Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Joseph Nye and the Domestic Front

Nye’s ideas of soft and hard power represent an excellent view of how the US should progress in the current international system. However, his ideas are only truly effective when all of the assumptions he makes, of which there are quite a few (e.g. the economy will be sustained, society will not decay, that Americans do not become isolationists, and that America’s interests will be shaped in a broad and farsighted way that incorporates global interests (171)), work in harmony with each other. While Nye acknowledges all of these and even more that I have omitted, he glosses over them and seems content that the reality of the situation is that the United States is poised to continue with the blessing of both hard and soft power.

But is this the case? When reviewing the domestic sphere in the US, Nye notes that the power of the American domestic sphere is found in numerous aspects, but the one I take issue with in this entry is in the continuing power of the “melting pot” ideal (118). Nye notes that this idea of the melting pot continues to shape American culture as it both integrates different cultures into the American domestic sphere and broadens America’s interests abroad (118, 119). However, many political theorists, including but certainly not limited to Kimberly Curtis in Our Sense of the Real, Michael Warner in Publics and Counter Publics, Jurgen Habermas in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and John Dewey in The Public and Its Problems bring forth arguments that oppose Nye’s mystical melting pot. I will only expand on Curtis here.

Kimberly Curtis notes a strong increase in enclaving within America’s domestic sphere. In enclaving similar and likeminded individuals are choosing to group together in communities out of fear of what is different. This idea is represented best in gated communities within the US. In these communities people segregate themselves from outsiders or those who might be different out of a since of necessity or even fear. By removing themselves from the general population and grouping with other likeminded individuals, society as a whole begins to lose its plurality and rely upon a false sense of what reality truly is. Instead of living in a reality sustained by a diverse public, a homogeneous reality takes over in which change and debate become a scarce event.

More importantly, however, is the role of shaping reality to each individual person. Curtis states that “our ability to experience and constitute a world shared in common is utterly dependent on that world appearing to us through the eyes of others” (16). It then logically follows that if we are to understand and comprehend a true sense of reality the eyes that we look through must be the eyes of those different from us. Otherwise, if we are to live in a homogenous society, we are basically seeing ourselves through our own eyes at all times and thus never experiencing a true reality.

The breakdown of the plurality of our society deeply undermines not only our soft power but also our hard power. In Nye’s words “If these divisions were as deep as portrayed, they could undercut our hard power by inhibiting our capacity to act collectively, and diminish our soft power by reducing the attractiveness of our society and culture” (113).

If the fears of these theorists are true and the undermining of America’s domestic sphere is indeed in progress, Nye’s hopes are in jeopardy. In this reality America’s goals and tasks should no longer be focused on how they act within the international sphere, but instead how they bring about the melting pot so sought after by Nye on the domestic front. Otherwise, America’s place in the international system is neither secure nor progressive, as Nye had hoped.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Starring: The USA

Since the end of the Cold War, American power has surged to unprecedented heights and currently dominates the international stage. The absence of counterbalancing on the part of other major powers has lead several scholars to conclude that the international system has evolved from a balance-of-power framework to a more complex international network. Moreover, according to several theorists like Joseph Nye, power itself has developed into something “less tangible and less coercive,” and currently exists in two forms: coercive “hard power” and co-opting “soft power.” With the transformative influence of globalization, power has evolved into something more than brute strength; and with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the United States has taken the international stage as the main actor in this current power play.

Now the main question is: for how long will it last? America plays an unprecedented role, and it appears that as long as the international audience is satisfied, the performance will most likely continue. Indeed, it seems that in the twenty-first century, the biggest threat to American power is not the emergence of another strong actor or troupe of actors; instead, the biggest threat to American power is America itself. If the United States acts as a prima donna and irritates her captive audience, she may be ushered off the international stage. Conversely, America may choose to exit the world stage prematurely, thus ushering in a new wave of international actors in a new power play.

If the United States is to continue as the world’s superpower, it must learn how to effectively use both hard and soft power resources. The danger is that the United States will bow out of the international power play, financially burdened by military costs; or, the United States may become arrogant, and fail to temper hard power with attractive, soft power. Both situations may be avoided if America recognizes and respects her fellow actors. As Nye relates in the Paradox of American Power: “The multiplicity of new actors means that there is very little the United States can achieve alone” (169). Thus, it appears that on the international stage, there truly are no small parts, only small actors. The United States, as the ‘biggest’ player on world stage, should recognize that its powerful size is largely contingent upon the support of fellow actors.