Friday, October 28, 2011

Oh that "Soft Power"

Now that I'm half-way through Nye's Future Of Power, and successfully completed his not-so-new sections on soft power and public diplomacy, I cannot help but think back - yet again - to good old Gramsci and his all-important concept of hegemony.

More thoughts will be coming later, of course, time permitting. But here's a quote from Robert Cox that is very telling:
"Hegemony is a structure of values and understandings about the nature of order that permeates a whole system of states and non-state entities.  In a hegemonic order these values and understandings are relatively stable and unquestioned.  They appear to most actors as the natural order.  Such a structure of meanings is underpinned by a structure of power, in which most probably one state is dominant but that state’s dominance is not sufficient to create hegemony.  Hegemony derives from the dominant social strata of the dominant states in so far as these ways of doing and thinking have acquired the acquiescence of the dominant social strata of other states."
The resemblance of hegemony to the concept of soft power is more than just striking. Nye - of course - sees this critique coming and attempts to refute this suggestion, claiming that hegemony is about coercion, while soft power is about attraction and free will (pp. 87-90). And yet, it seems Nye is distorting the very meaning of hegemony, which - at its core - refers to the projection of an actor's own way of seeing the world over others through means that are not necessarily coercive. Therefore, hegemony can involve "free will" among others, with the "free" component (relative in this case) being engineered through the actor's power.

In short, Nye is walking a very fine line between hegemony and soft power, all over again, being in denial all along.

A more comprehensive review will be coming soon. Hopefully.

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