Mahbubani, a Singaporean scholar and diplomat, came to prominence a decade ago with his book Can Asians Think? which warned of a growing cultural and geopolitical divide between the East and the West. In this eloquent and searching portrait of today’s transforming global order, he is more optimistic, arguing that the world is only a few steps away from a global governance system that will unite regions, civilizations, and great powers. Behind this “great convergence” is the transformative power of economic modernization and the birth of a global middle class. In Asia alone, 500 million people have recently emerged from poverty, and that number will swell to roughly 1.75 billion by the end of the decade. What Mahbubani finds striking is the consistency of middle-class values and aspirations in disparate settings: most of the world’s people live outside of the West, but they increasingly want the same things and embrace the same ideals as people in the West. As Mahbubani might admit, the weak link in this optimist narrative is the actual hard work of diplomacy and the uncertain ability of states to act in their enlightened self-interest.
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