Primary Source Welcomes James Fallows

28 October 2015

We were thrilled to welcome James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic and thought leader on national and international affairs, to a special public program on October 21, 2015, co-sponsored by The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. In Soft Power & Success: An Update on China from America's Heartland, Mr. Fallows gave guests a taste of his trademark humor and insight. With an interest in China that began during his days as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, Mr. Fallows shared his perspective gained while reporting on American Futures, his current Atlantic series dedicated to exploring the people, organizations, and ideas reshaping our country.

In his recent book, China Airborne, about the development of China’s aerospace industry, Mr. Fallows noted that: "China is steadily gaining the hard power that comes from factories and finance…But lasting influence in the world has come more from soft than hard power…Soft power becomes powerful when people imagine themselves transformed, improved by adopting a new style." He was building on a theory of Harvard University’s Joseph Nye that soft power comprises the aspects of a culture that make others want to emulate or adopt it. In light of the more conservative government of President Xi Jinping, there may be less optimism about China in the realms of creativity and innovation. Until China’s leadership becomes less fearful, its ability to project soft power will be limited. The bellwether of this will be the successful development of sophisticated technology-based industries such as aerospace.

Mr. Fallows’ assessment of China-America relations, however, painted a picture of mutual respect and admiration, both for each other’s country as well as its people. In commenting on trends occurring in small and medium cities around the U.S. that provide optimism in the creativity and resilience of our country, he was careful to note that much of what is dysfunctional at the national level in America today looks like the first "Gilded Age" in American history, including great disparities in wealth; rapid technological change; high levels of immigration; dissension and competition in politics; and corruption amidst reform.

Notwithstanding strengths at the local level, from Mr. Fallows’ perspective we still have two major areas of "evil" in American politics: the inability to grapple effectively with gun control, and the ongoing pernicious legacy of slavery and its impact on race relations, poverty, equality, and economic opportunity.

Guests were excited to hear Mr. Fallows’ viewpoint given his world experience and decades living and reporting abroad. Newton North High School math teacher Audrey Prager tied this directly to her work. "I tell my students that when they get to college, they should find the best teachers and take whatever courses they teach because their passion and knowledge will stimulate and inspire them," she said. "It is the same with the work of James Fallows. I read whatever he writes because his writing is a pleasure, and so enlightening and thought-provoking. This was a memorable event for me!"

The James Fallows presentation was held in The Castle, Boston University’s most elegant meeting space. The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies educates its students to be actively engaged in global affairs, to think creatively about global issues, and to work tirelessly to resolve challenges confronting humanity. Our common mission around advancing global education makes us natural partners for events such as this, which raise global awareness amongst our constituencies. We wish to extend our thanks to the Pardee School for co-sponsoring this event, and to Professor Alan Lightman of the Primary Source Advisory Board, for helping make this happen.




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