Soft power is rare in world politics: Ruling out fear- and appetite-based compliance

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Soft power has become a catchall phrase that suffers from analytical ambiguity. Extant literature on soft power often conflates it with other kinds of power. In this article, I suggest examining soft power from the power recipient’s perspective, emphasizing the latter’s agency. I introduce three ideal-type explanations for power recipients’ compliance with power wielders’ desires: fear, appetite, and spirit. Fear- or appetite-based compliance is in line with coercion or inducement, respectively, in Joseph Nye’s soft power formulation. As such, soft power arguments require ruling out compliance based on fear and/ or appetite. Soft power is rare in world politics, and it often builds on the material preponderance of the main custodians of the standard of civilization, that is, the central actors in the (regional) international society in question, leading to soft power’s correlation with hard power.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)476-486
Number of pages11
JournalPlace Branding and Public Diplomacy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


  • Motives for compliance
  • Persuasion
  • Power
  • Soft power
  • Standard of civilization


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