Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Note on Nye, and the Nature & Purpose of Reading

Still trying to buff up my international relations skill set, I've more or less finished (i.e., with a bit of cheating) Joseph Nye, The Future of Power, and why would that be, exactly?  Nye is a smooth and engaging expositor; and he offers a subtle take on an important topic: power is more complicated than you might think; let me show you some of the permutations of power.  So far so good, although I found myself getting strangely impatient with it all, almost as if I already knew just about everything that he had to say.

This last is an illusion, of course:  if by "I knew," I mean "I could have written this book," then surely I did not know what he had to say: Nye articulates a lot of important stuff that I don't think I had seen written down elsewhere, certainly not nearly so comprehensively or so well put.

And?  Well, and one of two possibilities, I think.  One--perhaps the more dramatic--that Nye's views, once articulated, have become so much a part of second nature that we take them almost for granted.  This is a recognizable phenomenon: I suppose it is true of, say Isaac Newton's Principia.  But Nye's publication date is last February 11, and I doubt that any such whirlwind has coursed through our intellectual life (the blinds would have rattled).  The other, more subtle possibility--that Nye is articulating what was inchoate in the minds of a lot of readers, thus ready and able to shout "hats off, gentlemen!"  This is a far more provocative and potentially insidious possibility, because it remains so hard to tell  the difference between one who truly gives voice to the incipient consciousness of the audience and one who merely articulates the conventional wisdom.  I haven't quite made up my mind on Nye; I lean tentatively to the former, but if he really is as original as some of his press would suggest, how come we understand him so well?

Loosely related question: on what morning did the New York Times' Thomas Friedman wake up and find that he had gone from being a foreign-policy guru to being the butt of a mean joke?

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

"on what morning did the New York Times' Thomas Friedman wake up and find that he had gone from being a foreign-policy guru to being the butt of a mean joke?"

He still hasn't. He's in the perfect marriage--she's heir to a corporation on the verge of bankruptcy, and he's bankrupt of ideas and happy about that.