A former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, currently dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, optimistically predicts that the US will retain its current dominance in world affairs.
Nye (Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, 1990, etc.) must have scurried to do some revisions after 9/11, for both his preface and his text contain allusions to and analyses of that horror. He also makes an attempt to erect a commodious Big Tent for his views, quoting respectfully from both Presidents Bush, and both the National Review and the Nation. Nye begins with a distinction between “hard power” and “soft power.” The former includes military might and economic muscle; the latter, which he defines as “getting others to want what you want,” is a combination of suasions including popular culture, public opinion, and core values. He examines each of the country’s putative rivals on the world stage (China, Japan, Russia, India, the European Union) and argues that each will remain an understudy, at least for the foreseeable future, because none can equal the US’s potent combination of hard and soft power. Most interesting is Nye’s analysis of the “information revolution” and “globalization,” both of which, he argues, favor a continuing American ascendancy. Among his more intriguing ideas is the contention that globalization does not equal homogenization. His only real admonition is that we must avoid the fate of Rome, a civilization that, he says, rotted from within. The US cannot squander its “soft power” by doing things in the world (e.g., bullying) that make other countries not want to be like it. He worries, too, about what he sees as Americans’ general apathy about world affairs, an opinion he has surely modified since 9/11. The text is generally fluid and engaging, despite an occasional appetite for triteness that has Nye using “wake-up call” to refer to a shocking event at least four times.
A sanguine assessment of our sanguinary times.