Monday, January 10, 2011

'Nations' and 'states'

I learned just now, from one of my infrequent visits to the Opinio Juris blog, that Bolivia officially changed its name in 2009 to the Plurinational State of Bolivia, thus formally affirming that it is not a "nation" but a state of several nations, including indigenous peoples. Actually, very few 'nation-states' in the world today are nations in the sense of being composed of just one ethno-national group; most sovereign states are multinational or "plurinational," in fact if not in official name.

The author of the Opinio Juris post, Peter Spiro, remarks that "the nation has generated and justified the state." No, not always. In the case of France, for example, I think it was more the other way around: the state generated the nation. (See Rogers Brubaker's 1992 book Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany.)

And what about the coming-into-being state of South Sudan? Plurinational? Well, from what I gather, there are ethnic and tribal divisions, so yes.


Anonymous said...

Agreed that the idea that nation generates the state seems anachronistic... Certainly few people thought this before 19th century, and only since WWI & WWII has this principle been institutionalized. Nationalism is generally only an important legitimating principle in circumstances where mass politics are possible, and even then, as you said, it's often the state harnessing it rather than emerging from it.

LFC said...

Yes, and thus it's important when a particular 'nation-state' took its modern form: one of the reasons for the Germany-France contrast is the different timing in the histories -- though there are other reasons too.

I'm sure the arguments in Brubaker's '92 book have been challenged, but I like it, partly b/c it's so clearly written. I'm perhaps a little biased b/c I know him slightly, but I think he is a v. good scholar. (He's at UCLA should you ever want to look up his page.)