I’ve just read a report on how the US is viewed by the rest of the world and how the perception of the country and the people has changed since Donald Trump became the president. In summary, both the country and the American people are less admired.
All of us are assessed accordingly by those we have relationships with because of what we say and our actions. How others reach a conclusion is greatly influenced by our use of ‘soft power’.
Professor Joseph Nye a political scientist published a document explaining the distinction between hard power and soft power concluding that the creation of “smart power” was our ability to combine hard and soft power into a successful relationship strategy. Through focusing on cultural, ideological, and institutional areas those we interact with would warm to us and as a result a more conducive relationship will develop.
Soft power has the potential to not only shape one on one relationships but relationships between countries and different societies. “If a state can make its power seem legitimate in the eyes of others, it will encounter less resistance to its wishes.” Professor Nye argues, “if its culture and ideology are attractive, others will more willingly follow.”
Europe and the USA have, since the end of the Second World War, greatly enhanced the new world order and at the same time ensured that millions of people around the world truly admire and look up to those countries, their people and their culture. As a foundation soft power has demonstrated the potential to make liberal democratic politics, free market economics, and fundamental values such as human rights, a unique cultural identity.
Unfortunately, more recently several things have been going wrong. For one, the products didn’t really suit the customers. The new wave of emerging democracies in the 1970s and 1980s to the Eastern European states that rushed to join the EU and Nato after the Cold War to, most recently, the countries that weathered the Arab Spring, liberal democracy has had a hard time sticking. In many cases, moreover, it brought about rather catastrophic outcomes for the people involved.
Why is that the economic liberalisation which was part and parcel of the soft power era, weakened states instead of strengthening them? The market was never a uniting force. The idea that it could be an all-encompassing mechanism to provide growth, good governance, and societal well-being was an illusion to begin with.
Soft power globalisation has caused problems as national societies and international organisations try to build effective institutions of economic and political governance. Concurrently, increasing debt, rising inequality, and unstable growth have led to a general crisis of political and economic governability. The crisis has resulted in internal revolts on soft power’s home turf. Such as we are witnessing today in America’s Donald Trump, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Italy’s Five Star Movement or the Gilets jaunes movement in France.
Such revolts have resulted in anti-liberal governing majorities in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and the United States and that is just among developed countries. Such is the sorry state of soft power liberalism that it has had trouble holding on even in places where it should have had the best chances of surviving.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org