Joseph Nye, an eminent political scientist at Harvard, wrote a book about “soft power” a few years ago. He followed that volume up by devoting a chapter to the concept in last year’s book The Future of Power. So what is “soft power”?
According to Nye, whereas “hard power” grows out of a country’s military or economic might, soft power, “Arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.” In the Future of Power Nye examines what it means to be powerful in the twenty-first century, and how the US might set about retaining its place in the world. He thinks soft power will be an important part of the mix, and I tend to agree.
But while I’m generally optimistic about the future of America’s place in the international order , one historical parallel related to soft power disturbs me: the degree to which the threat of terrorism has led the US to create embassy buildings that appear to cower before contemporary threats.