Power and

Last week, some US-based bloggers were talking about their dissatisfaction with the term, “soft power.”

Matthew Yglesias:

[C]an we retire the term “soft power” already? I always feel that it’s been popularized not so much by Professor Nye as by deranged warmongers who like the idea of terming every alternative to militarism as somehow “soft,” fluffy, and weak. Soft Power is a good book, but it’s a bad coinage for an era in which national security issues have returned as a partisan political topic, and I don’t think it’s an especially great label for what Nye’s talking about.

Here’s a suggestion cribbed from an adaptation of an old tabletop game: power and influence. Roughly speaking, power is the ability to make people do things (or suffer the consequences); influence is the ability to get people to do things on their own (to gain the benefits). NATO has lots of power (and a good bit of influence), while the EU has an enormous amount of influence, but less power. Pointy-haired bosses use their power; good businesspeople use their influence.

Influence is not a second-rate type of power (soft rather than hard); it’s a separate, if related, capacity. So: power and influence.

I wrote to some of the folks whose blogs I cited. Everyone who has replied has been positive about the suggestion. Now to see if they will actually use it, and whether we can change the usage ourselves or whether we need Joe Nye to write an article.

7 thoughts on “Power and

  1. Doesn’t cut it. Take the threat of a trade embargo. It boils down to blackmail, thus is not influence, but neither is it war. You still need a distinction between soft and hard power within what you call power.

  2. Pingback: Matthew Yglesias » Power and Influence

  3. Looks like Oliver is absolutely right. The main alternative to blackmail is “carrot and stick”, basically saying: “you have more to gain if you do it my way and maybe something to lose if you do not”. Negotiating the terms depends not on who has the best negotiating skills, but on who
    holds the biggest stick.

  4. I think the reason for coining the neologism soft power was to stress that not all power comes from the barrel of a gun, i.e. stressing power, not soft.

    Influence, the better and the established word, can bring the image of someone whispering into someone else’s ear, an image many Americans in particular wouldn’t want to have of themselves.

  5. You can use threats or incentives as tools of power. But that has no connection to a civil vs. military distinction. You can make civil threats (eg. If you do this, we’ll require visas from your citizens) and you can make military incentives (If you do this, you’ll be allowed to join our alliance and we’ll protect you against your neighbors)

  6. I suggest adding modifiers: “cultural influence” and “ideological influence” . Influence that isn’t based on culture or ideology doesn’t capture the original meaning of “soft power”.

    Alternatively: “Attractive power”, as a shorthand for “the power of attraction”, which, again, seems closer to Nye’s original notion of “soft power”.

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