Power is a basic element of every-day life. Similar to beauty and wealth, it is a commodity that is often concentrated in the hands of the few, and sought out by the majority of people. Most modern definitions of power refer to it as “the ability to get others to do what you wish”.
For the past several hundred years, the modern Circassian experience has been dominated by the pursuit of power with an aim towards affording our people the opportunity to live in peace and prosperity, and in accordance with our cultural norms and values.
Historically, the pursuit of power has been binary along two dimensions. On the first dimension, our people have chosen between the pursuit of power, or made a conscious decision to accept the status quo and shy away from any such pursuit. On the second dimension, in those circumstances where our people have opted to pursue power, it has most often been defined through military or political channels.
Such pursuits have often failed to deliver long-lasting benefit to our people, and in many cases, have served only to weaken our position while alienating neighboring nations and friends who might otherwise help advance our efforts to achieve long-term peace, prosperity and viability.
This essay is an attempt to lay a framework for a new form of power our people may wish to explore.
Before going any further, it is important to point out that there is nothing inherently wrong with the pursuit of power. Indeed, if power is defined as “the ability to get others to do what you wish,” then it is hard-wired into human nature and our every-day lives.
This is not to say that all pursuits of power are positive or beneficial. World War II was fought over one man’s quest to extend his power over the world. But this does not mean that all pursuits of power are bad.
When a child seeks to convince his parent to allow him or her to stay up late; when a man attempts to convince a woman to accompany him on a romantic date; when a small business seeks to convince an investor that his or her business is worth of capital—these are all examples of people pursuing power. These are all positive examples of the pursuit of power.
Moreover, failure to pursue power can often lead to negative results. Children who fail to convince their peers to accept them are often bullied; important advances in science that are not backed by efforts to push their acceptance are often not adopted.
Whether the pursuit of power is good or bad is determined by the intent of the pursuit, and the form of power being sought. In the case of Circassians, our pursuit of power should always be in the context of safe-guarding our rights; protecting the fabric of our social and cultural identity; providing us the opportunity for peace and prosperity and; ensuring the long-term viability of our nation. Moreover, our pursuits should never, under any circumstance, impair the rights of others or seek to alienate our neighboring nations or friends. In other words, all efforts should be positive.
The best pursuit of power, then, is the pursuit of “soft power”.
Soft power is the ability to achieve one’s objectives through positive attraction. Soft power is quite different from traditional models of “hard power”. Most forms of hard power seek to exert one’s will upon another through coercion. Soft power differs in how it operates. Under soft power, one entity is able to get another entity to do what the first entity wants by convincing the second entity to pursue activity by its own free will. In this regard, it is akin to “charisma” or “charm”.
The concept of attracting others through charisma or charm dates back to ancient Chinese philosophers, comparing what we now call soft power to the power of water.
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”
The modern term of soft power was coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in 1990, and has become an important concept in modern society.
The success of soft power relies heavily on an actor’s reputation. Popular culture and media play a critical role in shaping public perception of an actor’s reputation. An actor with a large store of soft power is one that is highly admired by others, and viewed in a positive and trustworthy light. In layman’s terms, this can be referred to as “good will”.
In the case of the Circassian nation, our levers of developing and exerting soft power fall along the following dimensions:
Culture: Culture is arguably among the greatest levers of soft power. American films and music have acted as strong and positive ambassadors of the American nation. The positive influence of Hollywood blockbuster films and international best-selling music has done much to project a positive view of the American nation. Similar trends can be found with fashion for the French and Italian nations, or with technology with the Japanese.
Demographics: It is more difficult to notice a mouse than to ignore an elephant. Ethnic Germans can be found in Austria and Switzerland, but it is Germany that enjoys the broadest recognition on the world stage when one conjures an image of the German nation. A large population can go a long way towards making a nation more relevant. Likewise, a geographic concentration of a relatively small nation can also provide positive benefits. The Chinese nation figures more prominently in the United States thanks to the many “China towns” that exist in so many American cities.
Economics: Influence along the economic dimension is among the oldest and most well-known form of soft power. China has long occupied a position of demographic power on the world stage, but it is only recently that its real influence has grown. This influence has been largely driven by China’s growing economic success.
Institutions: Institutions can serve a very real and dramatic role in helping to build soft power. There is no shortage of hospitals with Jewish names, or educational institutions founded by Catholics. By forming positive, public, all-inclusive institutions, these groups were able to improve their public image and gain many friends and supporters.
Social action: Actions speak louder than words; social action can go a long way towards engendering good will—especially when it provides a positive benefit for individuals outside the realm of the group delivering the action. Examples here might include a multi-ethnic group of people coming together to build a park for children of all backgrounds.
In each case, soft power follows an interesting dynamic. A little bit of it is required in order to build a little bit more, and over time, these little bits can add up—sometimes quite quickly. The speed and magnitude by which soft power grows is a function of how genuine and how widely known the activities described above tend to be.
Activities designed to build soft power absolutely must be genuine, and tightly tied to the core values of the actor undertaking them. At the same time, activities must be well communicated and publicized.
It is a great thing, for example, for the wealthy to feed the poor and hungry; it is better when these actions come from the heart, and it is best when the world knows this, and can be encouraged to support these efforts.