jain in the Washington Times: In his latest book, Age of Revolutions: Progress and Backlash from 1600 to the Present, Fareed Zakaria proffers his own 21st-century spin on storied historian Eric Hobsbawm’s seminal work The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789–1848. Like the famed 20th-century historian, Zakaria recounts how the French and Industrial Revolutions profoundly shaped the structures, norms, and guiding principles that made our society what it is. The ubiquitous commentator also identifies a few more “revolutions” that aren’t generally considered revolutions, both pre-industrial era and contemporary.

While Zakaria may not be in Hobsbawm’s league, the Mumbai-born son of a political family who was a wunderkind editor of Newsweek International and remains a Washington Post columnist is still going strong at 60. Those who just see the erudite scholar on TV, where he presides over an eponymous CNN program, may not be aware that he earned a Harvard political science PhD under Harvard mainstays like Samuel Huntington of Clash of Civilizations fame and Joseph Nye.

Much of what Zakaria writes is familiar, but that doesn’t make it unappealing. Anyone assigned to read the classic tome, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by the famed German sociologist Max Weber won’t be shocked to find that Zakaria locates the seeds of Western democracy in late 16th-century Holland, where northern Protestant provinces broke away from the Catholic Hapsburg empire. The Netherlands bestowed great agency to local authorities—much like America’s founders did two centuries later. In another precursor to Constitutional principles, early Holland enshrined the freedom of religion.

With the foundation for democracy laid, enter stage right: capitalism. In the 1500s, the Netherlands was a thriving maritime nation rather than an agricultural one. Fewer than a quarter of its workers were in agriculture—unusual for this period—with more than half in trade and manufacturing. Merchants, not aristocrats, held cachet and influence in this milieu. The world’s first stock exchange can be traced back to the Dutch East India Company’s issue of shares to the public to raise funds. At the same time, the Bank of Amsterdam served as a quasi-central bank, another historical first that Adam Smith described in detail in The Wealth of Nations. “It was telling that the Netherlands gained fame not for its castles or cannons but for its banks and merchants,” Zakaria writes.

More here.

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