As students banged the pews of the United Church on the Green in approval and hissed in dissent, Fareed Zakaria ’86 gave a passionate speech in favor of American hegemony on Tuesday in the Yale Political Union’s annual Bulldog Days showcase.
The topic of the YPU’s debate with CNN host and Washington Post columnist Zakaria was “Resolved: American hegemony is good for the world.” Zakaria and members of several parties in the YPU spoke in favor of the resolution, and it passed by a vote of 60-38, with two abstensions.
Zakaria, who was a member of the Party of the Right as an undergraduate and served as president of the Yale Political Union, said the debate was far from just an intellectual exercise, as the dynamics of American geopolitical dominance are currently in flux.
“The world is changing,” Zakaria said during his opening remarks. “And with these changes, as economic power bestows upon countries greater political power and cultural confidence, the questions becomes, ‘What happens to this system that was put in place by the United States?’”
While Zakaria was quick to admit some of the drawbacks to American hegemony, he emphasized that the current period of major power peace is unmatched by any period presided over by another hegemonic power. He emphasized that the flaws of American hegemony are outweighed by its successes.
One aspect of the American system that Zakaria defended vehemently in his speech is free-market capitalism. During his speech, Zakaria voiced his grievances with modern liberalism and people’s fascination with pre-capitalism.
Zakaria said that his father was a politician in India and that, during his childhood, he had the opportunity to see pre-capitalist, pre-modern communities in the country. Zakaria described these communities as “hellish.”
“They’re like a medieval poverty, a kind that you have never seen,” he said.
Reactions to Zakaria’s speech were overwhelmingly positive, although some spectators disagreed with Zakaria’s arguments.
Krish Desai ’21, the teller of the YPU, explained that while he thought Zakaria hit the broad points of the debate very well, he compared Zakaria’s remarks to a stump speech in that the talk lacked many substantive claims.
Many prospective Yalies in attendance were impressed by the level of discourse, if taken aback by some of the union’s traditions.
“The debate was very interesting, but a little overwhelming,” said Caroline Beit, a prospective student from Westchester, New York. “I thought this hissing was a little much, but I guess it’s better than booing because it’s less disruptive.”
Kelsey Chen, a prospective student from Seattle, said that she “fundamentally disagreed” with a lot of the points that Zakaria made and noted that she was uncomfortable with his speech largely because of her knowledge of the political stances that he took during his time at Yale.
YPU board members were happy with the turnout of prospective students.
Sandy Pecht ’19, the speaker of the YPU, said that he wanted admitted students to see the diversity of views that exist within the union and the rigor with which union members defend those views. Pecht also said he wanted to showcase how seriously members take their ideas, but, at the same time, he wanted admitted students to see that debating every Tuesday night can be fun.
“I was really impressed by the diversity of opinion,” said Ben Cohen, a prospective student from the Boston area. “I didn’t understand most of it … but I think that hearing a lot of differing opinions is very cool and was really encouraging.”
When asked about his greatest impressions of the debate, Cohen said that “people at Yale are very passionate about things” and “wow, I need to do more homework.”
Parents of prospective Yalies were also impressed by the level of discourse.
Sam Ghosh, an attendee and parent of a potential student, said the event greatly influenced both his and his family’s impression of Yale.
He said that events like the debate could help steer his child toward choosing Yale. In particular, Ghosh was taken with the eloquence of the speakers and the potential that a prospective student could become a debater capable of speaking so fluently.
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