The Worrying Talk About ‘Soft Power’

The worst thing about “soft power” is its attractiveness to those who don’t understand what “power” is in the first place. “Soft power” isn’t power at all, but the expectation that others will do what you want just because you want it.



One of the most troubling concepts to appear on the scene in recent years is Joseph Nye’s much-popularized notion of ‘soft power’. Without a doubt, there is something rather vague that one can conveniently label soft power, defined as ‘the power to attract’. All nations have an appeal to someone, and the stock of this appeal is supposedly of some use to somebody in international relations. It would be wonderful if we could get states to do what we want because they already want to do it, although this is usually either the case or it is not; it is hard to create soft power out of whole cloth, so we are generally stuck with the hand we have been dealt.

This kind of power – if indeed, we can truly call it that – is often based on foundational myths. An example is the ‘soft…

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