Monday, November 7, 2011

More on Hegemony

I promise, PROMISE, this will be my last post on Nye's The Future of Power for a while. Why the obsession? I had to review it for one of my classes... and I had to be thinking beyond the mere soft power and public diplomacy implications, rather focusing on the theory of "power" itself (ah, the joys of first year PhD-hood...!).

In one of my previous posts, I had pointed out some problems with Nye's conceptualization of the relationship between "soft power" and "hegemony", after which I was advised by Dr. Robin Brown [to whom I'm very grateful for pointing this out!] to take a look at Nye's first book on the subject, Bound to Lead. I think the title speaks for itself and yet, it was even more ironic to see that indeed, not only does Nye refer to Cox and his interpretation of Gramscian hegemony, but actually seems to be suggesting it as an illustration of the "soft co-optive power" that makes "power legitimate in the eyes of others" (p. 32).

I looked at Howson and Smith's compilation for further interpretations of hegemony, and here are a couple of ideas that further underscore the doublethink involved:

- Benedetto Fontana states that hegemony “presupposes a ‘certain collaboration, i.e., an active and voluntary (free) consent’ on the part of the people” (p. 86), while suggesting that the Gramscian conceptualization of power involves an inherent duality of force/consent and violence/persuasion (p. 100).

- Richard Howson and Kylie Smith themselves explain the differentiation between "dominative hegemony" and "aspirational hegemony". In the former case, authority which has lost legitimacy, turns to coercion to restore it and to be able to operate as a power (p. 6). In the "aspirational" case, on the other hand, hegemony "has its basis in moral and intellectual leadership as opposed to domination through power" (p. 10).

Obviously, when discussing "soft power", Nye is referring to this latter case. Nevertheless, it doesn't make his argument any less "hegemonic", even if he rejects the concept outright (p. 87).

Another major point he was trying to make in the book was the argument against American declinism (funny he had to go back, yet again, to what he was saying twenty years ago). Having been reading on International Political Economy this past week - and looking at the concept of hegemony in that context - provides yet another angle to this discussion.

Yes, the U.S. is still the biggest and strongest single power in the world. Yet, that is true if one's speaking in relative terms (which, some may claim, is all that matters). In absolute terms, however, the U.S. has not only lost power, but everyone else (or rather, many others) seem to be gaining more (whether at the American expense, or not). That takes us back to Nye's point on power transition and power diffusion.

It is interesting to observe the scare (paranoia?) surrounding "the rise of China", as well as the "rise of the rest" among the U.S. intellectual and academic community (as opposed to the sheer amusement of watching the political side of the discussion): despite being alarmist, they insist on rejecting declinism and end on a self-congratulatory note that is supposed to calm everyone (and themselves, in the first place) down.

The U.S. might have been the strong force for stability in the international economy in the past decades. But that is, obviously, no longer the case. The EU has been getting increasingly desperate over the Greek issue and when the [Western] "lender of last resort" proved incapable to help, they went to... China (?!?!?!).

China, of course, will take its time to cherish the moment and will not let go of this opportunity to negotiate for something in return (as well as to simply make a point). This interview with Jin Liqun, the supervising chairman of China Investment Corporation, is therefore all the more interesting and important.

Perhaps most noteworthy are his closing remarks regarding the shift of power away from the traditional "West". According to Liqun, the emerging markets having a say in global economic/financial governance is only a positive thing. One just has to look at how the West handled the most recent financial crisis.

What is more, he emphasized the changing perception of China as a constructive and significant international player, as well as the ability of increasingly wealthy developing countries to help the richer ones in sustaining their wealth (is he really arguing for a true liberalization of international markets...?!).

Most importantly, however, he suggested that there is a need for a "fundamental change in the mentality" of the "traditional developed" countries [i.e. the formerly wealthy]: "they should welcome this, they should embrace this as a very good development."

Sadly for them, the Chinese still have a lot of convincing to do. Unless they buy out the entire world, that is...

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