VOL. 2, NO. 5, PGS. 1–4


The Nation and its Construction
A conversation with Andreas Wimmer

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

Andreas Wimmer is Lieber Professor of Sociology and Political Philosophy at Columbia University. His most recent book is Nation Building: Why Some Countries Come Together While Others Fall Apart.

What is the nation state and what are its ideals?

Compared to empires, dynastic kingdoms or tribal confederations, the nation state is based on a very particular concept of legitimacy. The idea is that the government has to represent and respond to a people defined in national terms, i.e. a people imagined as culturally homogenous, of common historical descent and with a shared future. This principle of legitimacy opens up a new question that in many new nation states becomes an axis of conflict: who counts as part of the nation? Are ethnic minorities part of the nation?

Why is nation building important?

In some countries, this question is resolved in an inclusive manner; that is, both minorities and majorities are considered as equal members of the nation, as citizens with equal rights. In that case, the power structure is also inclusive: both minorities and majorities are part of a durable coalition (as is the case, for example, with French, German and Italian speakers in Switzerland). In other countries, minorities are permanently excluded from the political arena and have no political representation at the centre of power (as was the case for African-Americans in the United States until the 1970s and for indigenous peoples in Bolivia until very recently). In extreme cases, minorities capture the state and monopolise all positions of power (as in the case, for example, of Syria under the Assad regime).

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