Joseph Nye speaks Thursday evening at Strings Music Pavilion as the final speaker in the Seminars at Steamboat series. Nye spoke about “Smart Power: America’s Global Position.”

Photo by Matt Stensland

Joseph Nye speaks Thursday evening at Strings Music Pavilion as the final speaker in the Seminars at Steamboat series. Nye spoke about “Smart Power: America’s Global Position.”

Nye discusses America's decline at Seminars at Steamboat

Joseph Nye explains why decline is not that bad

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The full audio of Joseph Nye’s speech will be available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in a few days, seminar organizers said.

— Pessimists and naysayers beware. One of the most influential public policy academics is taking aim at the notion that America is in decline.

During this season’s final Seminars at Steamboat speech Thursday evening at Strings Music Pavilion, Joseph Nye pointed out reasons why the country is not on a downward path.

“We have been very bad at understanding where we fit in the world and what’s happening to us,” Nye said. The nation has gone through several periods of “decline-ism” throughout the years, such as when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, and it appeared the U.S. was falling behind. But just as in those times, there’s no reason to think the U.S. will enter a period of decline, Nye said.

“It tells you a lot more about our psychology than where we fit in the world,” he said.

Nye, a Harvard professor who has served in several advising roles to the federal government, also is the creator of the influential ideas of “soft power” and “smart power.” Soft power is the idea that governments or other groups can attract the support of their cohorts. Smart power combines soft power with military and other “harder” means of influence.

“When we think of power only in military terms, we’re missing a great opportunity,” Nye said.

More importantly, it’s vital for public policymakers to understand why America is not in decline so they can make wise decisions.

“We have more power resources and capacity than anyone else in the world,” he said. “If we fail to understand that, we can do ourselves great damage.”

Nye said that although China could surpass the United States in several ways in the next 40 to 50 years, the U.S. likely will remain in the center of several spheres of power for the foreseeable future.

Nye’s talk Thursday wrapped up the 2010 Seminars at Steam­­boat season. Judging by attendance, it was the most successful season yet. The first two seminars of the summer were standing-room-only at Strings Music Pavilion, forcing organizers to adopt a new policy requiring attendees to pick up advance tickets for entry at the last two seminars. All Seminars at Steamboat events remained free to the public.

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