Soft Power is Hard! What does the world admire about America? Science and technology, higher education, consumer products — but not, it seems, freedom and democracy. These ideals are in global retreat, contends Martha Bayles, in part because American “soft power” is itself retreating from the hostile propaganda from terrorist groups and authoritarian regimes. Bayles has explored this problem in 20 different countries and offers some striking insights.
In a turbulent world, she believes Americans cannot afford to turn inward. But neither can the U.S. rely entirely on its economic and military "hard power," says Bayles. It must also use "soft power." But to do that successfully, we need to understand how difficult—how "hard"—the use of soft power has become, in a world where U.S. adversaries are highly skilled in using propaganda and deploying 21st-century media.
Bayles is a nationally known cultural critic and the author of Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America’s Image Abroad (Yale 2014). A regular contributor to the Boston Globe, Weekly Standard, American Interest, and Claremont Review of Books, she is currently a visiting fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and an associate professor of the practice of the humanities at Boston College.