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Soft Power, Attractiveness and Influence

November 25, 2014

“The concept of soft power is soft in conceptualization and weak in empirics. What is the leap of logic that leads from attraction to American culture or its products to support for American foreign policy?”

Reich, Simon, and Richard Ned Lebow. Good-Bye Hegemony!: Power and Influence in the Global System. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2014, p. 34

That’s a good question but it doesn’t just apply to soft power it also applies to classical French or German theories of foreign cultural policy. Historically there’s always been blurring between a politics of national attractiveness and a policy of diplomatic influence. In France it’s possible to see some tension under the pressure of a tougher global environment: in going through a lot of French parliamentary reports from the last decade it’s interesting to voices arguing not just for a very focused diplomatie d’influence, but also for handing over the whole activity of rayonnement to the culture ministry at the expense of the Quai d’Orsay. Having said this the majority position seems to be for the traditional compromise.

Given that I normally talk about public diplomacies in the plural this isn’t really surprising but it does raise both analytical and policy questions.

In analytical terms what is the connection (if any) between a politics of attractiveness and diplomatic influence?*

In policy terms how do you devise and fund a policy of attractiveness and a policy of influence? The irony is that it’s probably advantageous for everyone involved to keep things fuzzy – MFAs can keep claiming their budgets contribute to national economic success while cultural operators can point to the vague foreign policy benefits of funding foreign activities. The very ambiguity in soft power that frustrates Reich and Lebow is something that makes it attractive in the policy world.

*Actually there’s quite a lot but I’ll come back to that later.

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