Cultural Philistinism

In essence, an increase in soft power demonstrates an increase in the chance that a country’s culture, value system, and policies will become universal. In other words, the whole point of power from both a hard power perspective and a soft power perspective is to render one’s culture, value system, and policies as universal. Perhaps the most important part of being a major power is to believe and to demonstrate the universalism of one’s culture, value system, and policies. If one’s culture, value system, and policies are not rendered universal and if others begin to lose faith in the universalism of one’s culture, value system, and policies as a result of a decline in one’s soft power, then the entire project as a major power ends up failing over the long run. 

Both America and China believe in the universalism of their respective cultures, value systems, and policies because they have the material success to back it up, and as a result, both America and China are the two foremost powers in the international system both from a hard power perspective and a soft power perspective. But in the coming years, the universalism of either the American system or the Chinese system will be determined and rendered by the outcome of the identity crisis which is plaguing Americans from within, and this crisis stems from the struggle between social forces who lean towards a global and cosmopolitan identity on one hand and social forces who lean towards a more nativist identity on the other hand. By logic, one’s system cannot be rendered universal if one’s system is taken over by nativists.

As we have mentioned before, the elite in a society are more responsible than anyone else in the socialization of regular people and thus are responsible for the prospects or the odds of whether one’s culture and system becomes universal or not. As Hannah Arendt wrote: “That which we call ‘mass culture’ is nothing other than the socialization of culture that started in the salons. It is just that the sphere of the social, which first took hold of the upper classes and social ranks, now extends to practically all strata and has thus become a mass phenomenon.” Arendt added:

“All of the features, however, that mass psychology has by now identified as typical of man in mass society; his abandonment, along with his utmost adaptability; his irritability and lack of support; his extraordinary capacity for consumption (if not gluttony), along with his utter inability to judge qualities or even to discern them; but most of all his egocentrism and the fatal alienation from the world that he mistakes for self-alienation – all of this first manifested itself in ‘good society,’ which does not have a mass character.”

As a result, widespread “cultural philistinism” amongst the people and the masses is something which is transferred from the elites or the “high society” to regular people and to the masses. Socialization and the development of mass consciousness is a function of the elites or the “high society” in a country, and in turn, the failure to render one’s system as universal is ultimately a failure of the elites or “high society” in a country. It follows that if the universalism of the American system is undermined by nativist forces, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the American elite, even though no one amongst the elites or high society wants to take the blame for the rise of nativist forces who threaten the universalism of the American system and in turn can decimate and obliterate whatever little is left of American soft power in the international system. 

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