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.

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