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  • Discovering the "State-Nation"
  • Ashutosh Varshney (bio)
Crafting State-Nations: India and Other Multinational Democracies. By Alfred Stepan, Juan J. Linz, and Yogendra Yadav. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011. 308 pp.

For its conceptual innovation, erudition, and real-world applicability, this book deserves to be widely read. It helps us to reconfigure the debate on the relationship between ethnic diversity and political institutions. The authors tell us that the goal of their analysis is "to expand our collective political imaginations" (p. xiv) about how to combine democracy and ethnic diversity. They have brilliantly succeeded in meeting that goal.

At the core of the book is the idea of the "state-nation." The authors contrast this concept with the more familiar notion of the "nation-state," as well as with others such as "multicultural states." Empirical illustrations come primarily from India, but reflections on the experiences, institutions, and practices of Belgium, Canada, Spain, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, and the United States make clear the argument's larger relevance. The concept of the state-nation is deployed to explain why some states fail in crafting national unity, while others succeed.

A nation-state, as Ernest Gellner explained in his 1983 classic Nations and Nationalism, is a place where the territorial boundaries of a state and the cultural boundaries of a nation coincide. Modern France is viewed as the best historical example of such fusion. In the current literature on nationalism, however, the French model of undifferentiated citizenship is viewed as a nineteenth-century curiosity, to be studied primarily to understand why the Basques and Bretons did not rebel against Paris and [End Page 162] its profoundly assimilationist thrust. In his classic 1976 study Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914, Eugen Weber showed how the French central state, using military conscription and compulsory public schooling, turned Catalans, Corsicans, Gascons, Normans, Picards, Vendéens, the aforementioned Basques and Bretons, and a host of others into Frenchmen. As part of this project, the diversities that once so vividly characterized France were deliberately and systematically flattened. And vivid these diversities had been: As E.J. Hobsbawm reports in Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, at the time of the French Revolution more than half of all those living in France spoke no French at all, and "only 12-13 percent spoke it correctly."

Today, Japan, Portugal, and some Scandinavian countries approximate the French nation-state model. Most of the rest of the world comprises either countries marked by strong ethnic diversity, some of which has a territorial aspect and may give rise to demands for independence, or multicultural countries where ethnic diversity is spread around and lacks a politically charged territorial focus. The United States is an example of this latter type—its Civil War was a constitutional and, some would say, cultural fight among people of essentially the same stock who spoke a common language.

Stepan, Linz, and Yadav call the former class of political entities—those with strong ethnic diversity, some of it territorially concentrated—not "nation-states" but "state-nations." Belgium, Canada, India, and Spain are state-nations, as are Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Each has geographically concentrated ethnocommunal differences. The book's arguments, therefore, will have resonance in many societies.

Nation-states tend to be assimilationist. Among their key features is the erasure of ethnic and cultural diversities. State-nations, by contrast, work on two levels: They strive to create a sense of belonging with respect to the larger political community, and at the same time they put in place institutional protections for politically salient diversities having to do with language, religion, or sacrosanct cultural norms. If such diversities are territorially specific, they normally require the protection afforded by federal arrangements.

This double-barreled character sets the state-nation apart from Arend Lijphart's consociationalism, which focuses solely on setting up institutional safeguards for ethnoreligious diversity and pays no heed to the task of nurturing countrywide loyalties at the same time. The concept is also to be distinguished from Will Kymlicka's "multicultural citizenship." Kymlicka, too, emphasizes recognition of certain forms of diversity, but not a coexistence of centrifugal and centripetal institutions...


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pp. 162-166
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