Friday, August 3, 2007

Joseph S. Nye

Joseph S. Nye Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor, is also the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations and former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I recently enjoyed Cullen Murphy's Are We Rome?: The Fall of An Empire and the Fate of America. Descriptions of America as the new Rome are rife today. I even used a few myself in The Paradox of American Power. Few are as well researched and enjoyably written, however, as Murphy's. He argues: "Rome and America are the most powerful actors in their worlds, by many orders of magnitude. Their power includes both military might and the 'soft power' of language, culture, commerce, technology and ideas." Both created global structures, were societies made up of many peoples, and open to newcomers. Both see themselves as peoples specially blessed by Providence, a "Roman exceptionalism" parallel to the American variety. Murphy is well aware of the important differences between Rome and the United States. Our science-based technology supports a dynamic economy based on innovation rather than extracting tribute from conquered peoples. Our middle-class society(absent in Rome) has (so far) supported a republic, a form of government that failed in Rome. He points out that Rome lasted for centuries after its apogee, was not defeated in battle, and did not suffer a sudden "fall" in the dramatic words of Edward Gibbons's famous title. Murphy argues that Rome successfully assimilated "barbarians" for centuries, just as America managed to accommodate waves of immigration. The decline occurred with the loss of assimilationist capacity in the 5th century. He draws four lessons for America today: instill greater appreciation of the wider world, stop treating government as a necessary evil, fortify the institutions that promote assimilation, and take some weight off the military. He provides a nice read and some useful lessons for those who are wondering where we are going after Iraq.

I also keep a novel by my bedside for evening enjoyment. I recently finished Peter Pouncey, Rules for Old Men Waiting. I found it in paperback while browsing in the Harvard COOP bookstore. I missed it when it was first published in 2005. Pouncey is a former president of Amherst and this is his first novel. As a former dean and author of a first novel (The Power Game: A Washington Novel), I was intrigued. It turns out to be a wonderful tale about a historian who has recently lost his wife and is nearing the end of his days in a farm house on Cape Cod. He sets out to write a novel about World War I in hopes of helping him understand his own role in World War II and the loss of his son in Vietnam. It is beautifully written and fully engaging. I hope he writes another!
Joseph S. Nye received his bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Princeton University, did postgraduate work at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and earned a PhD in political science from Harvard. He has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and Deputy Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology.

His books include Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics; Understanding International Conflicts (6th edition); and The Power Game: A Washington Novel.

--Marshal Zeringue