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In the late 1990s, the Americans were so powerful that they became deluded that they had this thing called “soft power”—an autonomous instrument as potent as a cruise missile. People “just want” Coca-Cola and Levi’s jeans—and this inherent American cultural superiority can make up for any gaps in real power. At about the same time, the British, now diminished, liked to talk about how Britain’s “world-leading cultural products” meant that Britain still had global reach as “Cool Britannia”—the idea being that the Spice Girls and the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice translated into “power”.


In reality, Britain traded on her residual hard power—on the cultural cachet associated with that power. Around 1920, you had Indians who dressed in bowler hats and said things like, “I say, weather’s a bit rum today, what? Toodle-pips. Just orf for a spot of tea.” They did so because Britain still had hard power: people copy what is powerful—or, as with Andrew Tate, they bitch about it (call the ultra-masculine, albeit perverted, man “gay”—say women hate him when they love him). The saying went, circa 1850, “What Manchester thinks today, the world thinks tomorrow.” The delusion that eventually comes with this position is that what Manchester thinks is globally influential because Manchester has better ideas, not because she is a cotton manufacturing hub.


When Americans began to talk about their “soft power” they began to negotiate their own decline; they were on the road to some Brit public intellectual, circa 1997, talking about how Britain would lead the world in the “ideas economy”. People like success; they copy success: hence you would find as late as the 1970s Indians who would say, “How do you do, old chap? Frightfully nice to meet you!”. In the same way, circa 2070, you will find the odd person who wears baseball caps and loves “the Hollywood classics”, but they will be an oddball spot in a travel program for Americans nostalgic for hard power.

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