Political values like democracy and human rights can be powerful sources of attraction, but it is not enough just to proclaim them. – Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics
It is not my usual practice to write a review of a book that I have not yet finished. However; the events of the past several weeks and months leading up to the “peaceful” transition of power in the United States have compelled me to break with my self-imposed tradition.
Over the Christmas break I have been reading through Joseph Nye’s “Soft Power” which was originally published in 2004 at the end of the first term of President George W. Bush. I can’t help but notice a stern warning in these pages against the type of world we may be entering into in the next few weeks. We are standing a crossroads in history in which a populist leader threatens to lead his nation, and by extension the entire world, into a dark age of intolerance, unilateralism and regression the likes of which we have never seen before.
The policies of the Trump administration could set America’s social progress back 50 years and all but destroy their international reputation as an open, welcoming, tolerant and democratic society. As a result the world’s only military superpower could find itself losing key international policy debates in such economically significant and security related decisions as environmental protectionism, nuclear proliferation and terrorist financing to the interests of Russia, China, the European Union and non-state actors like ISIL and OPEC.
This simply cannot be allowed to happen.
The term “Soft Power” was coined by Joseph Nye in 1990 in his book “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”. Mr. Nye is the former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs under President Bill Clinton and is currently a University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard. His credentials in international affairs are beyond reproach. He actually developed the concept of Soft Power over a long carrier in academics and government which began in the late 1970s but only started using the term extensively after it first appeared in the aforementioned book.
When one country gets other countries to want what it wants this might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants.
Ever since its founding the United States has enjoyed a large proportion of what is now known as soft power. The ideals of democracy, liberty and justice that undergird the US Constitution have been beacons of hope for hundreds of millions of people world-wide for nearly 200 years. It is this soft power, more so than its military or economic might that has helped transform the world from a collection of feudal empires into a largely democratic and capitalist one. American soft power, the attractiveness of democracy and an open society, far more so than the threat of nuclear annihilation or economic isolation is what eventually ended the Cold War.
But the tide is changing and I fear that a Trump administration and other populist movements around the world are only going to serve to accelerate this change, diminish American influence and usher in an era of instability and violence similar to that which caused two World Wars during the first half of the last century.
The countries that are likely to be more attractive and gain soft power in the information age are those with multiple channels of communication that help to frame issues; whose dominant culture and ideas are closer to prevailing global norms (which now emphasize liberalism, pluralism, and autonomy); and whose credibility is enhanced by their domestic and international values and policies… To the extent that official policies at home and abroad are consistent with democracy, human rights, openness, and respect for the opinions of others, America will benefit from the trends of this global information age. But there is a danger that the United States may obscure the deeper message of its values through arrogance. – Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics
Professor Nye wrote those words in 2004, at a time when America was going it alone in an unpopular war with Iraq. At that time when the world looked at America they saw a country that, while it may have started to betray some its founding values in the name of security against religious extremists it was at least consistent in its application of those values at home. Any damage caused to America’s soft power was limited to its politicians and foreign policy. Today I am afraid that the hypocrisy of the Iraq war pales in comparison to the hypocrisy apparent in Trump’s domestic policy. These policies have the potential to betray the very founding principles of “life, liberty and justice for all.”
Just as the Cold War was won through diplomacy and the effective wielding of soft power, I fear that the next war, cold or hot, will be lost through the ignorance, arrogance and cultural ineptitude of populist movements that have no regard for the soft power of liberalism and pluralism that has served progress so well for so long.
Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated farming operations, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, has written 3 books on Economics and Christian Ethics and presented his ideas to business owners and ministry leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.
Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations. He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 613-295-4141.