The Future of Power was written by the man who coined the term “soft power” in the 1980s and is an expert on foreign affairs. Joseph S. Nye Jr. first gained acclaim when he founded, with Robert Keohane, the idea of neoliberalism, as it relates to international relations. It is one of the two major approaches, with neorealism, that govern the field.
Borrowing from the wikipedia entry, neoliberalism is “a school of thought which believes that states are, or at least should be, concerned first and foremost with absolute gains rather than relative gains to other states.” Neorealism is a theory “that says power is the most important factor in international relations.” Nye’s work with neoliberalism led to his development of the term “soft power.” His definition boils down to this excerpt from his book on the subject, called Soft Power:
“A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries – admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness – want to follow it. In this sense, it is also important to set the agenda and attract others in world politics, and not only to force them to change by threatening military force or economic sanctions. This soft power – getting others to want the outcomes that you want – co-opts people rather than coerces them.”
All of this matters for The Future of Power because Nye advocates that the strongest America will maintain it’s ability to utilize soft power. He does not support the notion that America is in decline but does not say that the idea is impossible.
I learned a ton from this book and found it relatively reassuring about our place in the world. Read it if you are interested at all in international relations.