“Soft Power”

Ilan Goldenberg wisely proposes that progressives ditch the term “soft power.” He focuses mainly on the marketing aspects of the particular labels “soft power” versus “hard power” but I would go further and say that the distinction Joseph Nye was trying to draw is a bit ill-conceived. People here those words and they think of two kinds of power — two kinds of means of coercion — some of which might be “hard” and others might be “soft.” In fact, what Nye is trying to draw a distinction between all forms of coercion (including “soft” ones) on the one hand, and then stuff that’s not coercive at all — qualities that make a country likable.

But that stuff — the fact that American political ideals are attractive to people whereas Chinese political ideals aren’t — isn’t really a kind of power at all. It’s important, but if you think of it as a kind of power you’re just going to wind up thinking of it as a kind of really shitty and second rate power, rather than simply as something that’s different and important in its own right.